By UZOR MAXIM UZOATU
Many epochal things happen in Nigeria, and somehow the people forget because the events have not been recorded for posterity. The lack of documentation leads to the cavalier attitude to affairs of state. There are no ready references to bring to bear on the activities of the leaders.
The year 1979 was a landmark in the history of Nigeria, heralding the dawn of democracy after 13 years of military rule. The events of that historic year have been placed before our very eyes through the photographic lenses and timeless journalism of Tam Fiofori. As a committed photojournalist, the respected Tam Fiofori undertakes the dire freelance route shorn of appendages to sundry principalities and powers.
He pays his way and therefore owes no apologies to any godfather! Unlike the hagiographic tosh coming from so-called government insiders, what the guru genially called just Tam by all offers is lived history observed from a highly objective point-of-view.
Putting 1979 into a capsule as it were, Tam renders a compelling account of the politicking of the trio of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Tam goes further afield by documenting the coronation on March 23, 1979 of Oba Erediauwa as the 38th Oba of Benin. A fitting cap to the cultural offering of Tam is his moving record of a house warming feast in Ijebu-Igbo.
The photographs are accompanied by incisive histories and commentaries.
The distinguished Emeritus Professor of History, University of Port Harcourt, E.J. Alagoa introduces Tam’s 1979: A Peep into History and Culture with a richly illustrated piece entitled “Nigerian History and Culture of the 1980s: 1979 Photos by Tam Fiofori.” According to Alagoa, “Tam Fiofori presents us with a view of Nigeria in the 1970s into the 1980s in vivid images.
His photography is art, and in this instance, also historical document. It is a challenge to Nigerian historians to take active note of this wonderful historical resource. It is also a challenge to artists and photographers to take seriously their role as keepers of the historical record.” In situating Tam within the historical, political and cultural ambits, Alagoa runs through the gamut of the independence struggle, partisan politics, the 1966 coups, civil war, FESTAC, the Niger Delta struggle culminating in the amnesty programme.
The cream of Tam Fiofori’s 30 black-and-white photographs exhibited in Abuja don the pages. It is a sight reprising Awo reading the manifesto of his Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos, in July 1979. Zik of Africa, on his part, is photographed defending his tax status at a World Press conference at Eko Hotel, Lagos. The picture of a humble Shagari who would later emerge as Nigerian President in the 1979 election is a keepsake.
The dance entrance of two traditionally-geared-up old ladies at the house warming ceremonies in Ijebu-Igbo is a picture worth more than an uncountable number of verbs and nouns. Royalty lends grace to Tam’s work in the kingly shape and size of Oba Erediauwa in full royal coral regalia on his coronation day, March 23, 1979.
In his own words, Tam needed to go beyond the realm to capture the photographs, as he writes: “Being that I am a full-frame, natural/available light photographer; working in these catch-as-catch-can situations where I had to quickly adjust and respond to events as they unfolded; totally beyond my control, I had to ‘learn’ fast and ensure that I came away with good and spectacular photographic images; more so as I fully sponsored all the expenses to cover these events…”
Tam had to deploy the dynamic techniques he used in covering major sporting events such as the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in Kumasi and Accra, the 1978 Al-Africa Games in Algiers, the All-Africa University Games in Nairobi etc.
The political campaigns of Zik, Awo and Shagari documented by Tam represent a lost political culture in Nigeria. Today’s politicians no longer bother with manifestoes and ideologies!
In an piece entitled “1979: A Day in The Presidential Campaigns”, Tam zeroes in on the activities of the political gladiators on July 3, 1979, the last day for electoral campaigns. A major plank of Tam’s testament is the piece entitled “Zik, A Tax Dodger?” Zik’s wriggling out of the impasse as rendered by Tam is worthy of Houdini.
Tam Fiofori has done great service to country and continent through his 1979: A Peep into History and Culture. Let me end on the note of Professor Alagoa: “We can only end by appealing to artists to become a central part of the struggle for a national renaissance through documentation of a dynamic changing national history.”