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Okada in the lens of Ajunam


When Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of The Savannah, a searing satire of political corruption and social injustice in a fictional West African country, Kagan, was released in 1987, it received wide acclaim. The book, which went on to make the Booker Prize shortlist of that year, revealed the hopes and dreams of an independent nation quashed by military dictatorship.

Earlier in the month, another ‘satire’ was released into the arts landscape, but this time, not on a fictional nation like Kagan. Neither was the genre prose. However, while it attacked policy inconsistency, the medium of expression was plastic art. Mr. Adamu Ajunam, an engineer, author, photographer and documentarist, leads this charge with his scathing remarks on lens.

Using the camera as conveyor belt, the anthill, as a creative metaphor, is a reflection of Ajunam’s unquenchable thirst for recording social issues. On October 1, Ajunam, in fact, hosted art connoisseurs to the formal opening of his mid-sized Anthill Art Gallery and Anthill Photo Studio on Nnobi Street, Surulere, Lagos.

A gallery like this in Lagos Mainland’s creative hub, Surulere, no doubt, is an indication that it is on its way to becoming an asset to the ever-evolving Lagos art scene.In the last few years, mid-sized and small galleries have struggled to compete in a field increasingly dominated by mega-galleries with multiple locations. However, the desire to be more commercially viable and competitive in the art market has resulted in a mass of them folding, moving or merging.

Though, midsize and small galleries are in survival mode, they are crucial as discoverers of new talents.With emergence of ‘anthill’, as a permanent space for exhibitions, another key platform has been established for artists in the Mainland to realise their ambitious projects and engage with new collectors, critics and curators, as well as the public. More importantly, another platform has been created to help develop new collectors and those with independent taste and a sense of risk taking.

Situated a stone’s throw from Apoguma and Oduduwa streets, where Nollywood had its birth, the gallery facility and photo studio are open to the public for use. Having developed a passion for photography in his early age, Ajunam’s rich collection of photographs covers the many narratives about Nigeria. It was no surprise that the inaugural show at the new gallery is “a satire on transportation in Nigeria.”

Titled, Okada- The Modern Transportation in Nigeria, the show serves as a perfect first for this gallery that aims to get into the international circuit within the shortest possible time.“I have always had a dual profession, as I’m also a radical photographer. When I retired from Julius Berger Plc, I decided to continue as a photographer and a publisher to enable me carry out this idea. I decided to have a gallery where I can exhibit my works as well as open the doors for other artists in Surulere community to make use of. Most times, events like this are held only on the Lagos Island, which shouldn’t be. The idea of setting up a gallery in Surulere is a very conscious one in order to get young people and passers-by, peep and get inspired as well as motivated to discover themselves as artists,” he says.

Reflecting on the show, Ajunam says it is a collection of documentaries about Okada, the local parlance for commercial motorcycles in Nigeria, which is the everyday transport mode.

According to him, “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. Suddenly, they are everywhere. Why have people accepted this? Okada wasn’t a menace as it is today. Then, Okada wasn’t a recognised means 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.”

He does not believe that Okada should be totally eliminated from the country’s streets. For him, it 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 30 years. Okada has been entrenched.”He says his camera is looking to educate people, adding that most of the photographs on display at the show, “were shot and preserved long ago.”

His words: “The shooting of these works started five years ago across the country. Artwork happens in a moment unlike photo-journalism, where you get a shot and then report. There are rules one must observe when one is into photography, which means one has to recognise a shot before he starts shooting. I want my artwork to tell a story about Nigeria as transportation is a challenge to our living longer.”

He explains, “Lagos is blessed with water, yet we still use canoe, which has no capacity of carrying a large number of passengers. It is possible to build jetties to handle boats. If government does not have money to buy the high capacity boat, Jakande started it and he built Baba Kekere and two other boats that can take up to 40 persons. He also built some jetties including Mile Two. Why should such facility be abandoned? If you go to Tanzania or Kenya they have high capacity boats that carry up to 50-60 passengers at a time. For us here, to go from Mile Two to Lagos Island should not take up to five minutes by water. So, my artwork is to educate Nigerians on this sector.”

Ajunam says, “Nigeria, as a nation, should have a standard transportation policy backed by a master plan and there shouldn’t be trailers on the way as they cause havoc on the roads. In fact, trailers shouldn’t carry fuel when depot is an available option. There is no distance in Lagos that should take a driver up to 30 minutes from Mainland to Lagos Island, from Ikeja to Mainland, from Surulere to Island, from Amuwo-Odofin to Island, from Ebute-Meta to Island. But, this is not the case, as three hours are being spent on the road while going and coming from work.”

The artist reveals, “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.” The body of work is a satire, with recurring motif such as, Police, okada and riders all getting a look in.

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