CNN Photos

Putting a face on Nigeria’s ‘paradise lost’

As a native of oil-rich Nigeria, photographer George Osodi says he has seen the devastation, conflict and injustice caused by drilling for the “black gold.” Like many in the Delta State, he feels only a few reap the benefits of the resource.

Osodi, a Panos Pictures photographer, spent 2003-2007 documenting the delta and “the exploitation of its riches.” He compiled the resulting images into a book, "Delta Nigeria: The Rape of Paradise."

While Nigerians might not trust outside journalists, Osodi says they trusted him because he was a local. His intimate photographs gave them a voice.

“I want to show the duality of life in the delta region,” he says. “It is amazing how people carry on with their lives, with their daily routines, with a smile against all odds. I want to put a human face on this paradise lost.”

Earlier this month, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan suspended a nationwide fuel subsidy, sparking protests after the price of gasoline more than doubled. It became a rallying point for Nigerians angry over corruption and the alleged misuse of oil revenues in a country where most citizens battle grinding poverty.

Osodi says Nigeria relies too heavily on its oil supply and should look to cocoa, palm fruit and fish farming as alternative sources of revenue. He wanted to photograph the effects of the oil industry for posterity - particularly because he hopes “a time will come when the delta region will no longer be like this.”

In the meantime, he shows the unglamorous side of Africa’s leading oil producer: the pollution, poverty and damage.

Children play on abandoned oil stations. Fiery gas flares lash out, scarring any who venture too close. Poisonous fumes fill the air as women and children dry out tapioca next to the flames. Many parts of the area are empty shells due to oil spill fires and militant gang activity.

Osodi hopes his images will help trigger a transformation in the region. He wants to see the government step up for people like Pius Ogberemedaye, who lost his leg in the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. Ogberemedaye’s wife, Joy, has to work on a farm, and he receives no state pension, Osodi says.

“I wanted to do something that reflects my soul. It’s nice to document these processes, to inspire change and bring about development.”

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN