The Aridolf hotel in Yenagoa is an unlikely monument to kitsch on a reclaimed swamp in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger delta. In the lobby, Louis XIV furniture is accompanied by bowls of plastic fruit, faux Dutch landscapes and a grotesquely gaudy chandelier. The hotel is redolent of the riches on display in a region that for half a century has generated the bulk of Nigeria’s wealth.
Only a decade and-a-half ago there was just one petrol pump in Bayelsa state, which produced a quarter of Nigeria’s 2m barrels per day of oil, and Yenagoa, the state capital, was a string of tin-roofed shacks. Resentment at the region’s under-development erupted in violence, with militants blowing up pipelines and kidnapping oil workers.
Today, Yenagoa is a sprawling construction site. But the Aridolf, which is owned by Patience Jonathan, wife of the outgoing president, is symptomatic of how superficial progress has been in addressing the festering sense of marginalisation in the region, which remains desperately impoverished despite benefiting from a tide of petrodollars in recent years.