By Femi Odere
Managing the image of a country’s president and that of his family can be a very serious and daunting undertaking by those who are fortunate/unfortunate enough to be saddled with the responsibility. It can be a tasking, energy-sapping, yet a thankless specialty especially in the Nigerian political landscape where the deconstruction of the Chief of State and/or his family begins almost immediately after the swearing-in ceremony—-largely by the same political class that had helped in achieving victory for the chief of state in the first place. All nefarious tactics are always on the table for this deconstruction. Therefore, the image maker must not only be versatile, but must constantly sleep with his two eyes open to prevent the ‘deconstructionists’ from making a mincemeat of his principal.
While Nigerians are pretty familiar with Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser (Media & Publicity) to the President and Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity) to Buhari as the public face of the president in which how they themselves are perceived by the Nigerian people may very well be a reflection (good or bad) on how the president is also perceived, there’s a ‘platoon’ of young, dedicated, upwardly mobile, highly accomplished with uncommon commitment to the president and his family that has sustained the endearing and favourable image that Nigerians generally have of the First Family in the past two years. Tolu Ogunlesi, the Special Assistant on Digital/New Media in the presidency whose appointment by the president took effect on February 18, 2016 and Bayo Omoboriowo, Buhari’s personal photographer may at some point have come into Nigerians’ consciousness either before they joined the president’s image making team or in the course of their job in the presidency, but the duo that represents the female gender among the core minders of the First Family in the persons of Zaynab Ikaz-Kassim, Mrs. Buhari’s Personal Assistant and Haye Okoh, the personal photographer of the Wife of the President are worthy of note.
Tolu Ogunlesi, 35, is far from being an unknown quantity in the media establishment both within the shores of Nigeria and outside of it. This young high achiever packed a huge punch in just about all aspects of the media into his young frame that one cannot help but be dazed at how this young trailblazer has been able to do a swell job in a relatively short period of time. With a Bachelor of Pharmacy (B. Pharm) degree from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and a subsequent MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom which formed the base of his academic foundation, Ogunlesi has rumbled through just about all the media genre with a bang. As a creative writer with a collection of poetry, among which areListen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony (Bewrite Books, 2004) and Conquest & Conviviality (Hodder Murray, 2008) that dripped from his pen (or keyboard), Ogunlesi in 2006 was awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg poetry prize and in 2008 the Nordic Africa Institute Guest Writer Fellowship. Also in 2009, he won the Cadbury Visiting Fellowship by the University of Birmingham. This young journalism professional has twice won the annual CNN Multi-choice African Journalist Awards, among many other awards under his belt. Ogunlesi has since created a newsletter in the presidency that chronicles the administration’s many strides and policy objectives.
If anyone is in search of relentlessness in the pursuit of one’s passion, an uncommon focus, and an uncompromising believe in oneself, and yet, puts in all he has on a job that much of society do not necessarily place much stock on. If someone is compelled to look for a man who decided, ab initio, that the unattractive social conditions and the environment he was born into are not strong enough to define him and dampen his drive to succeed in the goal he has set for himself, one needs not search any further. Bayo Omoboriowo is an embodiment of these virtues which have become hard to come by in today’s Nigerian youths. Omoboriowo’s story may one day become what legends are made because it is still unfolding. Making Buhari’s image in his own unique way—-one picture at a time—-the personal photographer of the president, just like his principal, packed a steely resolve that has not ceased to amaze those who knew how this youngster from Ekiti State started his journey as a photographer even before he graduated from the University of Lagos—-not in photography but in Pure and Applied Chemistry. Constantly trying to carve out a niche for himself in his field, Omoboriowo, 28, has developed a brand in the photography industry which he simply calls ‘Reality Photography.’ He translates this to mean that the pictures he takes today are materials of communication fortomorrow. This is what drives him to go to all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and beyond in search of stories that tells everyday reality.
His works have been widely published and they remain one of the most used materials on social media platforms. The series that he calls “Nigerian Unsung Heroines” which celebrated exceptional people contributing to Nigeria’s development has been featured on CNN. He has exhibited his work titled ‘Red Gold’ which is a body of work that calls the attention of the Nigerian government to the once upon a time bubbling palm oil production industry and the revamping of the agricultural sector as a whole. Omoboriowo is the founder and project manager for Photographer’s Collage, a platform he established to ensure a progressive movement for the photography industry in Nigeria which has recorded massive success in its first season. He’s a project coordinator for “Photograph a Child” which is an annual project that uses photography as an approach to supporting the under-served around the city of Lagos. Omoboriowo, who said he was inspired by George Osodi, Andrew Esiebo, Kelechi Amadi-Obi, and Jide Odukoye, among others in one of his interviews has inspired over 1000 young Nigerians and trained over 100 aspiring photographers. Omoboriowo has mentored directly more than 15 emerging photographers and has been a part of various workshops, conferences and programs where he has impacted countless numbers of lives using photography as a channel.
Zaynab Ikaz-Kassim’s official designation with the First Family may not be in the image-making business in the strict sense of the word, but this Edo State born Personal Assistant to the Wife of the President is a multi-talented diva who has not only embarked on making the image of Mrs. Aisha Buhari behind the scene, but has earned the respect and admiration of those who crossed her path in the course of her professional responsibility. Zaynab’s core constituents have always been the media and entertainment industries ever since she completed her academic studies in International Relations from Houdegbe North American University and also being a certified Project Management expert from the University of California at Irvine as well as a Social Media and Public Relations professional from National University in Singapore. Honest and trustworthy, Zaynab made her debut into the world of media and entertainment as a Social Media Management expert for Nigeria’s most popular thespians couple of Joke Sylva and Olu Jacobs at their Lufodo Academy in Lagos. A profound display of mastery of her work and her commitment to duty became very compelling that she had to be pouched from the Academy by the Lagos Intercontinental Hotel.
In 2011, the Child Aid and Support Awareness Foundation (CASAF) became the brainchild of Zaynab when it was launched as a child advocacy group for the Nigerian child. The foundation’s aim is to create a link between those who need support among this very vulnerable group of the human species and those who can give the support. CASAF’s overarching objective is therefore, to acquire material and moral support for the orphaned, displaced, abused, victimized and the less privileged Nigerian children. As if minding the most popular and conspicuous woman in the land (Mrs. Aisha Buhari) and nurturing CASAF which has since maintained formidable presence in eight Nigerian states since its inception are not nerve-wracking enough, Mrs. Ikaz-Kassim also runs the Majmua Theatre; a 5-year old entertainment company she’s passionate about in effecting social change and consciousness through art and entertainment. She has produced over 30 shows since 2012 and she mentors youths through her speaking engagements at various youth-related events. Zaynab is a part of the publishing team that oversees the Diaspora Magazine from the Office of the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs (Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa) as an Assistant Editor. She was listed among the top 10 Lagos theatre practitioners in 2014.
Haye Okoh may be considered fairly unusual in this clime as a professional female photographer who’s just as determined as Omoboriowo to reach the pinnacle of what she believes is her calling in this lifetime. As the personal photographer to the Wife of the President Mrs. Aisha Buhari, both the personal and professional life of this Delta State born professional photographer has taken a quantum leap since she joined the team that minds Nigeria’s First Family. Just as Omoboriowo saw photography being practised on the side by his father when he was growing up in Mushin, one of the densely populated Lagos slums, Haye attributed her interest in photography to her father who lived the last 25 years of his life making photographs in and out of his studio. She admitted that these were the years when the passion for photography was imbibed in her. Although formally trained with a degree in Communications and Multimedia, Haye has gone on to fuse her love for writing and picture making into one hobby. Having come into life through different socio-economic and cultural paths but are now welded together in the nation’s Number One family, perhaps the most common, yet profound, thread that runs through Tolu, Bayo, Zaynab and Haye by which history would probably judge them is their uncommon passion to give back to the society in which they found the courage to discover and/or rediscover themselves through their various mentoring and advocacy initiatives.
Femi Odere is a media practitioner. He can be reached at email@example.com
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