Bassey was born June 11, 1958. He studied architecture and practiced as an architect "in the public sector for 10 years." He was active on human rights issues in the 1980s when he served as on the Board of Directors of Nigeria's Civil Liberties Organization. In 1993, he co-founded a Nigerian NGO known as Environmental Rights Action (Friends of the Earth Nigeria) in order to advocate, educate and organize around environmental human rights issues in Nigeria. Since 1996, Bassey and Environmental Rights Action led Oilwatch Africa and, beginning in 2006, also led the Global South network, Oilwatch International, striving to educate and mobilize communities in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Congo (Brazzaville), Ghana, Uganda, South America and in Southeast Asia to "resist destructive oil and gas extraction activities."  At the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Bassey - despite being accredited - was "physically kept out" of a meeting.