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Oil of the Niger Delta – Blessing or Curse?

Published 9 February 2011

To get closer to the answer for the question above it is worth a visit to a current exhibition at the HOST Gallery. Hidden on Honduras street in the City, this small gallery might not get enough attention as it should deserve.

It is probably well known in professional circles, but it is equally relevant and fascinating to the general public as well, since the project brings up very important issues. The latest photo exhibition which has been made possible with the support of Amnesty International displays photos from Christian Lutz, whose work have brought him several international awards (including Swiss Photography Prize 2007 and the International Grand Prix 2009).

This time in his exhibition ‘Tropical Gift’ he observes the Nigerian oil industry, and focuses on the life of the businessmen involved. We are inundated by the media with pictures and news of the endless poverty that prevails in Nigeria, and we also could have heard about the growing role of Nigerian oil industry worldwide. However, we don’t really get information about how oil affects the man on the street nor do we know about how businessmen live their daily life. We also don’t have a clear picture about the enormous difference between these two groups of people, who live side by side but whose lives couldn’t be more contrasting.

Christian Lutz, during three trips made to Nigeria, managed to gain access to yacht clubs and private beaches, to expatriate businessmen in their swimming pools, and captured them celebrating their success or sitting in a business meeting. The photos are strikingly honest. The expression of each individual, one and all – regardless whether they are employees in a yacht club or guests in a swimming pool sipping a cocktail – reflects total despondency and taedium vitae. Namely their lives is more fragile than crystal is. The employees live in perfect defencelessness, in turn, their bosses can recline upon only the mercy of fellow businessmen.

As one of the employees of a French oil company concluded ’Nigeria is horrible – only business is fantastic. Everything here is a role playing game – a game you have to end up winning, because if I’m not the first one to snap up all the land has to give, someone else will surely beat me to it.’

Although the new elites of Lagos and Abuja possess indescribable wealth, they do not feel the urge to return anything back to their country, to help education, development or healthcare just to name a few areas that could be improved with their help. We must emphasize though that Western countries are part of the story as well. A big expatriate community living in Nigeria taking part in the growing oil business and its wealth, whose parent company in Europe or any other part of the world does not consider to the least extent what the urge of gaining some ‘quick cash’ cause in the region, including its people and the environment.

Christian Lutz’s exhibition, Tropical Gift, is on display at the HOST Gallery until the 1st March. Entry is free; the exhibition is held with the support of Amnesty International.