Images of a nation at 50
As part of the on-going celebration of Nigeria’s 50th independence anniversary, the National Gallery of Art (NGA) opened Nigeria @ 50 photography exhibition at the NICO Luxury Hotel, Abuja to tell the story of the nation since colonial times till now. Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME was at the opening.
The exhibits were simply a rare compendium of ‘who is who’ in Nigeria’s socio-economic and political landscapes since colonial times. From vintage photographs of founding fathers like the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello, to other first Republic politicians and military leaders, renowned nationalists, activists, educationists, traditional rulers and landmark events and moments in the nation’s life, the collection captures in black and white, the 50 years of Nigeria’s march to nationhood.
Among guests that attended the opening of the photo exhibition were the Former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Alhaji Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed, Alhaji Bala Abubakar who represented the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar, Ambassador of Spain to Nigeria, US Charge D’Affair to Nigeria and Nike Okundaye of Nike Gallery.
General Gowon who was the chairman of the occasion said the challenge before the nation today is that of renewal of hope and a vision of bright future. He therefore charged the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that all eligible voters are registered and able to vote, noting that the commission should that votes are counted and count. He said the people must be patriotic and take ownership of their votes and ensure a free and fair election. “Let us not put our nation in harm’s way by our actions. The love of our country must always be paramount in our mind,” he added.
He advised politicians to jettison all and any divisive tendencies, any negative utterances and religious bigotry in the nation’s politics and elections. He said: “It is my fervent hope and prayer that those responsible for conducting the elections in 2011, will endeavour to live and act above board. Our expectation is that the electoral umpire (INEC) must ensure that all eligible voters are registered and are able to vote.”
He described the photography exhibition as opportunity to assess the nation’s progress and development, which should also teach Nigerians to work harder, achieve more and count their blessings. Reflecting on the journey to nationhood, he said: “We underwent a bitter civil war but a war of national unity that saw brothers fighting brothers, that at the end, brothers reconciled and embracing one another to build a new nation under God, free, democratic and undivided.”
Culture Minister, Mohammed pledged not only to increase the tempo of exhibitions but also to integrate them into the overall cultural diplomacy of the country by working in co-operation with ministries of external affairs and education. He hoped that the exhibitions would tell the story of the nation for the benefit of friends outside the country.
Acting Director-General of National Gallery of Art, Mr. Abdulahi Muku acknowledged the continued support and encouragement of the ministry, which he said, have made the gallery to stand tall in the ministry.
The exhibition, tagged: The march of history: Evolution of the Nigerian nation, trials and triumphs, was more than a repository of pictorial records of Nigeria’s journey to nationhood highlighting the known, the unknown, the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the nation’s life since colonial days. The ambience of the conference hall of the hotel provided a much conducive setting for the exhibits to be appreciated by the elites as well as visitors to the hotel. Given the scope covered by the exhibition there are adequate windows for viewers to reflect on the trials and triumphs of a nation at 50.
Though not exhaustive, but there were handful of omissions like in the sports arena, the Nigerian 1996 Atlanta Olympic soccer gold medalist team was not reflected. Also in the first category, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams was not on the list of Nigerians who are first in their respective fields. Other mistakes are in the captions of the exhibits; (Nana of Itshekiri, Oba Ovenramwen) as well as wrong identification of personalities like Mrs. Sheila Solarin who is identified as the late Austrian born Susan Wenger of Osun-Osogbo fame.
But the exhibition brochure, a 224-page publication edited by the duo of the former director-general of NGA, Dr. Paul Chike Dike and Simon Ikpakronyi, is an informative compendium that will serve the needs of students, critics, historians and researchers on Nigeria and its evolution. It contains 15 parts covering images of the nation’s geography, people, nationalism and democratic struggles, the political players of the different republics, military rule, interim administration, legislature, judiciary, human rights struggles, peace keeping efforts as well as women and children in development.
However, the two-page report on Interim government (Pages 128 and 129) did not do justice to the brief, yet historic administration headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan. The first page is simply a rehash of General Ibrahim Babangida’s actions and inactions that culminated into the annulment of June 12 election before he ‘stepped aside’. Only two paragraphs tell how interim government came to be, and why General Sani Abacha forced Shonekan out of Aso Rock. The second page like the first, simply chronicles Shonekan’s profile, whereas other key players in the administration like ministers were not mentioned nor reflected in the photographs. Yet, a full page is dedicated to Shonekan’s photograph alone when over 20 ministers could not find space. Am sure Shonekan alone did not run the administration.
Again, why run separate bio-data of the then Northern Region governor, Sir Kashim Ibrahim on pages 64 and 65 when such information form part of the report on him, after all, none of his colleagues is so celebrated in the brochure.
However, there is a fundamental error on the introduction page of the brochure where the author, Abdulahi Muku is described as director-general of NGA instead of acting director-general. Or has the ministry confirmed Muku as substantive DG?
It seems the entire project was executed under pressure from lack of time and perhaps inadequate funding. Notwithstanding, the exhibition is arguably one landmark outing by NGA curators that will for long remain a benchmark for exhibition hosting.