The Sophie Prize 1998:
The Jury's Decision

Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria 

The Sophie Foundation has decided to award the international Sophie Prize 1998 to  the Nigerian environment and human rights  organisation Environmental Rights Action (ERA). In recent years a number of human rights and environmental activists in Nigeria have been imprisoned without trial. «Through outstanding courage, the organisation has demonstrated that the work for human dignity, the environment and democracy must go hand in hand. This is not least important to emphasize in a year where we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of UN Human Rights», says Elin Enge, chairperson of the Sophie Foundation.

The Sophie Prize, amounting to US $ 100,000, was established last year by the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder and his wife Siri Dannevig. It is being presented for the first time, and the award ceremony will take place in Oslo on 15 June.

Environmental Rights Action (ERA) in Nigeria is an environmental and human rights organisation, member of  Friends of the Earth International.

ERA has played a major role in surveying  damage inflicted on the environment by oil company operations in Nigeria. The organisation has also taken the initiative to build up community resource centres in the affected areas. Through these centres, the local population receives support for local environmental and developmental initiatives. 

ERA is involved  in a national campaign against the international oil companies operating in the Ogoni people’s land territories in the Niger delta. More than 50,000 Ogoni people have been forced to flee the area due to expropriation of their land and extensive pollution of the earth, air and water. This has led to a 75% reduction in crops, which in turn has  led to 25% of the area’s population suffering from severe malnutrition. According to several independent sources, up to 2000 persons have been killed in the conflict. In 1995 author Ken Saro-Wiva and eight other environmental and human rights champions, all of whom were representatives for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), were executed. 20 environmental activists are still imprisoned without trial. 

ERA’s President Nnimmo Bassey (37 years old) is a poet and architect.  For many years, he has been engaged in environment and human rights disputes in Nigeria. He has been imprisoned repeatedly. An international campaign has been established in order to prevent that  Bassey is forced to share the same fate as Ken Saro-Wiva. 

Nigeria is a dictatorship and is ranked third in the world for breaches of human rights. More than 97% of the country’s export income is derived from oil/ natural gas operations.  

The Jury has wished to emphasise the following among their grounds for the selection of ERA as winner:

The recipient of the Sophie Prize 1998

  • has succeeded in creating increased public awareness around the close connection between environment, human rights and democracy.
  • provides emphasis on the fact  that support to democratic movements is essential for creating reform pressure on local and national government authorities.
  • contributes through international awareness, to provide protection for the 20 imprisoned environmental activists and hopefully shielding representatives from the environmental movement from future injustices in Nigeria.
  • Manifests how multi-national companies affect, and in this case directly destroy, the basis for human existence- reflecting the responsibilities which rests upon trade and industry to respect human rights and the environment.
  • Intensifies the debate on the responsibilities political authorities have in relation to the environment and human rights.
  • Sets focus on the importance of placing development and management of natural resources respectfully in the hands of local people
  • A distinct responsibility rests on Norway, as a major oil nation and as an investor, among others through the Oil Fund, to maintain a consistent policy in this area.