Français   |  

Subscribe to the whole site

Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2013 > May 2013 > “Leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tar sands in the land!”

“Leave the oil in the soil, the coal in the hole and the tar sands in the land!”

Wednesday 1 May 2013, by Julien Boumard Coallier and Roger Rashi

This verse is taken from Nnimmo Bassey’s poem, I Will Not Dance To Your Beat (1), which he read at the opening ceremony of the World People’s Conference on Climate Change, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, on April 20, 2010.

The movement for climate justice recently met with some success, thanks to a small group of Nigerians whose country is the site of frequent environmental disasters (at least 300 oil spills per year). Supported by world-renowned environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey, and the NGO Friends of the Earth, small farmers from the Niger Delta won a lawsuit on January 30th in the Hague Netherlands against Shell Oil Nigeria for pollution of soils and waterways in their home country(2). In addition to payment of legal fees, the judgment stipulated a scheduled cleanup of soils and waterways, which was at best sloppy in the past, as well as technical adjustments to the infrastructure.

This victory is the result of a long battle that, according to Bassey, sets an important precedent for future lawsuits against oil companies and the pollution they cause. Henceforth, multinational corporations may be liable in their countries of origin for the mismanagement of their foreign subsidiaries. The fact that Royal Dutch Shell, headquartered in The Hague, was convicted by a Dutch court of environmentally harmful conduct committed by its subsidiary in Nigeria is a breakthrough of great importance. It opens new legal avenues for Nigerian villagers faced with criminal negligence committed by major oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon, Total, and particularly Shell, which wield enormous influence over the Nigerian government and its military. Previous victories in Nigerian courts were poorly enforced by the local authorities letting oil multinationals off the hook. However, shirking legal decisions in their country of origin, is a much more difficult proposition for Big Oil.

Bassey has been involved in various social and environmental movements for over 30 years, and his career has been highlighted by a great many achievements. He was particularly active in denouncing the serious pollution caused by Shell in the Niger Delta. He helped internationalize this issue by launching Oilwatch Africa in 1996 to support local struggles against the oil companies in Nigeria, Chad, Congo, and Ghana. In 2005, he began one of his most important battles, which resulted in a decision by the Constitutional Court of his native Nigeria to ban flaring, a highly polluting technique used by oil companies for burning natural gas produced at oil extraction sites.

In 2010, he was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize, and in 2012, he published his highly-regarded book, To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa (3). In this book, Bassey demonstrates that the issues surrounding the exploitation of natural resources and climate change in Africa cannot be divorced from the neo-liberal logic of seeking maximum profit. According to Bassey, this predatory logic must be overcome in order to correct environmental depredation and cure the ills of today’s civilization.

His work as Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, as founder of Africa Oilwatch and president of Friends of the Earth International from 2008 to January 2013, has made Bassey one of the best-known figures in the international movement for climate justice (4) and a leading activist for human and environmental rights.

Nnimmo Bassey will be in Montreal to participate in the Festival of Solidarity on June 15, 2013. During the festival, he will discuss his ongoing struggle against big oil companies and ways to combat climate change in order to ensure environmental and social justice for the world’s poorest people.

Register Now ( to be at the event on June 15 at Usine C, 1345 Avenue Lalonde, Montreal


1) To read the complete version of the poem:
Also available in the collection of poems I Will Not Dance to Your Beat, published in 2011 by Kraft Books, Nigeria.

2) See Dutch court says Shell responsible for Nigeria spills from Reuters website, January 30, 2013:

3) To Cook a Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Crisis in Africa, Nnimmo Bassey, Pambazuka Books, Cape Town, 2011

4) See Nnimmo Bassey, un écologiste contre les pétroliers, By Hervé Kempf, Le Monde, September 28, 2012: