Cry me a river: How gold polluted Nigeria’s sacred Osun river

Ilesha, Nigeria – In his early twenties, Simeon Abolarinwa did the grown-up thing of making a curriculum vitae for the first time. At the bottom of the document, he listed his hobbies: hunting, hiking and fishing. Unlike many of his peers doing the same to fill space or boost their profiles, these were actually his hobbies.

Growing up in his native Osun state in southwest Nigeria, he regularly snuck out of the family house to make hooks out of binding wire and go fishing with friends in nearby streams.

These days, the 41 year old lives in Osogbo, the state capital, working as a network administrator with a university. His favourite place to fish is a spot on the Osun river, less than a kilometre (half a mile) from his apartment and a few kilometres from the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The pollution of Nigeria's sacred Osun river [Eromo Egbejule/Al Jazeera]
The gates to Osun Osogbo sacred grove, a UNESCO World Heritage site [Eromo Egbejule/Al Jazeera]

“I have this personal connection to Osun river,” Abolarinwa told Al Jazeera. “Where will I practise my hobby if not at the Osun river?”

He also goes to the grove – where fishing is not allowed – to play with monkeys and watch wildlife. During the lockdown, he took to going to his fishing spot to climb rocks or just sit and admire nature. “I have a lecturer friend at the university, an ornithologist who I’d go with to watch birds,” he said.

Sometimes he goes fishing alone and at other times, with a group of fishing enthusiasts. At times, they just admire their catch before releasing it back into the river but, mostly, they catch to eat.

On his Twitter profile, the pinned tweet is a photo of him excitedly grilling fish on an open fire, a new pastime for a man who disliked eating fresh fish as a child.