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In Benin, motorcyclists regularly navigate the chaotic streets with up to 700 litres of diesel strapped to their bikes – one false move and they could become human torches. The daredevil delivery men are supplying to the ubiquitous unlicensed petrol stations, where a litre of illegal fuel can cost just 55 cents. Business is booming, much to the dismay of the government and oil multinationals.
Nigeria, however, is paying a heavy price. Neighbouring Benin, it is the world’s No. 7 oil exporter, but since drilling first began in the 1960s, the ‘blessing’ has proved to be a terrible curse, breeding corruption and crime. Hidden in the natural maze of the mangrove forests are innumerable secret refineries.
Due to the oil trade, over 200 000 litres of oil have been released into the Delta every year for the last half-century. This pollution has choked the land, killed fish and caused severe illnesses in the locals. The authorities estimate that their life expectancy has fallen from 60 to 40 – and things are only getting worse, as communities become increasingly dependent on the black poison to survive. Our journalists brave the smugglers’ violent hostility, infiltrating secret operations and bringing to light the extent of the damage oil has done to the Delta.