The First Family and Its Image Makers, By Femi Odere
…perhaps the most common, yet connecting, thread that runs through the expereiences of 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.
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 thankless preoccupation, 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, and 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 has to constantly sleep with his/her two eyes open to prevent the ‘deconstructionists’ from making mincemeat of his/her principal.
While Nigerians are pretty familiar with Femi Adesina, the special adviser (media and publicity) to the president and Garba Shehu, the senior special assistant (media and publicity) to President Buhari as public faces of their principal, and how they are equally perceived by the Nigerian people may very well be reflections (for good or for bad) on how the president is also seen. There’s also a ‘platoon’ of young, dedicated, upwardly mobile, highly accomplished persons, with uncommon commitment to the president and his family, who have been managing the endearing 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 the consciousness of Nigerians, either before they joined the president’s image making team or in the course of their jobs in the presidency. Also the duo of the media 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 personality in the media establishment both within the shores of Nigeria and outside it. This young achiever packed a huge punch into just about every aspect of the media that one cannot help but wonder how he 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 MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, forming the base of his academic foundation, Ogunlesi has rumbled through just about all the genres of the media genre. As a creative writer with a collection of poetry, among which are Listen to the Geckos Singing from a Balcony (Bewrite Books, 2004) and Conquest & Conviviality (Hodder Murray, 2008), 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. Ogunlesi has since created a newsletter in the presidency that chronicles the administration’s many strides and policy objectives.
If anyone is relentless in the pursuit of his passion, has an uncommon focus, an uncompromising belief in the self, and yet puts in all he has on a job that much of society do not necessarily place much stock on. Also, if one 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 youth. Omoboriowo’s story may one day become what legends are made of 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, packs a steely resolve into getting his jobs done, which 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 for tomorrow. This is what drives him to go to all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and beyond in search of stories that document 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 celebrates exceptional people contributing to Nigeria’s development, has been featured on CNN. He earlier had an exhibition titled ‘Red Gold’, which was a body of work calling the attention of the Nigerian government to the once upon a time bubbling palm oil production industry in the country and the need for 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 is a coordinator of “Photograph a Child”, an annual project using 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 directly mentored more than 15 emerging photographers and has been a part of various workshops, conferences and programmes, 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 relate to the image-making business in the strict sense of the word, but the Edo State born personal assistant to the wife of the president is a multi-talented person who has not only embarked on making the image of Mrs. Aisha Buhari behind the scene, but keeps earning the respect and admiration of those who cross 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 became 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 thespian 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 quite 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 them support. CASAF’s overarching objective is, therefore, to acquire material and moral support for the orphaned, displaced, abused, victimised 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 five-year old entertainment company she’s passionate about in effecting social change and consciousness through the arts and entertainment. She has produced over 30 shows since 2012 and mentors the youth through her speaking engagements at various youth-related events. Zaynab is a part of the publishing team that oversees the Diaspora Magazine at 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 is just as determined as Omoboriowo to reach the pinnacle of what she believes is her calling. As the personal photographer to the wife of the president, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, both the personal and professional lives of this Delta State born lady have taken quantum leaps since joining 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 slums of Lagos, Haye equally attributes 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 a major preoccupation. Having come into life through different socio-economic and cultural paths but are now welded together through service to the nation’s number one family, perhaps the most common, yet connecting, thread that runs through the experiences of 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, a media practitioner, can be reached at email@example.com.