George Osodi: Kings of Nigeria

Having captured the oil devastation, he now photographs Nigeria’s traditional monarchs to offer a positive way forward.

Filmmaker: Katharina von Schroeder

George Osodi’s photo project, Oil Rich Niger Delta, and the resulting book of stunning pictures, Delta Nigeria – The Rape of Paradise brought attention to the environmental problems in the area and made Osodi one of Nigeria’s most sought-after photographers.

“I think it’s my responsibility as the man with the camera to find a way to represent this [situation], so that it becomes appealing to whoever sees it,” explains Osodi. “At first sight you’re like, ‘what a beauty’, but then behind it is a huge Armageddon. It’s like hell on earth.”

This film follows Osodi as he continues to document the devastating effects of oil spills in the wetland region and as he tackles his latest project, about Nigeria’s traditional Monarchs.

“[There are] frequent clashes among different ethnic groups,” says Osodi. “Lots of people have lost trust in their identity. I felt it was important that we see this diverse culture as a point of unity instead of seeing it as something that should divide us as a nation.

“The easiest way I could approach this was to look at the monarchy structure in the country because they are closer to the people than the governors.”


By Katharina von Schroeder

Shortly after George and I met for the first time he told me, “I am always on the move. Can you keep up with me?”

“Sure,” I replied.

Constantly being on the move is the only possible way to make a film about George’s work. For his numerous projects he has to travel the roads of Nigeria in all directions and hardly ever spends more than two days in one location, determined to capture a unique moment or tell a relevant story.

As soon as my cameraman and I jumped into George’s car, he drove around for hours to show us his beloved country, Nigeria. Through the car window we saw the thick mangrove forests, serene rivers and the most beautiful scenery passing us by.

Palm trees, reflected in oil [George Osodi]  

After some hundred kilometres the mood changed as we entered Delta State. There were checkpoints with heavily armed soldiers and policemen stopping the car every few kilometres.

The oil-producing state is the “hen that lays the golden egg” as George puts it. He explained that in the past, the exports from the region had mainly been palm oil and other agricultural produce, whereas now crude oil and petrol account for most of Nigeria‘s national income.

A steady flow of oil company workers‘ cars, protected by military convoys, passed us. All the while, George was on high alert to ensure that we were not forced to stop at the roadside by gangs always on the lookout for an opportunity.

The dangers of the region are tangible but as soon as we entered the palaces of the monarchs, for George’s latest photography project, we discovered a completly different world. The architecture, the colourful fabrics and majestic rituals give us an idea of Nigeria’s enormous cultural heritage.

It is very diffcult to access the kings’ palaces but as George is a well-known and respected photographer, we were well recieved. Unfortunately during our first audience with a monarch I made a little mistake. The correct protocol for greeting a king, if you are a woman, is to kneel while the men take a bow, laying chest down on the floor. But as we entered the room of the Obi of Idumuje Unor, I instinctively stretched out my arm to shake his hand. The monarch did acknowledge my offer of a handshake and I heard soft chuckles from his entourage. I was later told that nobody is allowed to touch the king except those who are specifically delegated to assist him. I stepped aside and let George take over to greet the king in a proper manner before we started the photoshoot.

Visiting the Nigerian monarchs felt like moving through a fairy tale. Everywhere we went we recieved a warm welcome, which in most cases, was accompanied by the precious but bitter kola nut and some drinks.

Over the course of our journey we drove more than 3,000km, witnessed the community petitions at a king’s court, learned about a vodoo shrine and saw the most impressive craftmanship.

For his project, George will portray 100 monarchs, referring to the amalgamation of the northern and southern part of Nigeria, a 100 years ago. His project aims to be a symbol of peace and unity despite the challenges the nation is still facing, like the bombings by Boko Haram in the northern region.

I am excited to see George’s upcoming exhibitions and the pictures of the monarchs hanging on the walls, as he continues to dream of a peaceful and prosperous Nigeria.