FLASHBACK: Subsidy matter: How did Artists occupy Nigeria?

By Japhet Alakam

Last week, Nigerian artists met at the Centre for Contemporary Art, CCA, Yaba, Lagos to review the roles of members of the clime during the infamous one-week national strike called by labour to challenge Federal Government’s removal of fuel subsidy.

On the 1st of January, what was supposed to be a special day to people all over the world turned sour for many Nigerians as the Jonathan led Federal Government announced the removal of fuel subsidy, which led to a sharp increase in the price of fuel from N65 to N141.

And as a fall out to that, many people took to the streets in protest over the news and on January 9, the Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Unions and other civil organisations declared a national strike, which brought governance and economy to their knees.

*One of the poster snapshots captured by Victor Ehikhamenor presented at the event

The protest which started off with small pockets of civil unrest with moderate crowds gradually gave way to full-fledged dissent into chaos and anarchy throughout the nation. And for the first time in the history of Nigeria’s protest, people from all walks of life came out en mass and participated in almost all the cities of Nigeria with Lagos and Abuja recording the highest turn out of protesters.

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The protest might have come and gone but the memories linger on and will continue to linger as it affected the lives of many homes in different ways. And as part of its mission of providing a platform for development, presentation and discussion of contemporary visual art and culture, the Centre for Contemporary Art, CCA, Lagos last week organised a day forum, where artists gathered and discussed how they effectively mobilised their talent and arts in combating what was seen as anti government’s policy against the masses.

The forum involved a series of events including a panel discussion, photography, twitter projections, video screening and presentation of protest materials among others.

Visual interpretation

The well-attended event took off with a performance by Jelili Atiku who re-enacted the unique visual performance at the event. Adorned in the nation’s national colour of green white green, Atiku, who staged his well Nigerian Fetish performance at Ejigbo suburb of Lagos during the strike further challenged the Federal government on the fuel war.

Speaking about the work, Atiku who said that democracy is interesting because it gives one chance to express himself said that the performance was his own way of expressing himself, talk to the President, though he can not see him, through this medium, can tell the world about his views. This was followed by different video projections of events captured by different artists during the protests.

They include photography projections by artists; Uche James Iroha, Abraham Onabatu, Andrew Esiebo, Jide Bello, Jide Odukoya and Victor Ehikhamenor. There were also twitter projection by Emeka Ogboh and snippets from artist Chinwe Uwatse. All these prepared the way for the discussion session that followed.

During the discussion segment made up of; Jide Bello, Toni Kan, Joke Silva, Toyin Akinosho, Victor Ehikhamenor and other cultural activists critically assessed the current state of affairs in the country, the role played by the culture sector and the outcome of the protest.

Award-winning writer, Toni Kan stated that the strike was the best prepared and organised so far, but pointed out that emphasis should be laid on what was achieved after the strike.

According to him, the strike has made many Nigerians know about their rights and that people can go beyond that and do something about it. “The strike also made Nigerians to speak with one voice and also sent the signal that when Nigerians speak with one voice, the government will hear it and do something about it.” He said.

Nollywood star Joke Silva argued that it was an improvement on other strikes that took place in Nigeria. According to her, “during the strike, Nigerians demonstrated that they have a stake in the Nigerian project. For the first time, Nigerians showed that they were ready to stay at home.”

Continuing the screen diva added that “ the protest to her was not just about fuel subsidy but about a corrupt government.” She, however, lamented that despite the gains of the strike, that each time it happens, it brings inflation, the price of things go up and will never come down again.

Cultural activist, Toyin Akinosho, pointed out that the protest was not just about the Arab spring but a reaction to how people voted during the April 2011 election. People came out and voted and for the first time their vote counted, so they are basically protesting against somebody they voted for that failed to deliver.

Photo artist and poet, Victor Ehikhamenor pointed out that writing does not move the government hence the need to do something special. He showcased the pictures of the strike captured up till the time soldiers took over Ojota. Jide Bello, another photo artist on his part described the protest as the best so far as it cuts across all the states of the nation except South East and Bayelsa.

Also contributing, Sandra Obiago noted that the strike was well organized and people were fed, entertained with good music that made them want to continue. She commended the local media for its role during the strike.

In all, the panellists were in agreement that the art and culture sector contributed to the success of the protest but noted that it is not the first time artists participated in a major strike like this, arguing that the difference is that this time around, art came in a new form to make the flow of information faster which contributed to the success of the campaign.


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