The Devil’s Dexterity
In Mexico City recently, I met George Osodi, a Nigerian photographer who’s done some incredible work in the Niger Delta, among other places. One series particularly caught my eye: ‘Devil’s Dexterity,’ which captures the not-uncommon road crashes in Nigeria, a country that oil rich but infrastructure poor (anyone who can opts to fly between cities rather than make the harrowing drive). It’s not uncommon, Osodi told me, for wreckage — vehicular and human — to lie for months, years, on the sides of roads. As he explains the title of the series:
I can recall growing up as a kid in a neighborhood in Benin city, and overhearing various adult whenever there is news that an accident has occurred, especially when lives are lost and people injured. You will hear them say “Oh my God this is the Devil’s work, the Devil has done it again, the Devil is a blood sucker” it goes on and on. Therefore it is little wonder that many jobless youths take advantage of this by providing jobs for themselves acting as “Prayer Warriors” on many commercial buses. Praying for the passengers before embarking on a journey. Passengers will listen with great humility as these “Prayer Warriors” step into a commercial vehicle and start to pray, using words like “this vehicle is covered with the blood of Jesus so any evil demon on the highway will not succeed, I bind and rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus, I ask the holy ghost fire to burn all demonic agents looking for blood on the highway” and many more such prayers. At the end of these prayers passengers are asked by this “Prayer Warrior” to make a donation, which some will happily do.
The Devil’s Dexterity was born out of a curiosity, having survived many road accidents myself, one in particular very serious. I seek to change the psyche of people in context of what things really are, and not justify living an illusion.
What interests me is that the sort of ‘magical thinking’ as evidenced in the above paragraphs, while we might consign it to those of a particularly religious worldview, is expressed by a great many of us when it comes to thinking about risk and safety on the road — e.g., the problems of talking on the phone and driving can be eliminated by removing the phone from one’s hands and moving it wirelessly to one’s ear; or the idea, oft-floated, to build what are in essence more dangerous roads for the illusory safety offered by “fast” emergency response times. Or witness the apparent seriousness given in the U.S. to a recent “survey” from Allstate (which it was forced to apologize for) ranking drivers’ safety based on their astrological signs. While the insurer said it was for “entertainment purposes only,” the original release had more than a whiff of certainty about it: “But, can an astrological sign really influence driving habits? Generally, the signs with the fewest number of reported accidents were those associated with traits like “compassion,” “graciousness” and “resourcefulness” where those with more accidents tended to be more “uncompromising,” “arrogant” and “impatient.” ”
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