These are days of confusion at the Environmental Rights Development Foundation (also known as Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria), a non-governmental organisation established on January 11, 1993 during the era of military rule in Nigeria as a vehicle to fight against abuse of the environment.
History had it that the body was founded by three individuals – Nnimmo Bassey, Oronto Douglas(now late) and Godwin Uyi Ojo in conjunction with a Briton who drafted the philosophy of ERA/FoEN.
From its inception, Nnimmo Bassey, an Architect, assumed the dual position of the Executive Director and chairman of the Board of Trustees. He vacated the position of Executive Director in 2013 handing over to Godwin Uyi Ojo while still retaining his chairmanship position of the board.
However, Ojo while addressing a press conference and General Assembly of the organisation in Benin City on Wednesday, October 7th, 2020, alleged that since his assumption of office he had been battling to free himself from what he described as the overbearing influence of Bassey in the day to day running of the organisation which ordinarily should be his (Ojo’s) assignment.
Ojo also accused Bassey of establishing an organisation, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) “for the purpose of sabotaging the progress of ERA/FoEN,” adding that “the conflict of interest has caused rivalry and entrenched conflicts that is inimical to the smooth running of ERA/FoEN.”
At the end of its deliberation, the General Assembly resolved that “Nnimmo Bassey has been removed as trustee and chairman of the board and every act of illegality taken by him to undermine the interest of ERA/FoEN is declared null and void; the ERA/FoEN offices in Lagos and Abuja under the control of Nnimmo Bassey be shut down with immediate effect until further directive from Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo, the Executive Director; the General Assembly passed a vote of confidence on the Executive Director, Dr. Godwin Uyi Ojo as a leading and environmental and human rights advocate, community and grassroots mobiliser, and urged him not to be distracted by anyone in the discharge of his duties. The General Assembly in this general meeting reaffirmed his position as Executive Director; that going by the provisions of section 834(1) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act(CAMA) 2020, the General Assembly in this general meeting has vetted and approved the nomination and appointment of the following persons as trustees of Environmental Rights Development Foundation: Chief Saint Ema Pii(chairman), Godwin Uyi Ojo (Secretary), Mike Karikpo(Member) and Jennifer Ero(Member); that Chima Williams who is parading himself as Acting Executive Director of ERA, be subjected to disciplinary actions within the ambit of the law and that the public should take note that Chima Williams is not the Executive Director of ERA and as such, no one should transact business with him.”
However, in his reaction, Nnimmo Bassey accused Dr. Uyi Ojo of illegality as “his appointment had been terminated since Saturday, October 3rd, 2020 and he has been replaced by Barrister Chima Williams in acting capacity.”
Responding to the action of Uyi Ojo and others, Nnimmo Bassey said: “On Saturday, August 10th, 2020, the Board of Trustees (BoT) of ERA/FoEN called an emergency meeting upon receiving the report of an evaluator who evaluated the Organisation.
“The evaluator was appointed in July 2020 to evaluate the organisation because things were not moving in the right direction and we needed to know how to make the organisation move in a better direction to fulfil its mandate as a foremost Nigerian environmental justice organisation.
“At that meeting, Mr. Ojo was invited as a member of the board. It was at that same meeting he was removed as a member of the board and his appointment was terminated because the board decided that his services was no longer needed.
“The board appointed him in 2013 at the board meeting in Abuja chaired by me. It was because I resigned from leadership of ERA/FoEN at that point. After leading ERA/FoEN for twenty years I thought that was enough for one person. We needed to let ERA/FoEN be led by somebody with new ideas and may be movement growth.
“We have a pedigree for growing movement and growing organisation. There are many organisations that have grown with a kind of inspiration and so in July this year Laura Livoti of the US was appointed to evaluate ERA/FoEN. On behalf of the board the agreement was between the evaluator and Godwin Uyi Ojo as Executive Director of ERA/FoEN. He paid fully for it.
“When the report came out we called a meeting on 3rd October, 2020, to review the report. A lot of things came out. There are a lot of things in the report. A very thorough report.
“The staff were interviewed in terms of questionnaires, their graph to show their report. Those who wanted personal interview with the evaluator were also interviewed personally. He himself was interviewed for about six hours over this. The problem with ERA/FoEN is not about personality issue. The board is acting on the interest of the Organisation.
“He(Uyi Ojo) may be paranoid about certain things. Paranoid about HOMEF. I set up HOMEF on leaving ERA as an ecological think tank and what we do is creating ideas. There is nothing we do that’s in conflict with what ERA/FoEN does. Of course, I wouldn’t do anything conflicting with ERA/FoEN. How would I lead an organisation for twenty years then I would want to do anything to undermine the organisation. All we did every time is to support the movement for environmental justice in Nigeria, in Africa and in the world.
“The report assessing the organisation came to the conclusion, if you read it you wouldn’t even want to even to call a meeting before he would be removed. But one of the key things was that the organisation needs some form of healing and the board agreed that to get that to happen the person who was Executive Director uptil Saturday, October 3, 2020, ought to be disengaged. We were very kind he wasn’t sacked his appointment was just terminated. It was unanimous. Not one board member that said otherwise.
“There is a story about founding, plurality and inclusiveness that some of us have as a track record. Ojo was a casual staff of my architectural firm. A casual Man Friday. But I took him very close. When CLO(Civil Liberties Organisation) started I was a member of the board of CLO. Then at a point I was coordinating the South South zone of the CLO before people like Paul Ohonbamu was now appointed with some other people to work. Just to help him(Ojo) I got him employed by CLO as a staff.