In Nigeria, we say that those who do not work hard should not eat.

My own father died when he was 52 years old. He was a businessman and had a stroke. My grandfather died at 48. He was an officer in the Nigerian army. Today, I am 50.

Most men in Nigeria die when they are between 30 and 50 years old. Their wives usually live 20 years longer. These men are mostly low-skilled and manual workers. They often die because of accidents associated with their hard labor. Recently, I photographed ten young laborers and asked about their life situations and what they think about the future. They are in the best (and strongest) moments in their lives, and they have a lot ahead of them. These men love their work and do it with all their hearts. Yet young laborers in Nigeria live dangerously. They cannot escape the vicious cycle.

I have chosen to represent these individuals with portraits because the portraits show me the vulnerability of their souls. I have also chosen to show one image from their place of work.

My heart goes out to all workers who die defending their pride and humanity, earning their daily bread. If the government could take better care of all the country’s workers, our harvest would be abundant.

—Cletus Nelson Nwadike

Editor’s Note: Nwadike’s project was recognized by the jury of the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents! You can follow Nwadike’s work on his profile.

If you’re interested in seeing more work like this, you can check out these previous features: Addictions, Photographic and Otherwise, Nwadike’s earlier series on two brothers and their respective vices; Education is Forbidden, a conceptual series on Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls, and Kyle Weeks’ award-winning series on the palm wine collectors in Namibia.