Nigeria @58: Introspection Through the Lens of a Photographer 

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Mary Nnah reports that the October 1 independence day anniversary afforded Nigerian photographer and writer, Adamu Ajunam, the opportunity to retrospect on societal ills using an arts exhibition 

What better way to celebrate the 58th Independence Day anniversary of one’s country of birth than through some much-needed introspection? For  Adamu Ajunam, a retired engineer-cum-photographer and writer, whose photo exhibition shared the same date with the sacrosanct independence day celebration, it was certainly an amazing coincidence. 

Fielding questions from this reporter at his newly opened Anthill Art Gallery, also in the same building with the Anthill Photo Studio, simultaneously run by him, Ajunam marked the day by putting up an exhibition titled “Okada- The Modern Transportation in Nigeria”.

A labour of love which took four months to solidify and execute, Ajunam said the exhibition was a collection of documentaries about Okada, (the local parlance for commercial motorcycles in Nigeria), which is the everyday transport mode one seed everywhere in Nigeria, finished in Fine Art photography. 

He said: “I am amazed at the coincidence but I like it.  I have been trying put up the show for like four months now, but something kept coming up but last week I just decided it must hold on October 1 and that happened to be Independence Day.

“Okada- The Modern Transportation in Nigeria”, is a photo exhibition that essentially tells the story of transportation in Nigeria, especially as it relates to Okada being a very topical issue, which depicts the transportation challenges in Nigeria.”

On the correlation between his Okada conversation and Nigeria’s Independence Day anniversary, Ajunam said, “That is the thrust of the matter! I have been photographing Okadas, the everyday transport mode we see everywhere in Nigeria. When I was looking for a title to tie the whole works together as well as a suitable title to tell the story, I asked myself, so Nigeria, after so many years cannot institute a well organised means of transportation for the citizens?”

Ajunam’s bone of contention is that, at this age where Nigeria has grown up to, there are certain things that shouldn’t be accepted, like Okada plying major roads in Nigeria or even accepting Okada riding as a means of livelihood. “It should not be accepted that we live a life of stress. It bothers me that we accept so many things instead of asking questions. That shouldn’t be”, he posited.

Speaking further on the significance of the exhibition, he said, “Beginning from the title, it is a bit satirical. Indeed, 30 years is too small in the age of a nation but if you reflect 30 years back, there were okadas in the fringes of Nigeria but suddenly Okada is everywhere. Why have people accepted it? Okada wasn’t a menace as it is today. Okada wasn’t a recognised mean of transportation, we had rails and other means of transportation but in a space of 30 years, things have gone so bad and it looks as if we are accepting this. 

“Is there any comfort in Okada? Must we just keep accepting everything? People say it provides work. People get up by six o’clock and he is on the road and he can be there till nine o’clock and how much does he get a day with all the hazards? There are accidents and they inhale the entire fume with little income. The obstruction on the road is a menace. If you hit one, they come on you and attack you.”

He argued that however Okada can be used but within certain areas. “Okada can be a mode of transport if you are too tired to walk 500 yards from your house to the bus stop. However, for Okada to be used on major roads is an issue. We cannot get rid of this menace in the next 30years. Okada has been entrenched.”

He said further that although, we have been building light rail since 2007, and eleven years going, it is not even finished. 

“Abuja has finished theirs but it runs twice a day. There is a problem. You finished such magnificent work and it is running twice a day. The one that goes through Agege to Apapa, operates about three times a day. Why is it underutilised when there are passengers? They say subvention is too high. I don’t understand why it cannot be made attractive for people to use.

“There is no transportation policy. If we had a transportation policy, we won’t have all the chaos we have on the road. Any city you go to in Nigeria now, there are trailers. Since independence, 58 years now, we are still working on transportation policy. We should have a master plan which goes hand in hand with transportation policy. The depots should be repaired. Why should we have all these trailers on the road? Ordinarily, no distance in Lagos should take more than 30 minutes, but you find that very often you are spending like three hours on the road.” 

His message for Nigerians at this particular point is for them to ask the leaders lots of questions when thing are not going right.

“Fortunately, election is early next year, when you come in to rule, you must realise that the same thing that applies to our transportation system, applies to all other sectors of the nation’s economy.  We are merely managing all sectors of our lives.

“It is possible to do things well; it is possible that we start to discuss how to make our nation better, but it is very important that we have leadership that set the tone, but if the leadership is not setting the tone, we should start asking them questions. Why must we spend three hours on the road for a journey that should be three minutes? Why must we go on canoes and not jets? Why can’t we have a boat that can carry over 60 people, let say for example from Mile 2 Marina within five minutes? So the people should start asking questions instead of accepting anything tossed on them by our leaders”, he noted. 

The photo exhibition scheduled to hold till October 7 at the Anthill Art Gallery 8, Nnobi Street, Kilo, Surulere, Lagos from 3pm daily, has works that spans over fives and shows basically Okada as a means of transportation in varying cruel forms.

“I have been collecting these works across the country for about five years now. I’m in my car, I tell the driver to clean the windscreen because I shoot while in motion. I see a striking scene and put on my camera and I take it before it vanishes. I’m always with my camera in the car. I have a direction I am following, which is in the moment. You are there while something is happening and you frame it with the rule of photography. There are rules that you must observe as a photographer. With the rules, you recognize a shot and start shooting”, he noted.

This photographer who says his camera is looking to educate people, revealed that most of the photographs on display at the exhibition, which were printed just recently, were shot and preserved long ago.

He added: “I shoot and keep them. All these pictures were printed three weeks ago. I went through my collections and picked a few. I have different topics. I am conscious I want to be doing photography but I want to tell stories about Nigeria, particularly, asking questions about why we are the way we are. My idea is why can’t we live longer? It is possible to live longer if we remove all these challenges. Transportation is a very big challenge. Lagos is blessed with water and we leave it to Canoe. How many people can canoe carry? 

“It is possible to build jetties if government says they have no money to buy the high capacity boat? If you go to Tanzania and Kenya, they have high capacity boats that can carry 50 to 60 passengers at a time. To go from Mile 2 to Lagos Island shouldn’t take more than five minutes by water.”