A photograph of the anti-fuel subsidy removal street protests
By Yinka Olatunbosun
The culture of visiting the museum was revitalised last week when the photographs of the Lagos Account of Nigeria Protest against Fuel Subsidy Removal were exhibited at the Exhibition Gallery of the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos from January 10 to 17, 2013. The exhibition was a visual commentary on the nationwide, if not international, protest staged by angry Nigerians in reaction to the Federal Government’s decision to stop paying subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) on January 1, 2012.
The creative order of displaying the pictures clearly documents the protest in three episodes namely, The Call, The Movement and The Assembly. In his remarks at the formal opening of the exhibition, the curator, Tam Fiofori scored the photographer, Kunle Ogunfuyi high on his sense of social responsibility. He described the 52 pictures on display as “landmark visual documents that enrich the political history and the narrative of nurturing democracy in Nigeria.” He coined the “P-words” as an artistic formula derived from the images on the protest to describe the various dimensions that the protest took. The “P-words” are Protest, Political Rally, Party and Performance. Fiofori commended the photographer on his bravery in the face of present-day hazards of taking pictures on Nigerian city streets.
He traced the history of Nigerian documentary photography to Jonathan Adagogo Green’s documentation of colonial Empire Day celebrations in Bonny in the 1890s, the documentation of Independence ceremonies in 1960, Peter Obe’s documentation of the Nigerian Civil War 1967 till 1970 and other documentary photographs on military dictatorship and activities that led to the restoration of democratic rule. Referring to the younger generation of Nigerian photographers, he noted their efforts in their role of custodians in preserving national history and culture. Pat Utomi who was at the opening ceremony said the works have captured history for the next generation.
“I am saddened at the way we quickly forget things in this country,” he said. “A picture for me is equal to a million words. The visual art is one of the most powerful ways of getting the message across and I hope this message is instilled in our hearts and help to build a better future.”
The human rights lawyer, Festus Keyamo also commended the efforts of the artist in creating the works inspite of the challenges of restricted movement during the protest. “I remember a photojournalist who courageously covered the June12 protest in 1993, Sunday Jimoh. He died in a car crash because he was also rushing to cover an event in Abuja. The photojournalists take more risks in doing their job than the regular reporter. A normal journalist will just go to an event and observe things and later goes to develop the story. But for those with dirty dealings who do not want their activities to be covered, their first victims are the photo-journalists. The photojournalists are the real journalists who take the risk. Exhibition like this helps us keep the memory of the great work done by these men of courage.”
The chairman of the occasion, Prince Yemisi Shyllon, reflected on the frustration of Nigerians that was let out during the protest and bemoaned the obvious decline and absence of governance. He also prayed that Nigerians would never have a cause to weep for the country. “What Nigeria needs to do is to carry out a drastic reduction in the number of civil servants so that there will be funds reserved for our development,” he said and added that training and entrepreneurial programmes will help in cushioning the effect of the slash in civil service prior to their disengagement from service. He advised that they should be given a good amount of money to establish small and medium scale enterprises which will lead to job creation and economic growth.
Two of the works were sold just before the formal opening ceremonwy of the exhibition commenced at the venue. The exhibition of 52 works was sponsored by Riverdrill Group, Benshore, Ovation International, Arabel, Unibind Nigeria, NeuLagos, Nigerian Union of Journalism (NUJ) Lagos Council and Global People Publicity.