How displaced archival photographs were returned(Tuesday, July 29, 2008 )
By Tajudeen Sowole
By Tajudeen Sowole
DEARTH of accountability in the nation's civil service has been exposed once again as missing national archival photographs of over five thousand negatives have just been recovered from a retired civil servant, ten years after.
A source from the Film Unit, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Radio House, Abuja disclosed that former head of the photography unit, currently retired, Alhaji Baba Shettima returned the negatives to the ministry last month. The negatives had been in possession of Shettima, illegaly, for about 8 years.
Meanwhile, the ministry, currently holding its 39th Meeting of National Council on Information and Communication which opened yesterday, Monday 28 and to end on August 1, 2008 at Gloryland Cultural Centre, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, owes the nation a duty on the matter. The restitution of the negatives, it's been revealed, is part of the agenda of the meeting.
|Mayor of Lagos, Dr Abubakar, Ibiyinka Olorunimbe of National Council of Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC) speaking at the party's rally PHOTO BY: Unidentified|
In the Sunday, April 27 edition of The Guardian, the illegal possession of these negatives by Shettima was exposed under the title: Who Owns National Archival Photographs - Nigeria Or Shettima?
Leading to that report was a recent art exhibition of photographs which was organised by a Lagos-based group, Legacy Nigeria 1995, and had 164 exhibits on display at the Brazilian Embassy, Victoria Island, Lagos.
A visit to the show entitled Nigeria in Transition revealed that the artists of the works were not known, as none of the photographs on display was signed. However, in the brochure of the exhibition, the organisers stated that the exhibits were prints from negatives belonging to one Alhaji Baba Shettima.
"These images have been produced by Legacy from a collection numbering over 3000 negatives, owned by Alhaji Baba Shettima, who has given us permission to use them for exhibition purposes," explained the opening paragraph of the non-pictorial brochure.
And during his address at the opening of the event, a leading member of the group, Prof. John Godwin confirmed the source of the exhibits as stated in the brochure.
Before the publication in The Guardian, several attempts to reach Shettima through the telephone number Godwin released as his mobile telephone contact failed. However, shortly after the publication, Shettima called and responded that "the issue is being resolved." He refused to speak on why he made away with the negatives after retirement. Further attempt to have him speak on the issue could only squeeze out an SMS text he sent through his mobile telephone, on June 12, 2008. The text read: "pls contact Mr. Charles Ojugbana, Asst Director, Fed Min of Information on the issue, 'controversial photos."
And when a call was put through to the office of the Assistant Director, a source confirmed that the issue was on the front burner of the ministry. The publication of The Guardian, the source continued, had led the ministry to summon Shettima for explaination on his ownership claim of the negatives.
The source said: "We were all surprised when the publication of The Guardian reached us. The deputy director, research and production, Samuel Ajayi was shocked that such a large number of negatives of archival photos have been in the possession of one individual without the knowledge of the ministry. Shettima was immediately invited to defend himself. It would surprise you that the ministry got to know from Shettima that the negatives in his possession were more than three thousand." About ten thousand negatives, the source added was recovered from Shettima.
Over three thousand or ten thousand negatives; either way, it is colossal. One is equally surprised that such a huge archival material could be missing from the studio of the nation's number one information office for over eight years without the knowledge of the ministry.
|Residence of Colonial Govs (State House, Marina), built in 1886. PHOTO BY: Unidentified|
It is worrisome when the evidences have always been there that Shettima never hid his possession of the materials. At the end of the meeting in Yenagoa, some other people, serving or retire may have questions to answer, the source disclosed. "This is scandalous, Shettima cannot be in this alone," he stressed.
Shettima's activities, one after the other, had made nonsense of accountability and exposed negligence, perhaps lack of knowledge of those in authority.
Further investigations into the movements of the negatives and regular unauthorised reproductions of photographs from them revealed that in 2003, Shettima had an exhibition at the British High Commission in Abuja which had on display photographs of the 1956 visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Nigeria. That show was one of the highlights of the 2003 visit of the Queen to the country during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM.
Shettima's illegal activities, surprisingly, were further encouraged from the highest authority of the land, if the report that followed another show was anything to go by. In 2006, Shettima who was a retired photographic assistant in the ministry of information had another exhibition in Abuja. This time around, the occasion was that of the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo's 69th birthday anniversary and Shettima was said to have been invited by the minister of Information, Chukwuemeka Chikelu, to mount another exhibition for the event.
On display at the event, among other works, were a 1960 photograph of Maj. Gen. Christopher Welby-Evarard, then GOC of the Royal Nigerian Army welcoming then Lt. Olusegun Obasanjo from a UN Peace Mission in the Congo. Also included in the Shetima's solo show was a 1947 photograph of a white missionary doctor posing with two natives at Panyan, Plateau Province.
According to report from a popular tabloid, in which Shettima's interview was published, Obasanjo was said to have been impressed by what he saw during the exhibition and wrote: "Thanks for keeping in vivid record memories of cherished past. Please let these be preserved."
It was not however clear if president Obasanjo knew that the exhibits were from an unauthorised source. With these evidences, it is clear that the ministry was never at any point in time searching for the negatives.
Further investigation in to the scandal revealed that the works were not actually shot by Shettima but his superior, long before he joined the old ministry of information as a cameraman.
Though legally belonging to the government, the works, according to sources were shot by Shettima's boss, late Oyewole Edun Alakija who was the chief cameraman of the then film unit in Lagos,
Said to have been shot from the 1940s through 1970s, among the Legacy Nigeria, 1995 exhibits held few months ago were pictures of architectural scenes as old as 1907 majority of which are not standing today, but have been documented in photographs shot by Alakija.
Included was a January 12, 1954, Ikeja Airport, Lagos scene where the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Dr Nnamidi Azikiwe were waiting for British Secretary of State, Sir Olivier Lyttleton. Also, part of the exhibition was a January 16, 1954 scene at the Lagos Constitutional Conference chaired by Lyttleton, as the lens of Alakija's camera captured Ahmadu Bello, who engaged Anthony Enahoro in a verbal war following the independence motion moved by Enahoro.
As the issue of Shettima's possession of the national archival photographs is part of the agenda of the meeting of the National Council on Information going on in Yenagoa, observers would expect a thorough probe into the former civil servant's illegal activities.
|The Assizes Courts of West Africa, Tinubu Square, Lagos, built in 1906, demolished in 1960. PHOTO BY: Unidentified|
Records showed that Shettima joined the civil service in 1965, as a photographic assistant in the Ministry of Information, Kaduna.
The man, according to some photographers, who had, in the past either worked or had exhibitions with him, used to be the head of the photo unit of the Ministry of Information until his retirement from the civil service in 2000.
Sources said that shortly before the ministry was moved from Lagos to Abuja, the photography unit of the ministry needed to restore some negatives. As the head of that unit, Shettima, the source said, took charge of the restoration of the negatives. The restoration was, however said to have been carried out at a private film laboratory in Lagos, apparently suggesting that something was wrong with the ministry's laboratory.
Confirming that Shettima carried out the restoration exercise, renowned photographer, Don Barber disclosed that the restoration was done at his Surulere, Lagos laboratory, in 1995.
Currently operating at his studio inside the Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos where he spoke with his guest, Barber recalled: "I used to have my studio at Surulere then when Shettima came to me with some negatives, which he wanted to restore. I did the job for him. But he raised the issue of preservation of the negatives by the government. I think that was the period the Ministry of Information was being moved from Lagos to Abuja. We talked on the possible poor preservation of the negatives by the ministry because, as at that period, the new building of the ministry in Abuja was not really ready for photographic materials to be properly kept."
A Ministry of Information that lacked photo lab (black and white) for that matter to restore negatives of archival importance, apparently would not bother about preservation of such negatives.
Agencies responsible for the possession of such negatives include The National Archive, Nigerian Film Corporation (NFC ) and National Gallery of Art, NGA.
Perhaps, most crucial to the issue is the National Archive. Set up via Decree No. 30 of July 8, 1992, the statutory functions are according to documents of the agency are:
"Shall be entrusted with the permanent custody, care and control of all archives of the Federal Government and of such other archives or historical records as may be required, from time to time, pursuant to this Decree."
A year after the negatives were supposedly in Shettima's personal care, there was a photo exhibition at the National Museum Onikan, Lagos, involving some photographers. The exhibition, which Barber said featured works of photo artists such as Tam Fiofori, Garba Mohammed and himself, among others, also had Shettima showing some works, perhaps printed from the restored negatives of the previous year.
One of the artists of that show, Garba also confirmed that Shettima participated in the two exhibitions.
While responding to the recent exhibition organised by Legacy Nigeria, 1995 and which has brought out the need to revisit Shettima, Garba had challenged Shettima's ownership claim of photographs that were taken long before he became a cameraman.
"How old is Shettima? We are talking of large format used in photographs that were taken as far back as when he was probably a toddler. Shettima has been parading himself as owners of these works, but we know that one day the truth would be known. How can he say for example, he shot picture of the current Alafin of Oyo who as a child, was sitting on the lap of his father?" Garba asked.