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Hope is a Word
(in development)

Nnimmo Bassey was born in 1958, the same year Shell began extracting oil in the Niger Delta. Extraction continues to this day, with around 300 spills a year. The people paying the price are the Ogoni – fishermen and farmers left with oil-filled fish and oil-soaked fields. For forty years, Nnimmo has fought to stop oil extraction. Under the Abacha regime he went underground, hid his family, and was later imprisoned. In 1995 the regime executed Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, Nnimmo’s friend and inspiration – a hard blow for anti-oil activism in the Delta. 


Despite all this, Nnimmo maintains his wry, defying smile. He has high expectations of the world around him, and believes it can change. He also has high expectations of himself, something which is taking its toll. After a lifetime of struggle, Shell, Exxon and other corporations have decided to pull out of the Delta, leaving it to local companies and the corrupt government whose rusty pipes will lead to even more spills. Soil and water are still contaminated, life expectancy is 41 years, and no-one is held accountable. How can there be closure?


Nnimmo has a gift: he writes words that call to action. He taps into pain and anger, and out comes poetry in its rawest form. Military boots pressing down necks. Love poems on the run. Thoughts for his sons when he couldn’t be there. Rebels not turning the other cheek. Deep loss and frustration, yet so much defiance and hope. This is how he moves people. 


Nnimmo decides to bring his poetry to young activists in Port Harcourt and Ogoni, and encourage them to write. He asks them simple but fundamental questions. What drives them, what enrages them? What is their bond to the home and people they fight to protect? The closure Nnimmo is looking for might lie in the growing hope that young poets will follow in his steps, raising their voice together through poetry. Those voices might finally attract the attention needed to hold the big companies accountable for a 70 year long disaster. The next time he is reciting protest poetry, Nnimmo might be joined by a chorus of young voices, and see that the demand for change is finally heard.

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