Photographer Robin Hammond on story behind Nigeria picture

 
Rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt

As 2012 draws to a close I have invited five photographers to talk about the story behind one of their pictures taken this year.

Today photographer Robin Hammond looks at the events surrounding a picture he took at a rehabilitation facility outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt as part of an ongoing series entitled Condemned, which explores mental health issues in Africa.

It's a tough piece of work, hard to look at sometimes, but one that shines a light on an important issue so be sure to check out more of Hammond's work on his website once you have read the story in his own words.

Robin Hammond

They are hidden in the dark forgotten corners of churches, live out their lives on the filthy floors of prisons, and lie motionless, chained to rusting hospital beds. They rarely complain - life has taught them that they will not be heard, and they do not ask for help, they know none will come.

I first met Africans with mental illness in countries going through crisis while covering South Sudan's referendum for independence. It should have been a story about a hopeful future, but what I saw was the legacy of a violent and destructive past.

In Juba Central Prison men and women that had committed no crime were shackled to floors. Some of them had mental disability before the war and others were traumatised by it. Without a hospital or any other provision for them, prison had become their home.

Robin Hammond

Robin Hammond

Born in New Zealand 1975, Hammond moved to the UK in 2002 and began working as a freelance photographer. He has since become best known for his investigative work on human rights and environmental issues, often having to work undercover or in conditions of extreme hardship.

His investigation into the trafficking and exploitation of child footballers in West Africa was shortlisted for a One World Award in 2008 and his work from Zimbabwe later in the same year was short listed for the Care International Prize for Humanitarian photography at the Visa pour l'Image festival in Perpignan.

In 2009 his story An Unforgivable Truth won an Amnesty International Media Award and in 2010 he repeated the feat twice over, picking up awards for Toxic Jeans and Zimbabwe's Blood Diamonds.

He is now based between Paris, France and Cape Town, South Africa, from where he documents stories across the continent.

This started me on a journey that took me to Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya and most recently to Nigeria. I discovered a people abandoned by their governments, the aid community, and entire societies.

Nigeria is not in war like some of the other places I went to. It is an exceedingly wealthy country. The oil industry that has brought billions of dollars into the Nigerian economy though, has arguably been a disaster for the Delta region from where it is extracted. Corruption, mass inequality and violence have plagued the area ever since the discovery of the resource.

I visited this so-called rehabilitation facility (pictured) outside the Niger Delta city of Port Harcourt. It is run by the state government and holds over 170 people with mental illness or mental disability. It was originally designed as a facility to assist widows. In 1999 it was converted into a place of incarceration for homeless people with mental illness. They were cleared off the streets in a 'clean-up' in anticipation of the Fifa World Youth Soccer Championship.

The staff told me that no children stayed here but I soon found one mentally impaired child about eight years old sleeping on the floor in the room for the "high risk" male inmates. Staff changed their story and said the child had been there for three months but they weren't sure what to do with him. Then I found another child about 14 was sleeping on the floor in the same room.

My fixer distracted the staff while I hurried through other buildings on the premises. I saw a young man who had one leg amputated, his other leg looked to be rotting. The smell was confirmation. Many patients were in chains. One man was in handcuffs so tight that his wrists were badly swollen. Staff became worried about me being there. I had permission to visit but they didn't want me taking photos. My fixer told me that earlier he'd seen one of the staff driving away a corpse in the boot of his car.

From his enormous office table in his equally outsized office, the state minister responsible for the facility blamed foreign non-governmental organisations for not providing them with the help they needed to provide proper mental health care.

In the Niger Delta, like many other regions in Africa in crisis, it seems mental health is no-one's problem.

Robin Hammond is a member of Panos Pictures.

 
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  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    Further to my last, with some difficulty on my African Internet connection, I have been examining Robin Hammond’s website. As a former combat cameraman (of the award-winning type), I have to say, TinyElf, that I find your comments even more offensive than before (as are those of several others here). He is clearly a man of commitment and very considerable talent, while you are ... what exactly?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 34.

    TinyElf @ 32 & 33
    I know nothing at all about Mr Hammond, but I trust you are aware that the laws of libel and defamation are now being applied - rightly - to postings on the Internet. I also trust that you will, in due course, be able to back up your claims, in court, with irrefutable evidence. If not, perhaps you would be kind enough to take your bile elsewhere.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 32.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 31.

    Of course this is sad. It is not so long ago that people were locked up in cells for months at at time at St. John's Hospital, Lincoln.

    When not locked up in a cell, spending thier days confined and forced to work in the "Industrial Therapy Unit" earning 7s 6d a week

    Holiday was spending a week driving a tractor at harvest time on the Hospital directors farm = 2GBPs.

    Injustices are in AFRICA!!

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 29.

    As majority stakeholder (60% minimum) in hydrocarbon extraction in the Niger Delta the government of Nigeria should be "encouraged" to invest some of it's wealth in the welfare of its people rather than the benefit of its elected elite.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    To assume that the failings of an independent Federal Government is somehow linked to colonionism is presumptuous, crass and epitomises developing nations governments to accept any responsibility for their own failings.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 27.

    Thanks Robin for the revelation of certain over-sight in our continent. but that not-standing, you are fulfilling your profession , but please write biase free. It is not an over statement to say, world political leaders have failed the electorates, my nation, Nigeria and my continent, Africa inclusive. But please search also for some good projects to encourage some hardworking ones on the back.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 26.

    @12: I'm not British, but if you're anything like my country, you haven't given billions to Africa but you almost certainly, with your colonial past, ripped billions out of the continent. What you may have done is given billions to aid agencies who have a vested interest in keeping Africa poor. There is alot of good news coming out of Africa, but it's come about entirely from their own efforts.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 25.

    @14: Merely asking the question. Whether you like it or not, the person in the photo above has been stripped of their dignity. It was almost certainly done without their consent. To top it all off, the photographer, with their signature in the corner, has almost branded them the way someone might brand a piece of cattle. We're not mindless consumers, we're entitled to ask questions.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 24.

    I do not understand the meaning of this,if not of the purpose of making money out from the ignorant Africans.I don´t think it is right for a foreigner to go into someone´s country, take pictures without their permission and also without telling them what the pictures would be used for.It is exploitation.Did you pay them for selling their images.Please leave Africans alone.Enough of all this!!!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 23.

    Mental places in Nigeria are mostly religious places. living standards are better than what is on the picture. this look more like a nigerian or even else where in africa's waiting jail. That one I know for sure some of them do look like that.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 22.

    No doubt, developed countries are doing a better job than developing caring for the mentally ill. But, the mentally ill are still shunned in many parts of the world. One can stil find some homeless&mentally ill on the streets of America and Europe. Developed countries should help train&assist developing countries in this area instead of promoting alternative lifestyles. (LGBT)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 21.

    There is a proverb that goes thus, 'The sun shines first on the tall palm tree, before touching the suckers below'. In Nigeria, even the able-bodied are neglected, talk less of more challenged...

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    Is there anything in this world that is wonderful? If so, show us because we certainly need to see it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    @staino #11 Well with that attitude Africans might has well give up! Nigerians have a great love for her country! We have the drive to move her forward. Education is the key to any countries survival and progress. All negative comments used to belittle us are just words they will not dampen our spirit or our goal to succeed.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 18.

    Hats off to Mr Robin Hammond who mentionned at least the misery that Nigerians are livin in . And yes this sad picture must spread all over the world so that people can see in which case their similars are put in ! Really cheerless .It is high time to start acting like humans and lend help to these piteous people .

  • rate this
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    Comment number 17.

    Very sad; we Africans must do more for our people; we have the resources but somehow we lack the will. Why ask for help from foreign donors when we have everything - "In the abundance of water, (only a) fool is thirsty".

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 16.

    An amazingly pathetic picture of the treatment of mental illness. It is dark, depressive and laden with aloneness.
    No one could get better in this environment.
    It is as though these persons are throw-aways, unmeaningful, dregs. The child in the forefront seems already dead or eyes wide open, wishing that s/he was!

 

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