It is a swell time for documentary photographer and visual historian, Lukman Olanipekun, as he has added a major offering to his repertory. The photojournalist, popularly called Lukesh, has released a new book titled ‘Infrastructure Renewal in Nigeria: A Photographic Journey through the Power, Works & Housing Sectors’.
As the personal photographer of the Minster of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, he has, in the past few, years been in a vintage position to navigate the nook and cranny of the vital industries. The result is a collection of photos that capture the strides his principal has taken, in terms of the progress the sectors have made under him. But also very important is the expansive focus that Lukesh’s lens gave to the working class – the engineers, artisans and food vendors who work hard to make things happen at the various sites the Federal Government is executing projects.
People sensitive to human interest shots will, for instance, pay attention to a photograph on page 324 of the book, in which the minister sits beside a food vendor in the Akinyele area of Oyo State, bantering with her and two other artisans devouring some food, having taken a break from work. In the photo, the smiling face of the woman, Folake Emmanuel, speaks volumes as her eyes and those of the minister engage.
Beautifully produced ‘Infrastructure Renewal in Nigeria’ is divided into three major sections: ‘Power Sector’ (Pages 37 – 156), ‘Works Sector’ (157 to 262) and ‘Housing Sector’ (263 to 331). The first (power) splashes many photos, most of which were taken from sites. It, however, begins with one that will excite many Nigerians: an electricity officer installing a meter. This is one product that many Nigerians are yearning for now especially as they are tired of being cheated via estimated bills. Then we have those featuring various workers – including engineers and artisans at construction sites such as the 330KV/132KV/33kV Turn-in-Turn-out Transmission Substation along Makurdi Road in Lafia, Nasarawa State. There are also those of other ones in Abuja, Kowa, Gombe, Benin, Edo State, Ibuse,, Delta State; Ajaokuta, Kogi State; and Miango, Plateau State.
There are also those featuring Fashola and other officials inspecting sites or inaugurating projects, including the ones Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State; Osogbo, Osun State; Orji River, Enugu State; and Kainji Dam, Niger State.
The photos in the ‘Works Sector’ are also built around sites and statistics. And this is one of the strengths of Olanipekun’s book: it accommodates some data that seemed to have influenced the direction of work in the ministry. For instance, it notes about the distribution of roads among the three tiers of government in Nigeria, “Statistically, of about 200,000 kilometres of Nigeria’s road network, state government own 18 per cent, local governments, 66 per cent; Federal Government, 16 per cent. This means the Federal Government is responsible for 36,000 kilometres of roads. However, the FG roads carry an estimated 70 % of Nigeria’s road traffic because of their lengths, width and inter-state connectivity.”
The ‘Works Sector’ photos open with the site of the rather notorious Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, with those of Aba-Port Harcourt Road, Kaduna Eastern Bypass, 2nd Niger Bridge, Nnewi-duma-Uburu Road in Ebonyi etc. soon following. A similar spread presented in the ‘Housing Sector’ part of the book.
In endorsing the work in the foreword, a former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, commends him for documenting the events he witnessed, saying it is good for the memory of the nation. While also saluting the minister, Gowon writes, “As has become characteristic of him, he has done his level best to achieve good results in the development of infrastructure in various areas, from road to bridges to housing and improved electricity generation and distribution across Nigeria. These results have justified the confidence reposed in him as a member of the Federal Executive by Mr. President, His Excellency Mohammadu Buhari. Yes, there is growing demand for more work to be done.
“Since seeing is believing in this highly skeptical world and Nigeria is no exception, this photo book – Infrastructure Revival in Nigeria: A Photographic Journey Through the Power, Works and Housing Sectors Vol 1 attempts to capture the strides of Fashola in a professional manner that aptly reinforces the saying that a picture is better than several thousands of words. Like Fashola, the brain behind the book, Lookman Olanipekun, is a professional who embodies excellence.”
Veteran photographer, Tam Fiofori, prefacing the book, puts Olanipekun’s efforts in the perspective of photography as an art and a historical documentation. This, Fiofori notes, is in line with the engaging way in which Emeritus Professor at the University of Port Harcourt, J. Alagoa, views the calling of a photographer. As a result, the acclaimed documentary photographer commends not only Lukesh for producing the book, but also Fashola for collaborating with him to achieve it.
Fiofori notes, “Lukman Olanipeku, a.k.a. Lukesh, belongs to the elite class of Nigerian photographers for many reasons, some of which are also significant pioneering efforts. Lukesh has been a photographer for two decades. He studied at the London School of Photography to hone his skills as a professional photographer. The result is obviously reflected in the highly technical and creative qualities of his photographs. It is no surprise that he is a multiple award winner in various categories of photography.
“In dutifully following in the footsteps of J. A. Greene and S. O. Alonge, Lukman Olanipekun rightly deserves his pride of place of currently being in the forefront of photographically documenting governance and development in Nigeria’s political history.”
Of course, the publication also affords Fashola an opportunity to establish the agenda of his ministry, highlighting some vital operational facts, while also projecting its achievements. “We are not unmindful of the huge expectations of the Nigerian public who voted for the All Progressive Congress message of ‘Change’ and President Muhammadu Buhari,” the minister stated on mounting the saddle in 2015.
On some of the dilemmas the ministry had to face, Fashola notes, as far as status reports go, the Federal Government budgeted N18.132bn in 2015 and the Ministry of Works got N13bn for all roads and highways in 2015, although it has contracts for 2016 roads, covering over 6,000km with contract price of N2tn. In housing, there was also the need to move from the N1.8 billion budge in 2015 to hundreds of billions in coming years.
“But one thing is also certain: infrastructure ages and needs to be renewed from time to time, just as it needs expansion to respond to the number of users as a result of globally expanding population and urbanisation,” he adds.
On what inspired him to publish the book, Olanipekun notes that he wants Nigerians to see the progress that has been made in the past three and half years, in the context of the change the Buhari administration committed itself to, at least from the perspective of the power, works and housing ministry under Fashola.
He says, ““This book is for historical purposes, for proper documentation of the three sectors I covered. These are visual documents that will keep a permanent record of the ongoing projects in the bold move to effect change in the Power, Works and Housing sectors in Nigeria. I believe that, in the future, these images will form a major part of the canon for this period in the country’s history. Historians and curators will also have a feast sectioning episodes on how the Buhari Administration confronted the most important challenges of our country. Of course, there is accompanying text of facts and figures in the book.”