By Tajudeen Sowole
At a period such as the ongoing onslaught of government against looters of Nigerian treasury, artist, Ijalobomo’s visual narrative of probity into the derailment of values, prescribes image rebirth for the country.
In painting and drawing, the artist, who is well known but preferred a signature name Ijalobomo traces the foundation of the corruption-infested Nigeria to values loss at both domestic and social levels. Worried at state of the nation, 'Lobomo in the title of the exhibition urged whoever cares to Pls Help Clean Nigeria (PHCN) as the works were on display for three days at Red Door Gallery, Victoria Island, Lagos.
“President Muhammadu Buhari is fighting embezzlement, not corruption," said Ijalobomo as he adjusted a wall piece at Red Door Gallery few hours ahead of the exhibition's opening. "To fight corruption, we all need to go back and recover our loss values." While hopeful that the Buhari-led government has the will to change the country for better, the artist insists that decay in the larger society was "failure of collective responsibility" of the people in the past.
In works such as 1960s B C ( Before Corruption) and Year 2010 AD (After the Decay) the worrisome widened gap of infrastructural deficit is highlighted. With the artist's depth in illustration, the glorious days of pipes that were hardly dry of water and the era of bottled or sachet (pure water) are explained in the two works representing Nigeria's slide from civility to irresponsible governance over the decades. "As a school boy then in the 1960s/70s, you could stop anywhere and get water from the tap," Ijalobomo recalled. "How we got to the age of ‘pure’ or bottled water is very disturbing."
Probing into how the values of the past were lost, the artist had on display texts of one of the popular Yoruba native poems made compulsory at public schools several decades ago. 'Kini o fi Ole Se Laye Ti Mo Wa...Kaka Ki N Jale Ma Kuku Di Eru... (Never Will I Steal in My Life...It is Better to Be A Slave than Be A Thief...)
Like most observers of Nigeria's collapsed quality in the education sector, Ijalobomo also argued that loss of moral values in the academic and home upbringing among the young ones, over the last two decades has been a leading factor for state of impunity in leadership. "For most of us who grew up with such poetry in school, stealing was an abomination," he stressed. "And as adult, such upbringing remains in your psyche wherever you find yourself."
Specifically, on collapse of public institutions, facilities and general infrastructural deficit, a piece he titled Loot Loot Petrol Corporation (LLPC) says volume about the decay and betrayal of public trust, particularly in the oil sector, perpetrated by the ruling elites over the decades. In fact the work reminds one of the unprecedented rape and looting of Nigeria's oil revenue in the last few years. The painting, which depicts few individuals swimming in the commonwealth of the nation also shows the role of oil - in barrels - as the bane of corruption.
And as people are still living in denial of the depth of destruction that looting of Nigerian revenue has caused, a painting, Silhouette With AK47 offers a graphic scenario. Like a villainous character in a children comic storyboard, the central figure, armed with AK47 assault rifle, perhaps invading an insecure environment get inhabitants scampering for safety.
In other works such as O Sambisa and Could Be Yours, Could Be Mine, Ijalobomo captures the tragic situation of insurgents in northeast of Nigeria where terrorists, Boko Haram have been killing innocent people under the guise of religion. A display of creative incendiary by the artist combined with thematic texture of Nigeria's irresponsive government is enacted in the Mona Lisa-look alike painting titled O Sambisa. Dressed in hijab with a sea of girls in similar head and body covers in the background, the portrait represent a national scar known as Chibok Girls abduction.
More tragic about the failure of past government's immediate response to stop BH's strength is Could Be Yours, Could Be Mine, a faceless person in hijab, which the artist described as representing a suicide bomber. The artist asks rhetorically: “Have we ever thought that some of the young girls being used as suicide bombers could be ours?
As much the theme of the exhibition was salient for the mood of a Nigeria in search of new direction, the faceless or anonymity signature of the artist appears not right for art history lexicon. Who is Ijalobomo? The artist behind the unknown signature pleaded for secrecy of the real name to remain anonymous. Not at all discountenancing what the artist described as his non-negotiable commitment to his current employer, his effort in Pls Help Clean Nigeria (PHCN) would not add to his credit, at least for now, as one of Nigeria’s known masters of watercolour.