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Damini Ebunoluwa Ogulu, popularly known as Burnaboy, is arguably one of the biggest names in the African Music industry in contemporary times.
Burna Boy, who hails from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, has numerous laurels to his credit like the Grammy and BET awards.
However, with his recent documentary ‘Whiskey‘ the musician depicts the consequences of oil bunkering, gas flaring and flooding can cause in the lives of Nigerians living in the Niger Delta, particularly Port Harcourt where he hails from.
Niger Delta is the country’s oil-producing region, with many oil refineries nearby. This year it was hit with one of the worst floods in Nigeria for decades. It is reported that the flooding has killed more than 600 people, displaced around 1.4 million and destroyed 440,000 hectares of farmland.
Burnaboy, in the 16-minute documentary based on the single from his most recent album Love, Damini, lays bare the damaging consequences of environmental degradation in the region.
Port Harcourt used to be known as the Garden City but now it has metamorphosed into a city covered in soot which makes lives unbearable for residents and has resulted in respiratory diseases, heart failure and death.
The Nigerian government has claimed there is a connection between pollution and the operation of illegal oil refineries.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 3.2 million people die prematurely from illnesses triggered by air pollution annually.
Similarly, the world bank environmental data showed that in 2015, 94% of Nigerians were exposed to high air pollution levels above the WHO guidelines.
A 2018 report ranks Port Harcourt as one of the most polluted cities in the world, with an air index of 188.
The Port Harcourt soot levels are also contaminating water, including the water consumed by residents.
Featured in the documentary are people badly affected by the problem: a woman who lost her child to respiratory disease caused by polluted air; a truck driver whose truck is trapped in water on an undulating expressway; a young man who lost his house to the recent flooding; a doctor reiterating the extreme effects of the damage to the oil city.
In a screening of ‘Whiskey’ on December 8, 2022, Burna Boy said:
“Everything was a lot worse than the way I left it. The air was fully polluted, everything would be black when you woke up, even the cars. It’s really what you see in the documentary.”
“This is real life, everyday life for my people. I feel like we’ll make songs about everything else, so why not make songs about what’s really going on and what’s really affecting the people in real-time. That’s what the song ‘Whiskey’ is. I hope it does its job and creates the necessary awareness and some type of change comes from this.”
Before Burnaboy’s ‘Whiskey‘ there was Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer and activist, who spoke out forcefully against the Nigerian military regime and oil mining activities causing environmental damage to the land of the Ogoni people in his native Rivers state in the Niger Delta region.
The writer co-founded MOSOP, short for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, in the 1990s.
The group’s stance was that oil production had devastated the region’s environment while bringing no benefit to its 500,000 Ogoni people.
But Saro-Wiwa’s agitation came with terrible consequences. He and eight others were accused of masterminding the gruesome murder of certain Ogoni chiefs in what is now known as the case of the Ogoni Nine.
Saro-Wiwa was horrendously dispatched by hanging on November 10, 1995, by the military dictatorship of General Sani Abacha.
What is the situation now?
Twenty years after Saro-Wiwa’s judicial murder, there’s been very little change.
Despite the fact that the Niger Delta region is the oil-producing hub of Nigeria, little attention has been given to its people in terms of infrastructure and sustainable employment.
This has forced young people to find illegal ways to make income by refining crude oil and involving themselves in oil bunkering. And the attendant effect of this is the soot covering Port Harcourt.
The practice is also connected to long-standing dissatisfaction by locals with international oil companies extracting natural resources for profit without investing in communities while causing devastating pollution.
But soot is not the only dire consequence.
Nigeria’s illegal oil refineries keep killing people. Oil refining is a very dangerous process because the extracts are highly flammable. Within minutes of a trigger, the fire can leave charred bodies, burnt forest palms, cars and vans.
No fewer than 100 people died after an explosion in April. It is the second fatal illegal refinery explosion in Nigeria in six months. Last October, 25 people died at a different site in Rivers state.
Pray the Nigerian government listens to Whiskey
The government’s response to the recent flooding leaves much to be desired.
Many victims are still living in terrible conditions in camps with no government assistance. Experts say the government has failed to provide sufficient relief.
And despite the fact that the government has repeatedly claimed it is winning the war against illegal refineries, hundreds of them are still sprouting up. This is because the root issues have not been dealt with.
One report says Nigeria’s politicians and security officials are among those profiting.
It is hoped that Burnaboy’s documentary, which is the first of its kind, will bring some sort of awareness and permanent solution to the problem which has lingered for decades.
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