From December 17 to 31, 2016, Omenka Gallery will present Delta Bush Refineries and Other Stories, an exhibition of recent work by award-winning photojournalist Akintunde Akinleye. This exhibition, a full self-exhibit, is not intended to cast the stigma of criminals on my subjects, but to push into the public domain a symbolic illustration of Nigeria’s collective failure to genuinely address corruption—an unholy culture that affronts the collective dignity of Nigerians.
Oil, crude oil, has provided Nigeria with a surplus economic abundance that has not been utilized since its discovery in commercial quantity in the tiny village of Oloibiri, Bayelsa State, in 1956. However, Nigeria is yet to realize the full potentials of its natural resources. One of the bloodiest civil wars in history soon followed the 1960 Independence. It recorded the death of more than one million souls within the space of just two and half years. After that, decades of military rule, and the unrestrained flow of petrodollars, have conspired to entrench a culture of corruption that Nigeria has not been able to shake off. Even now!
Combining the siphoning of crude oil for sale in the black market and the crude process of refining it in the bush locations of the Delta region, is a most dangerous ‘enterprise’ indeed. It engages unemployed youths, who ‘work’ with the connivance of some powerful politicians, who lurk in the shadows, to take what is rightfully theirs.
Bearing down under the unholy trinity of politicians stealing oil money from the central government coffers, the bush oil refiners engaging in illegal crude oil tapping from the creeks, and the oil multinational flouting standard operational policies, Nigeria’s crude oil story is a ‘basket metaphor,’ of surplus waste, environmental pollution and monumental national crisis. And it will continue to push Nigeria deeper into recession. From the oil boom of the 1970s, more than 400 billion U.S. dollars is estimated to have been wasted on political frivolities.
Although military action has now been intensified to stem down oil bunkering activities in the Delta, it doesn’t seem like the unemployed youths will cease this damaging enterprise, except Nigeria’s elite stop their own thieving of the country’s oil wealth.
Akintunde Akinleye is an award winning photojournalist whose images focus on editorial activism and experimental documentary topics. He received the World Press Photo prize in 2007 and the National Geographic all roads award in 2008. He is a recipient of residency fellowships at the University of Texas in Dallas and at the Thami Mnyele foundation in Amsterdam. His works have been published in TIME magazine, Vogue and the New York Times and exhibited in Lagos, Madrid, Brussels, California, Bamako, Munich, and the U.K. A consummate academic, Akintunde will be pursuing a research work in Film studies for a PhD after obtaining degrees in Education, journalism and Mass Communication. He once served as a jury-member for Friends of the Earth photo completion and a guest speaker at TEDx Ikoyi event. He lives in Lagos and has, for over a decade, worked for Reuters from Nigeria, covering human interest and spot news stories in West Africa sub-region.