Saving the Osun River (A Documentary)
Entry type: Single project
Publishing organisation: Diamond FM, Osun, Nigeria
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 2022-09-28
Authors: Babatunde Okunlola
Babatunde Okunlola is a multiple award-winning development journalist, documentary maker and media consultant using media for development, and covers an intersection of issues on Environment, health, security and policies as they affect underreported and underrepresented communities in Nigeria, using data and storytelling. He is Head of programmes at Diamond FM which covers South West and North central Nigeria. He is a member of the International Leaders Association, and has worked with several international organisations and fellowships over the years including as INTERNEWS Health Journalism Network Ambassador to Nigeria, a YIAGA Bounce Corruption Ambassador, among roles played through the years.
“SAVING THE OSUN RIVER” investigates the impact of gold mining and other activities on the Osun River pollution and unveils the true facts about metals and activities polluting the 267 km river.
Depended upon by over 20 communities, with more than two million residents and revered for its cultural and religious powers by millions of followers across the world, the River which houses a sacred grove which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, is now a source of concern over the murky waters and toxic wastes widely believed to have been brought about by gold mining activities.
The project “Saving the Osun River”, which tells a distinct, daring and investigative story bordering on the clandestine activities in the gold mining industry in Ijesaland and its impact on the Osun river, for the first time investigates the truth behind the pollution of the Osun river, by adopting a scientific and data driven apporach with unrefutable results which point out not only the impact of bringing the plight of Nigerians most affected by the illegal mining operations in the country to the fore, but long after its conclusion, the data gathered and evidence produced in this first of a trilogy has led to the placement of a ban on all mining activities in Osun state, Nigeria in December 2022. (https://bit.ly/3Gk2q71 ).
This groundbreaking investigative documentary, has also opened up the conversation on other pollutants of the river; which hadnt happened before, beyond findings showing the presence of heavy metals such as Lead, Cyanide and Mercury are prevalent in the waters, much more alarming and largely underreported; which this investigations unveils is the presence of Arsenic 0.08mg/l which is higher than the WHO standards of 0.01mg/l brought about by the tie and dye industry right there at the grove, as well as farmlands where DDT is also present among chemicals used for pesticides to protect Cocoa crops in farms that run along the river.
Using Google Earth’s satellite imagery, I was able to trace the source of the pollution along the 267KM river which runs along several affected communities in Osun state esspecially around Ijesaland. Having a clear overview of the river paths and chanels helped in the decision taken on the river paths understudied ie mining sites at the Oora river which leads to the Osogbo grove and then the Asejire endpoint where water samples were collected to establish the impact of gold mining activities and metals produced. The adoption of the imagery helped to be more strategic in this investigation.
I also adopted data drawn from a period of 5 years by researchers who had run several tests such as physicochemical water quality analytical tests in labs, by researchers whose works have been published in global journals, and I also carried out my own water sample test across three different points of the 247KM Osun river to ascertain any differences had over seasons, so as to ascertain the impact of metals found in the river.
Context about the project:
The illicit activities of illegal Chinese miners engaged in alluvial mining and the illegal artisanal gold miners; spread all over Ijeshaland, Osun State, Nigeria has resulted in massive environmental degradation, polluted drinking water & health challenges, as well as, unprecedented economic loss to local, State, Federal Government & the grassroots economy. It has also resulted in the abuse of the rule of law especially as it impacts the communities negatively. Allegations have often abounded about the complicity of the governement of the day in issueing licences and turning a blind eye on these illicit activities, as well as well as issuing licences indiscriminately to its cronies.
The reckless environmental, pollution of soil, and water sources, destruction of farmlands and unregulated mining in Ijeshaland has been predicted to get worse, If nothing is done to check & remediate the aforementioned environmental, water & health challenges believed to be caused solely by unregulated mining activities. However, while the pollution of the river has been established, the only ties made have been to mining activities, up until this project have been underreported, which opens up other sources of pollution.
This particular project involved not just funds that I had to expend personally, as a result of tests carried out across different points of the river, but coallating the data had to be done from scratch. Tests carried out had to be done out of the state, as a result of a lack of laboratories offering such services within.
The use of natural ambience to get the listeners to understand the points being made was alos technical, hence the use of strong storytelling to avoid sounding too scientific.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
I believe that journalists can learn the importance and adoption of storytelling in getting audience to relate more with scientific researches such as this. While the need for strong evidence and data in building a solid case was necessary, a lot of that could have been lost in transition for the intended audience if not properly relayed. The storytelling implemented, helped to break information down in such a way that audiences could understand and take ownership of the story produced.
The need for journalists to conduct THEIR own research can aslo be learnt from this project. Up until this body of work was put together, the assumption was that the mining activities were soley responsible for the water pollution and all other sources hadnt been explored. I was convinced to take a wholesome approach instead of going with the more popular views on the gold mining situation being a SOLE cause of the pollution. This instinct helped in the discovery of even more worrisome and dangerous sources of some of the metals similar to that produced by the gold mining along the river chanels, hereby opening up a new conversation. Conducting my own research also helped in not getting caught in certain agendas by some on state actors which the popular narrative; ie “gold mining narrative being the sole source of concern” favored.
Journalists should conduct their own researches as much as they can.