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We Thought it was Oil, But it was Blood


The other day      We danced on the street      Joy in our hearts      We thought we were free      Three young folks fell to our right      Countless more fell to our left      Looking up,      Far from the crowd      We beheld      Red hot guns

We thought it was oil      But it was blood

We thought it was oil      But this was blood

Heart jumping      Into our mouths      Floating on      Emotions dry wells      We leapt with fury      Knowing it was't funny      Then we beheld      Bright red pools

We thought it was oil      But it was blood

We thought it was oil      But this was blood

Tears don't flow      When you are scarred      First it was the Ogoni      Today it is Ijaws      Who will be slain this next day?      We see open mouths      But we hear no screams      Standing in a pool      Up to our knees

We thought it was oil      But it was blood

We thought it was oil      But this was blood

Dried tear bags      Polluted streams      Things are real      Only when found in dreams      We see their Shells      Behind military shields      Evil, horrible evil gallows called oilrigs      Drilling our souls

We thought it was oil      But it was blood

We thought it was oil      But this was blood

The heavens are open      Above our head      Toasted dreams in flared      And scrambled sky      A million black holes      In a burnt sky      But we know our dreams      Won't burst like crude pipes

We thought it was oil      But this was blood

We thought it was oil      But this was blood

This we tell you      They may kill all      But the blood will speak      They may gain all      But the soil will RISE      We may die but stay alive      Placed on the slab      Slaughtered by the day      We are the living      Long sacrificed

We thought it was oil      But it was blood

We thought it was oil      But this was blood


--- Nnimmo Bassey


Nnimmo Bassey is a Nigerian environmental justice activist, architect, essayist and poet. He is the director of the ecological think-tank, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and coordinator of Oilwatch International. He was the chair of Friends of the Earth International (the largest grassroots environmental organisation in the world) from 2008-2012 as well as the co-founder and executive director of Environmental Rights Action (1993-2013) which is based in Nigeria (in Benin city, Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Yenagoa). He was a co-recipient of the 2010 Right Livelihood Award also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” In 2012 he received the Rafto Human Rights Award and in 2014 he was awarded Nigeria’s national honour as a Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) in recognition of his environmental activism. Nnimmo Bassey is the author of the highly acclaimed book, To Cook a Continent, which details the destructive impacts of the extractive industries and the climate crises in Africa. He has also authored books on architecture. His poetry focuses on environmental justice. 'We thought it was oil but it was blood' and 'I will not dance to your beat', are two of his most widely known books of poems.

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