Opening Remarks by Nnimmo Bassey (Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation) made at the Inaugural Right Livelihood Lecture following the formal inauguration of the Right Livelihood College Campus at the University of Port Harcourt on 25 November 2013.

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We are grateful to the Vice-Chancellor, University of Port Harcourt, Prof Joseph Ajienka, the Deputy Vice-Chancellors, The Registrar, Bursar and the entire principal officers of the university for making us so welcome in the university for this event today. We are also specially grateful to the Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Prof Alapiki, and his team for being open to engagements that has culminated in our gathering here today.

Days come and go, but there are some that are time markers or milestones that do not fade into memory.  Today is such a day. It is one of such days when seeds that will hold their ground, grow, bear fruits, support life and provide services are planted. We all are witnesses of this epochal seed planting.

Three interlocking events are taking place today and we are very pleased that the University of Port Harcourt is incubating them and sending signals of hope to our embattled nation, continent and planet. These events are the formal signing of our partnership agreement, the first Right Livelihood Lecture and the Sustainability Academy. Today is a major milestone as the University of Port Harcourt begins to work with our ecological think tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), to host the fifth of the six campuses of the Right Livelihood College (RLC). The other Campuses exist in Malaysia, Sweden, Germany, Ethiopia and Chile.
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The RLC is the initiative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, based in Stockholm, Sweden to encourage capacity building towards achieving a world of justice, peace, solidarity and dignity. The Right Livelihood Award, popularly known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”, has been bestowed on 153 laureates from 64 countries since inception in 1980.  The awards highlight and supports outstanding achievements in the fields of peace and justice, the environment and for the awardee’s work in tackling material and spiritual poverty. We note that for us in Nigeria, Ken Saro-Wiwa/MOSOP won the prize in 1994 and I received same in 2010.

Living in the Niger Delta can be equated to living in a laboratory of contestations and experimentations birthed by failed promises, dashed hopes, brutalised lives and a thoroughly polluted environment. If we agree with our people that the environment is our life, we should also agree to a line penned in 1998 in my poem, We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood. That line, inspired by decades of despoliation, mayhem and bloodletting stated: We are the living long sacrificed.

The defiance of the living dead is what has drawn the attention of the world to the plight of this region. It is what has raised heroes such as Adaka Boro and Ken Saro-Wiwa. It is
that defiance that made leaders way back in our pre-colonial history to stand up and defend the rights of our people to live, grow and relate with each others and with visitors in dignity and mutual respect. We understand that this struggle is yet alive. And we pay keen attention to the line of our national anthem that warns that “The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”

It is this stubborn struggle for dignity and justice that has empowered the oppressed to stand on the ruins of our homesteads and shattered lives and proclaim we shall overcome, we shall rebuild, we shall not make be buried in the dust. It is the defiance of the hopeful.

Through this partnership with UNIPORT doors of scholarship, exchanges and deep examination of our environment in all ramification are being opened. Through this scholars will dig deeper into the underpinning causes of the failure of the state to defend her peoples and the environment. Right Livelihood Award laureates are automatically Fellows of the RLC and this ensures that scholars have ready access to these individuals and organisations using them as key learning resources through engagement in activities of education, scientific research, and including practical activities that replicate and share their work.

We are hopeful that there will be more scholarship in the areas of fusing the sciences to expose the systemic root-causes of societal challenges. In particular we are hopeful that scholars will take intense look into the mix of our challenges through political, ecological, cultural, economic and technological change.

We are hopeful that young scholars will grab opportunities that this partnership will open and showcase the brilliance and energy that is so peculiarly Nigerian. The University of Port Harcourt, by its location in the oil capital of Nigeria, is well placed to provide hands-on scholarship on the impunity and rampage that has left this territory to be infamously known as one of the top ten most polluted places on the planet.
At the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, we believe that the lack of respect for our environment and peoples – the general disposition that sees Mother Earth as an object for exploitation and manipulation – is driven by neoliberal agendas that have become a creed and globalized the exploitation of the weak and insists that might is right. HOMEF believes that this state of affairs will best be tackled through conscious scholarship and building and sharing of knowledge.

To this end, we are committed to continuous ecological and political education aimed at examining the roots of exploitation of resources, labour, peoples and entire regions as a contribution, locally and globally, to the building of movements for the recovery of human/societal memory, dignity and harmonious living with full respect of natural cycles of Mother Earth.  Part of this effort is what we do in our Sustainability Academy or HOME School, a session of which will hold here and in other locations over the next two days.

It is now my pleasure to present Dr Monika Griefahn, co-Chair of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and former Minister of Environment of Germany, to deliver the UNIPORT Campus Inaugural Right Livelihood Lecture. 
Solidarity & Dignity!

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