By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published, Tuesday, February 23, 2010)
THE high rate of accidents on Nigerian roads has been attributed to poor enforcement of roads safety codes. The show, Driver's Dexterity, by George Osodi, also draws attention to this issue.
Organized by African Artists Foundation (AAF), in collaboration with Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), the Port Harcourt and Warri legs of the show were held recently.
The Lagos leg held in November, while Abuja is getting set to host the exhibition soon.
The organisers expect that attitude of road users "to road safety will change after viewing" the images.
In recent times, Shell has been using art as "an effective medium" to promote safety culture among Nigerians. The company initiated a project on road safety tagged Land Transport Safety Goal Zero in 2008.
Osodi's shots cover every facet of road transportation as the images alert viewers on the risk of moving people from one destination to another - some times, ending up very tragic.
Osodi said that he was involved in several road accidents, which he "survived".
The experience, he stated, had led him into the body of work and hoped it would alert road users that there is no alternative to safety, but adherence to the rules.
According to statistics from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) - as at December last year - 4, 517 persons died through road accidents within 11 months, representing an average of about 411 deaths every month. The source also stated that during the same period, there were 9, 226 road crashes in which 23, 081 people were injured in 12,165 vehicles.
Perhaps, the "dexterity" of a driver is the result of several road related issues such as the recurring fuel distribution crisis as this 2007 silhouette titled Black Market presents a typical desperate scene on the highway.
Apparently, a night shot, the highlighted plastic container of the fuel against a distance, but approaching vehicle exposes a possible contamination of the fuel content.
Still on the economic factor, disaster waiting to occur is seen in Bauchi 2007, a mini truck loaded with a scrap of pick-up van. But oddly, there are other contents: passengers competing for space with the scrap car.
Further exposing the shabby enforcement of road safety codes by the FRSC are Goods Only, 2008, a lorry loaded with passengers and goods; Yelwa Shendam 2006, goods and passengers in another goods only van; Home Coming Kano, five riding on a bike, goods added; Kano - Sokoto, 2007, bees of human passengers spilling over the frames of the lorry.
Home Coming Kano 2007, a law enforcement agent, is caught in the background, few metres away as the violators of safety codes passed through.
For every part of the country, Osodi's lens suggest there are certain peculiarities: the pictures from the south were mostly accidents involving fire.
A charred passenger bus in Kwale (Delta State) 2007; burning fuel truck in Gbagada (Lagos State) 2008; burning car, Maryland (Lagos State) 2007 and others are frightening sights that can discourage people from traveling by road. In each of these shots, the environmental damage was glaring.
In some situations, the fire - combined with fuel spillage from the trucks - leaves a scar on the land that makes return of vegetation to the affected spot almost impossible in the future.
Some of the images, particularly of the burning fuel trucks, appear like on-the-spot captures.
And perhaps an interaction with the drivers and victims might be of interest. "Not exactly," Osodi said. The shots, he explained, were taken several hours, even days, after the accident.
And to notice that smoke still engulfed the scene of the accident, several days after and for him to stop and open the lens while traveling showed the degree of devastation.
That much is seen in Gbagada 2007 as the concrete road median is burnt, almost to a state of rubbles.
Road accidents such as this, it has been observed, are the cause of heavy damages to highways such as the Benin-Ore roads, Ife-Ibadan roads, among others.
Most culpable are drivers of fuel trucks, particularly of the leading oil companies.
Apparently responding to safety as raised by this show, Shell explained that its Land Transport Safety Goal Zero project "is an effort to eliminate road traffic accidents in our operations." Driver's Dexterity, Shell added, was a timely partner in enlightening the public on safety related issues.
When the show opened at the Civic Centre in Lagos, a tour was not in the plan, director of AAF, Azu Nwagbogu recalled. But the responses from visitors stimulated the need to take the images around the country.
Zainab Ashadu, Assistant Director/Curator of AAF noted that response from the Lagos, Port Harcourt and Warri shows have been very encouraging. She argued that, "allowing the project to naturally evolve, will make quantifiable and tangible difference on our roads and attitudes to safety in Nigeria."
Ashadu urged those who take decisions and make laws in Nigeria to take note of issues raised in the exhibition.
"By virtue of the success of this project, there exist many accessible ways to educate Nigerians on relatively simple ways of ensuring road safety," she stressed.
Participants, according to her include 20 students from Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, and another 20 from B.C.M. Secondary School, Port Harcourt.
In Lagos, pupils from Corona School and Holy Child College, Lagos joined other visitors such as members of the Federal Road Safety Commission; the Second Secretary to The Royal Dutch Embassy, Ronald Sonnemans; The Ambassador of Norway to Nigeria, Kjell Lillerud; Stephen Fulgham, MD Schlumberger Nigeria and his wife; Anna Fulgham; chairman, Society of Nigerian Arts (SNA) Lagos State Chapter, Oliver Enwonwu.
On having school children participated in the shows, Nwagbogu warned that it's important to carry the youth along so that "we do not send wrong signals to our children that road traveling is not safe".
For an artist who leaned towards documentary of tragic events as seen in his past shows such as Lagos Bomb Blast, held at MUSON, Onikan, Lagos, in 2002; Paradise Lost, at Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Lagos, last year, Driver's Dexterity is faintly on the conceptual side.
Based in the United Kingdom, Osodi, who worked briefly as press photographer with defunct Comet Newspapers in Lagos, joined Associated Press (AP) in 2002, and was there till 2008. He won first prize at the 2004 Fuji African Photojournalist of the Year.