Environmental activist Nnimmo Bassey to receive Wallenberg Medal


Nnimmo Bassey, a global environmental activist, will receive the University of Michigan’s 2024 Wallenberg Medal.

Bassey is an architect and director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, a Nigeria-based ecological think tank. He also is a member of the steering committee of Oilwatch International, a network resisting the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in the Global South.

A photo of Nnimmo Bassey
Nnimmo Bassey

He will receive the award and deliver the 29th Wallenberg Lecture at a ceremony Sept. 10. Details about the ceremony, which is free and open to the public, will be announced in the coming months.

“As an architect, poet, writer and human rights advocate, Nnimmo Bassey works to address root cause issues driving climate migration, environmental and social impacts of extractive production, and hunger in the Niger Delta,” said Sioban Harlow, professor emerita of epidemiology and global public health and chair of the Wallenberg Medal Executive Committee.

“His commitment to socio-ecological justice connects large-scale issues of climate change, exploitation of natural resources, and political/corporate intransigence to the lives of individuals in the Niger Delta and beyond.”

The Wallenberg Medal and Lecture honors the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, who graduated from U-M’s College of Architecture in 1935 and saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews near the end of World War II.

“Just as Raoul Wallenberg trained as an architect at the University of Michigan before bringing his multifaceted skills to humanitarian work, Bassey’s background as an architect undergirds his environmental leadership,” Harlow said.

Bassey chaired Friends of the Earth International from 2008-12, was a co-recipient of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” and received the Rafto Human Rights Prize in 2012. He has received honorary doctorate degrees from University of York in the United Kingdom in 2019 and from York University in Canada in 2023.

Bassey’s books include “To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction” and “The Climate Crisis in Africa and Oil Politics: Echoes of Ecological War.” His poetry collections include “We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood,” “I Will Not Dance to Your Beat,” and “I See the Invisible.”

In 1944, at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest. Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports and placed many thousands of Jews in safe houses throughout the besieged city. He confronted Hungarian and German forces to secure the release of Jews, whom he claimed were under Swedish protection, and saved more than 80,000 lives.

Administered by the Donia Human Rights Center, U-M awards the Wallenberg Medal to those who, through their actions and personal commitment, perpetuate Wallenberg’s extraordinary accomplishments and human values, and demonstrate the capacity of the human spirit to stand up for the helpless, to defend the integrity of the powerless, and to speak out on behalf of the voiceless.

Recent Wallenberg Medal recipients include:

  • Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the Florida-based labor and human rights organization the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (2023).
  • Safa Al Ahmad, Saudi Arabian journalist and documentary filmmaker (2019).
  • March For Our Lives of Parkland, Florida and The B.R.A.V.E. Youth Leaders of Chicago (2018).
  • Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative (2017).

Notable medal recipients over the past 30 years include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Miep Gies, John Lewis, Masha Gessen, Elie Wiesel, Denis Mukwege, and His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.


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