Vanguard (Lagos)

13 December 2012

Nigeria: Documenting Historical Moment

interview

Reason for the initiative

I was a victim of the emergency pronouncement of the change in the pump price of PMS in January this year. I travelled to Epe and at the fuel station along the Lekki-Epe Expressway; I bought some fuel at the cost of N65 per liter on my way. After the programme, while returning, I stopped at the same filling station which had begun selling at N141, the attendant was telling me that if I have not heard the pump price of fuel?

They told me that the government have removed subsidy on PMS. I had no other choice but to buy. The next day the NLC started mobilizing Nigerians for the protest against the increase in the pump price of PMS. I took up the assignment to cover the protest march around Lagos. I covered each day of the protest.

Under what circumstances did you shoot some of these pictures? Were there challenges?

There was no challenges really because I had experience covering similar events and even in more dangerous settings. So going into the crowd is much easier for me to shoot really than anywhere else. As a documentary photographer taking sides is not really my job. It is simply to document what is happening at a particular place and time through images.

As at the time you were taking these shots, were you thinking of this initiative? Did it ever occur to you that you might want to exhibit them?

Not at all. I have inspirations from the likes of Nigerian Photographer, Pa Peter Obe, Uncle Tam Fiofori and Pa Ojeikere works. I learnt that you catch a moment for future records. I have opportunity of using Pa Peter Obe's works as reference during my final year project in school at Yaba College of technology where he covered the Nigerian Civil War.

Those things were the benchmark I worked with. It later occurred to me that 'why not document this moment that captured the people's protest against a National policy of removal of subsidy that has affected all classes of people. We had the rich and the poor coming out at the sometime to say no to a particular policy with varying points of views converging. It was a moment to cover.

How would you describe the attitude of the average Lagosian to a photojournalist?

To shoot on a regular day without a protest march in a place like Lagos Island, you will be surprised that as soon as you bring out your camera to shoot about three area boys will surround you and even seize your camera. But the protest made it easier in that even the masses wanted to be seen because they knew I was recording the message that they wanted to get across to the government through our medium. If you have ever walked into the then rowdy Oshodi market without obtaining permission from the head of the area boys or the market head before taking pictures, one could be in trouble.

Is there a distinction between being a photographer and a photojournalist?

They both record moments. The photojournalists turn the pictures to news that tell stories. The photographer also covers events for documentation. It depends on how you see it but there is little or no difference. Almost all photographers are essentially documentary photographers.

On the value that Nigerians place on art works, how would you rate the artistic appreciation for artworks in contemporary times in Nigeria?

Art is not just all about painting, sculpture, fabric, ceramics and printmaking. Art is all about human expression and not just for the elite alone. You can find an average Nigerian in his office has some paintings on the wall. It may not necessarily be the real painting. It may just be the reproduction of the original or a less expensive roadside painting.

Expensive roadside painting

Most people now have pictures of some monuments or festivals and other things that they appreciate in their collection. But what is most important is for the artist himself to appreciate what he is doing.

Has the socio-economic structure affected the appreciation for art in any way?

That is not absolutely true. If you don't like something then you don't like it. If you like an expensive shoe, you can go for it even if you don't have the cash handy, you can save for it. If you truly love something, you go for it. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Omoba Yemisi Shyllon's house in Lagos, it is like a museum.

He didn't get every art work there in a single day but gradually. Some rich people don't even collect art works at all so it is not really correct to say art is for the rich or only the rich appreciate art works. The harsh economy situation has reduced its patronage of art in the real sense.

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