Olaonipekun’s Lens Zooms On Fashola Years

One of Olaonipekun’s works

One of Olaonipekun’s works

Lagos is changing in such an everyday phenomenal way that many Lagosians who are participant-observers, are not physically conscious of the changes.

Take for example, the rustic and dangerous Oshodi with its notoriety for crime and drugs, and its nerve-breaking snarling traffic. Or is it Ojuelegba and CMS Bus stops, or Orile and Oyingbo axis.

On the other extremes are the Lagos Carnival, the Eyo Festival and the boat regatta – all colourful and veritable attractions to ‘natives’ and tourists alike.
It is within this context that we must locate Lukman Olaonipekun’s The Fashola Years, a photographic compendium of governance, a rich and successful work relationship between a state governor and his official photographer.

The exhibition, Eyes of History accompanying The Fashola Years is also the natural follow-up on the earlier photo book, Babatunde Fashola: A Story in Photographs with its exhibit titled Lagos: Being and Becoming.

According to the Curator of Eyes of History, Tam Fiofori, the photographer with his seeing eyes brings us sights of history, culture, lifestyles and landscapes. Lukman Olaonipekun, otherwise known as Lukesh is privileged to document the immediate past executive governor of Lagos State, Babatunde  Fashola in such a compelling manner.

Tam Fiofori sums this up as “a vivid visual story of contrast and change from both an aesthetic and physical points of view.” His pictures allows the viewer to enter into the privacy of the governor in rarely seen moments, including lonely late hours, tender interactions with the populace, etc.

What do we have in Lukesh’s Eyes of History? And what do we know with certainty about these images? Are they spontaneous or are they contrived, and are they true records of what happened in the eight-year stewardship of Babatunde Fashola? These are fragments of moments captured in the Fashola Years as the governor went round Lagos State: aerial photography of Makoko water community on the Lagos Lagoon, a rustic fishing community, the housing scheme in Lagos, the dug-out canoe, the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge taken at sunset, the Third Mainland Bridge, the Eyo Masquerade, the Badagry drummers, the Lagos Carnival, etc.

Lukesh’s stylistic treatment of the Fashola Years goes beyond the mendacity often synonymous with governance in Nigeria, for the images are graphic and representational, and are progressive in treating the physical changes in Lagos in a descriptive manner. And the proof of all these is a very rich collection of over seven million images taken in the last eight years. The Eyes of History as an exhibit is barely made up of forty photographs but is descriptive enough as to tell the photographer’s story. This is an everyday documentary taken in the course of Governor Fashola’s Years.
The Fashola Years is made up of 339 pages with 16 chapters including Foreword written by the first executive governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande.

The book appears to be a governance statement on security, health, education, housing, environment, transportation, tourism, power, law and order, agriculture, infrastructure, legislature, governance, statesmanship, etc.

At his first inaugural address, Fashola promised a brighter and rewarding future with a testament to do it again for the second term. The man’s whose life passion is the administration of law did his level best to practice it in examples. Not for a day did he break the traffic law and he ensured that the menace of siren associated with convoys never had a place in his administration. This book did tell the story of more than a thousand words in pictures.

One outstanding image in the book is when the governor accosted a senior military officer who broke the traffic law at CMS in Marina, Lagos, a testimony to the social re- engineering and governance in Nigeria and Fashola best put it thus: “What is bad has no other name and when a society decides to live above the law; one of the consequences is that it depreciates the quality of life of the whole society.” Of course, Fashola never for a day in his tenure broke the traffic law. He indeed walked the talk. The subject is the governor and the officer; and the form are intrinsically the spontaneity of the photographer’s presence of mind, or what the critic calls the timeless moment.

This is representational of the challenges of the military submitting to civilian authority. But there are other photographs; of the bus mass transit that is attempting to solve the historical Lagos ‘go-slow,’ of interventions in agriculture, housing, global warming and erosion prevention, engineering involving bridges, light railway transportation, aesthetics as in the beautification of parks and gardens, reclamation and reconstruction of canals, interchanges, etc.

Photograph represents an aspect of modernity, of an experience captured while the camera makes it meaningful and interconnected. As Susan Sontag, the critic noted, a photograph is an interpretation of the real or the appearances thereof, but we must learn to distinguish its uses – either in the private or public realms. But the convergence has made this very difficult, thus contributing to everyday memories, to shared experiences. Memory implies a certain kind of redemption which according to John Berger in About Looking, “what is remembered has been saved from nothingness and what is forgotten has been abandoned.”

The Eyes of History is all about remembering and forgetting, of giving judgment and recording what has come to be described as ‘timeless’ moments.

Thus, Lukesh’s image relieves us of the burden of time as memory fades in what Fashola Years was all about. For with time, it is history as recorded and distilled that is remembered and venerated. As observers, we will through Lukesh’s images become either subjective or objective in our remembrances of the changes in Lagos.
Could Fashola Years have remained the same without photography? Probably not, for were it not for his liberality in giving access to the photographer, much of contemporary history of Lagos would have been lost and the remnant would only be conjectures with mere written texts.

The Fashola Years is an integral part of a continuing present, an encompassing articulation of the social and political memories of not only an artist, but the politician who represents the hopes of the people of Lagos State. Lukesh has managed to make himself the recorder of those involved in the events photographed.

Lukesh, the personal photographer of Fashola started out innocuously enough when he borrowed a camera to document his sister’s wedding. But it was a great moment for him and from there went on to earn some income when he was in the polytechnic.

In 2003, he became the personal photographer to the Onigbongbo Local Government Chairman in Ikeja and just three years after became the photographer to Babatunde Fashola. He had been in a series of solo exhibitions, a group exhibition and won several awards. He is the author of two photography books: Babatunde Fashola: A Story in Photographs and The Fashola Years. In 2009, he attended the London School of Photography. He is a member of the Photojournalists Association of Nigeria and World Photography Association.

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