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There’s no presidency without photography, history will never know what you did if you don’t tell your story, Chief photographer to President Muhammadu Buharii, Bayo Omoboriowo, an award-winning Nigerian photojournalist and documentary photographer in this interview with MATHEW DADIYA, said.photography is an important component of any governance and a lifeblood of history and the president’s view on photos.

You’ve been the photographer of President Muhammadu Buhari for seven years and some months, how would you describe your experience?

All I can say is it has been a very dynamic experience, dynamic in the sense that it has been a package with different sides – very, very adventurous. Very, very highly demanding, of course. Like I always tell people, being the President’s photographer gives room for very slim margin for error. In fact, almost almost a tight margin, that’s you can’t be found wanton. Imagine being the photographer of the president and I forgot my memory card at home or I forgot to charge my batteries. I remember a situation where we’re in India and I was using the bathroom and it was ‘the hard one’ and the President needed to take picture and they asked where is Bayo, I literally wore my trousers like that and I ran out of the toilets because the President was already standing to take pictures with someone and I went to ease myself.

So, it has had its interesting times, it has had its challenging times, it’s had it times of having to deal with a lot of politics. Where you’re a creative, you just want to be creative and it also comes with knowledge because you’re But you’ve had to. And it also comes with knowledge, knowing how to be diplomatic, how to be tolerant, how to accommodate different people’s opinion.

Before I came to work for the President, I call my shot, I determined what I want to do, I choose to if I want to go into the forest to photograph, I choose if I want to travel to any state to photograph, for years you have to follow the rules, you have to follow the protocols, you have to be considerate with the security and all of these together is what the experience has been – a lot of dramas, a lot of interesting times, a lot of hard times and it has been everything, alot of times you feel like, I don’t want to deal with the drama of being in government. I just want to be creative.

Most time when you are at an event, we see you running, trying to be ahead in order to capture the president, in such moves, do you make mistake?

Well, because the game I play is the game of being there, when you are most needed, and ensuring that you’re able to deliver the best of yourself when it is most necessary. Sometimes it’s challenging and sometimes you go back to go to bed feeling like I could have done better and there’re also times when you miss missed images and you’re like, Oh, damn it, I wish I did not. But sometimes you got to pat yourself on the back as well and you’ll tell yourself, you know what, tomorrow will be a better day. Sometimes you run, sometimes you fall, sometimes you push, but the best you can do is the best you can do. So you just give your best and leave the rest.

In this situation, what would you describe as you error in the job, and how have you been able to build on the job by correcting those errors?

Well, maybe, I wish I knew more before I came here. I really wish I knew more especially from the political point of view. I really wish I knew more because especially this job of being the President’s photographer it’s not experimental, it shouldn’t be experimental. Here in Nigeria where you feel like oh, I’m now the president’s, I’m now a political figure, I’m now a leader in an organization. Where is my boy come and documents me. Documenting the President at this level is all about posterity and not just about personality or sentiment.
So, I’m grateful to God I’ve been able to pick up and deliver the best, but I don’t think the job is meant for experiments, it’s a job that you reelly need to know what you want to do, and then go for it. So if I were to do this job, again, I know so much, and I know what not to allow, I know what not to accommodate, I know what not to pick from day one, I know what it takes to actually tell the story, especially being exposed on a global scale, on a global level and knowing what the world is looking for in storytelling.

You mentioned about needing to have had experience especially in the political aspects of the job before coming in, what will be your advice, especially to other young photographers, or those that may likely put in your shoe in the future?

I would say if it is possible, there’s a lot of reading and research that has to go into being a president’s photographer, a lot of research needs to go, a lot of awakening and enlightening, you must really be enlightened, and one must actually prepare oneself for the drama that you will meet because it is beyond being creative.
So you can be very creative and that’s what we were, I was a very creative photographer before coming to Villa (Presidential Villa) but I realized there is much more to work in in the presidency than being a creative. There’s a whole lot of understanding – people’s management. In order to manage expectations, how do you manage demand, how do you manage pressure?
How do you manage critics – Oh, you did not greet me well or you did not look at me well? And these are the things that would come with the job. A lot of demand or people feeling it’s a whole lot and it could be a whole lot depending on how you manage it. So people need to open their mind and not just they’re coming into this space to be a photographer, or to be a creative, you’re actually coming as a manager of the President’s brand, as the manager of the President’s outlook, as a component in the management of the President’s public relations and president’s media perception. So it cannot be done as an act of frivolity or just as a form of pleasure, no.

Having worked with the president in the past seven years now, what would you say had been your experience so far apart from the photography?

I’ve learned people, I’ve learned how to manage people, I’ve learned how to manage situations, I’ve learned how to manage crisis, I’ve learned how to manage expectations, I’ve learned how to make decisions, even at the toughest of situations, I’ve learned not to give a damn, when need be. I’ve left out to overlook, because you can’t solve every problem and you can’t make everybody happy. So I’ve learned to take what I can take and drop what I can’t take. I’ve learned to move on with smiles on my face, even when, in the midst of challenges, I’ve learned to not to beat myself too hard at times, give me room to improve. I’ve learned to understand people, I’ve learned to meet people’s expectations. I’ve learned to know how to compromise. So if I want it all, if I can’t get it all, what can I get? I’ve learned to also say You know what, be careful of hurting people. So if I need to cross a bridge, and I know that crossing that bridge can hurt another person. I’ve learned to know how to say you know, I’d rather not cross the bridge at all. I’ve learned how to respect people, I’ve learned how to manage relationships, I’ve learned how to develop relationships, I’ve learned how to manage time, I’ve learned how to manage family because this one demand so much from me that you barely have time for your family. How do you manage such? It’s a whole lots. I’ve learned how to even be a better version of myself.

So how do you cope with your family given the nature of your job?

My family, it has had its own toll but I think we’ve been able to manage it and at the end of the day, you know that family is above all.

You traveled often with the president wherever he goes, you go with him have you ever been stopped in foreign countries from doing your job?

Every country with different rules and different regulations and different drama, we attend multilateral events, which is where a lot of world leaders have to meet, it’s always very challenging, especially coming from a point where there are a lot of photographers that want to photograph their presidents, it could be very, very challenging. So what we’ve come to do is, infact every country we go to people know us already, they say ah Nigeria! Ah! Nigeria de no de carry las! They know, the we always find a way around it. Even the toughest of situation where they say, No, we still find a way around, I will make the best out of it all. There are different countries with different rules and you have have to live with those rules. But the question is, how do you navigate through it to get the best of what you need to get out of the situation and to make the best of the opportunity presented to you?

Does Mr. President likes pictures?

He doesn’t. For seven and a half years President Buhari has never asked me to show him one picture I took.

And he has never criticized your work?

He has never.

So how does he assess your work?

He just know that I’m doing the best I can. He just trust me enough that I’m doing the best I can. He is not trying to look good, he is not posting to look good, he is not trying to package himself; He is trying to be who he is.

You mean the President doesn’t tell you that you miss a scene or action but he always asks for Bayo whenever he wants to take a photo?

He (the President) asked of me because he knows I’m a brilliant young man. He knows I’m creative, he knows I’m intelligent and he trusts me enough to know that whatever I take, and whatever I put out, is in the best interest of himself and Nigeria.

Why is it that he does not look at the pictures to know what you’ve done?

Trust. And that’s what he has done for most of the people that work with him. He trusts you enough to do your work and he (President Buhari) doesn’t want to be in the way. He’s not trying to be the judge, he’s not a photographer. So why does he want to analyze the photograph? Why won’t he trusts his photographer to be able to make the best out of the photograph he has taken? Why does he have to be analyzed photography. It’s not his role. The good thing is that he has hired a photographer who he trusts to do the best and make the best out of the opportunity he has been given. And that’s what happened. I’m grateful to God, I’ve never betrayed that trust in the last seven and a half years.

Being a professional in the field how do you assess your performance, and what photograph of the president do you value amongst the pictures you’ve taken in the last seven years plus?

I value real life storytelling, real situation? I came here to photograph the President or not to package the president. I came here to tell Nigerians the reality of what happened in presidency. I came here to document history, I came here because I thought of it that 10 years, 20 years down the line, if my children ask what happened in the government and the presidency of Nigeria, what would I show them and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve not come here to package a man to make him look better than he is, or look worse than he is. I come here to present the facts and the figures to Nigerians for them to see the reality of what the Muhammadu Buhari administration has been, and that’s it.
So it’s not a situation of let me see where I smile a lot. No, we didn’t doctor we present facts and reality. And that’s what has happened in the last seven and a half years.

Talking about documentaries, we’ve seen some photo books you have produced some years ago, are you planning a final documentary or photo book for the Presidency in 2023?

Well, time will speak, there is a lot effort that goes into preparing the compendium like you’re trying to say. Yeah, but for me right now it’s just to see how much I can prepare myself for the for what is next, to see how I can deliver the best I can. So there’s still a lot of time, let’s see how it goes. If I’m able to make a bring out something and don’t forget there’s also a lot of cost that goes into producing things. So it’s not just about oh let produce. It’s about, how relevant is it to the Nigeria of today.

Mr President has been criticized from both sides of the divide, given your proximity to him what do you want to share with Nigerians about about him?

In my own opinion, I think the President is a very perfect gentleman. He’s very jovial, very pleasant to be with or walk around. And he’s very honest in his opinion, he’s not trying to sugarcut, he just wants to be himself and he just wants to be truth to himself. Like I said, he’s not trying to look good for the camera. So he’s not trying to check how do I look in that picture. He’s not trying to be picture perfect, he just wants to be real. He just wants to be honest, he just wants to be true to yourself. And I think a lot of times, that comes with a lot of misinterpretation, and miscommunication of his of his being.
I think he’s kind, he’s fair, he’s firm. Kind because a lot of times people don’t know, the President is actually very generous. I remember when I was going for my Masters (Degree) and I told him, and he gave me money to add. And he told me, Bayo, you’ve made the right decision, go and he gave me money. I remember when I wanted to do my dissertation again, I was traveling to Kano to do my dissertation, and I told him, I’m going for my dissertation he said remind me tomorrow. And that tomorrow he had already prepared some money to give to me. He doesn’t have so much but yet he is very, very generous.

So how did you cope with your work on your studies?

I knew for me, it was a very important time in my life, I needed to take that bold step to prepare myself for the future. Like I tell people, my future is not here yet my future is working in progress, and I need to do everything to protect that future. And that is it. It was a whole lot but I took the risk and I’m done, and I’m proud, I took that boldstep.

Having taken that bold step, in less than a year from now, the administration will end, what will do thereafter?

Well, like I tell people, the future will speak for itself. I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag. But guess what, I’m just starting.

Do consider establishing a photographic Institute where you will train and culture those who want to be presidential and governors’ photographers giving your experience?

What I find joy doing is to impact and that’s what I will find myself doing the most – finding ways to impact the younger generation. So that you will find me doing a whole lot.

…By establishing an institute?

I might not be able to define what I’ll be doing. But I know you’ll find me in the corridors of impact, corridors of social change, corridor social entrepreneurship.

And this I will do because this is what I love to do. I love to train people, I love to contribute to making people a better version of themselves and I will want to dedicate so much time into doing that, which is what I’ve been doing and I’ll just keep doing it some more.

There had been photographers for Presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo; Umar Musa Yar’adua; and Goodluck Jonathan; how will you assess their works?

There’s no presidency without photography. History will never know what you did If you don’t tell your story. History will never remember what you did, whether good or bad, if there is no photography. Photography is an important component of any governance. Photography is the lifeblood and documentation. When I say photography I’m also taking about documentation, it’s a lifeblood of history and we must tell our story. Let me speak for myself, I wasn’t looking for a job to be here. I didn’t even want to be. But creativity found me, grace found me and I’m here.
So I wasn’t jobless before coming here (presidency) found a need, that the presidency of Nigeria has not been well documented. And that was how I found myself here and I’m glad that whether you like it or not, whether you agree to it or not, history will remember that I gave the best that I can. And in the history of Nigeria, this is the best photography, that the Government of Nigeria has ever had.

Having produced the best photography for the presidency in Nigeria, what example are you setting for the upcoming people who may takeover from you to do in avoiding the errors of the past?

Trailing! I have trained a lot of photographer,s some of them are presently working with governors, some of them are working with agencies, and they’re getting ready, gearing up for me to leace and they will takeover. So I’ve influenced a whole generation of creative people who will takeover from here. I’ve invested in them through trainings, I’ve invested in them through workshops, I’ve invested in them through showing and showcasing my own work, and they’ve been able to learn from it. And they’ve seen a proper foundation to build on. I think I’ve laid a good foundation, good enough for anybody to build whatever they want to build on. And I’ve set the right standard for proper documentation of presidency in Nigeria.

Will you photograph the President Buhari even after leaving power?

Yeah! Why not? If I’m invited to photograph I would be there. But from now I move on to other things. I don’t have to be a photographer again, I don’t necessarily have to be a photographer again. There are many other things calling my attention that I’ll be moving towards, but if the President wants me at any time, even in my grave, I will come up and support him because he has been kind to me. For choosing me to be his photographer, a child of nobody, and bringing me to the seat of power to document him for eight years counting. And he has deemed it feat to honor me, to value me, to appreciate me and celebrates me. I think he deserves all the support I can give him. Even my children will support him if he’s still alive.

But will you like your son to follow your footsteps?

Oh sure! My children are going to be very creative. Though, I’m not going to influence what they become, but they would be very, very creative. And if they choose to be photographers, why not? They have the right foundation to build on because their father has done so well for himself. They should be proud want to toe that line.

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