During the two weeks I spent in Lagos, Nigeria in October, I looked forward to finally meeting Jelili Atiku, the Lagos-based performance artist, though we had corresponded many times in the past. I had long been impressed by and appreciated his commitment to his art, despite that performance art is such a marginal genre in the Nigerian contemporary art scene. Long before invitations to contemporary art venues outside Nigeria began to trickle in in the past couple of years, he performed in the only locally available space: the streets of Lagos. So, finally, we were going to meet in late October. But that was not to be. The day I was expecting to meet him, he was on emergency admission in a city hospital. Apparently, Atiku had been viciously assaulted by "security men" in a Surulere, Lagos neighborhood. Here below is a statement he has just released, an account of his ordeal in the hands of some drunken men paid to secure the lives of residents who cannot trust the state police with their safety. This is wishing Jelili a speedy recovery. And I fervently hope that the accused men will, if found guilty, be made to pay for this savage attack on one of the few bright lights of the Nigerian contemporary art scene.
While there does not seem to be a connection between Atiku's work and the attack on him, it is remarkable that here is one instance of life mirroring art; for he has consistently used his art to draw attention to the state of insecurity and unchecked violence levied on Nigerians by the very people and institutions that ought to guarantee the security of citizens. What is to be done, Nigeria?
|Jelili Atiku, The Burnt, charcoal on paper, 2001|
I wish to bring to the attention of the press and the general public my recent ordeal at Ajao Road, off Ogunlana Drive, Surulere in Lagos--where I was savagely beaten, tortured and almost killed by three “private street-security” men. Importantly, I wish the public to be aware that my life and that of my colleague/friend, Sola Alamutu are in danger. This is because of assault threats made to us and the connection of the “private street-security” men to OPC (Oduduwa People's Congress) at Olufemi Street, off Ajao Road, off Ogunlana Drive, Surulere in Lagos. Sola’s neighbours confirmed that after we left the scene, the men involved continued to threaten that they would wait up for us anytime we come into the estate.
This ugly event occurred on Thursday 25th October, 2012; at about 7.30pm when I was being seen-off by Sola Alamutu. I had left Sola’s flat with two bags. One of them contained my laptop and the other contained three 3 x 3 feet flex materials, ten yards of white fabric, brushes, textile ink, and costume for my performance in Harare. I had stepped out of the house with Sola carrying the two bags. We were approaching the entrance gate of Ajao Road/Olufemi Street when three men who later turned out to be the “private street-security” of Ajao Road appeared before us shouting and biding us to stop.
The shouts were so fierce and frightened me. I therefore, decided to step forward when they wanted us to stop. One thing that made me so frightened was the fact that the men were carrying sticks and I had the impression that they were likely robbers.
I had to stop when Sola said they were the “private street-security” of the street. As soon as we stopped they demanded to know the contents of the bags I was carrying. Sola responded that I was her guest and the bags belonged to me. She identified herself as a resident of Ajao Road stating her house number; but they insisted on knowing the contents of the bag which Sola said were art materials and mentioned them. However, the elderly man amongst them insisted that he wanted to see the contents of the art bag. At this point I decided to untie the bag and let him see the contents of the bags. He along with 2 other security men actually saw that the contents were art works and art materials.
However, Sola demanded to know the reason behind the “private street-security” behaviour in spite of the fact that they know where she lives and know her as a resident of Ajao Road. Their action was taken by us as an embarrassment and abuse of right of freedom. It was when the discussion was becoming heated up that I told Sola that we needed to discontinue the discussion because of the state of the men. Sola had mentioned that they were drunk and this was so glaring.
I had hardly finished my statement when the elderly man among the three “private street-security” slapped me, [he said the slap was for saying he was drunk]. The slap came unawares and I lost my balance. In the attempt to remain balanced and stop the man from making other advances in assaulting me, I made an attempt to hold him, but in the process he hit his leg on my bag on the ground and he fell. As the event unfolded, the other two security men that were otherwise engaged came over and I was attacked and savagely beaten with a metal rod, sticks and fists, and pushed me into the dirty gutter. One of them suggested that they put one of the tyres that was lying beside the gate on me.
|Atiku at the Randle General Hospital, after the attack|
I screamed for my life with Sola helplessly shouting that the men assaulting me should let me go. Hence, the passersby were attracted to the scene. One of them begged the elderly man to let me go, but the old man demanded that I remain and swim in the gutter. The passerby directed attention to my bleeding and inability to stand because of the beating on my ribs. At that the passersby tactically removed me from the gutter and rescued me with the help of Sola and two other persons. While I was being rescued, the men were shouting “we have marked you and the madam” referring to Sola.
I was taken to Sola’s flat; attempted to clean up, as blood was gushing out from my mouth. I screamed, thus alerting Sola who on seeing so much blood decided to telephone someone to come along with a vehicle to take me to the hospital because she couldn’t carry me and I was unable to walk to the taxi stand. I was thereafter rushed to the Emergency department of Randle General Hospital – where I was treated and the wound I sustained on my lips was sutured by Dr. Eniola Adebutu. When I was leaving the hospital I was weak and felt a lot of pains in my ribs and my mouth, especially my teeth.
As I recuperate from the attack, I cannot but feel very sad about my trauma and the loss for not being at the event I was supposed to participate in Zimbabwe. I had been billed to attend the 4th Protest Arts International Festival (PAIF). PAIF, which was organised yearly by Savanna Trust, is becoming the only forum in Africa where political motivated artists converge to dialogue, motivate and enhance the growth of humanity through artistic endeavours.
|Harare Protest Art Festival Poster|
Apart from the above, I was also billed to facilitate "Our Bodies Do #1"-- a performance workshop, which would take place in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe from October 29 - 31, 2012. The participating artists are drawn from Bulawayo. They include Thembelihle Moyo, Nonhlalo Dube, Mgcini Nyoni,
Israel Israel, Owen Maseko, Sikhulile P. Sibanda, Danisile Ncube, Mthabisi Phili, Fisani Nkomo and Ellah Gongolo. These artists in the workshop would be encouraged to get involved in a broader perspective in artistic collaborations. Working together, the artists would expand the concept of human bodies in physical space. By so doing, they should combine or marry their identities and arsenal to create a kind of recursive interconnection.
It is pertinent to mention that "Our Bodies Do #1" is among preliminary activities as preparations for the upcoming 2013 Performance Biennale in Harare/Bulawayo. The Biennale is the first African Contemporary performance/live art in the African continent. It is being organised by AFiRIperFOMA under the general title "Mnemonic". AFiRIperFOMA is a collective of performance/live artists in Africa. It has its headquarter in Nigeria.
As the Artist Director of the collective I was supposed to give a talk on the essence of the Biennale at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare. As mentioned earlier, the Biennial is an African contemporary performance/live art and it becomes indispensable as a way of replenishes the visual culture of performance in Africa continent. Focusing mainly on the African continent, the culture and its people, as observed by the artists through a contemporary visual outlook; it will aim at inspire the participants and the world at large in the appreciation of contemporary performance/live art in Africa. My participation in the above mentioned artistic events is supported by Art Moves Africa (AMA) in Brussels, Belgium. AMA aims to facilitate cultural and artistic exchanges within the African continent. AMA offers travel funds to artists, arts professionals and cultural operators living and working in Africa to travel within the continent, in order to engage in the exchange of information, the enhancement of skills, the development of informal networks and the pursuit of
I wish to urge the Local, State and Federal government to look at issue of security in Nigeria. I had opinionated sometime in a paper presentation during a seminar on community policing in 2008 that “the issue of security is known to be primordial, dynamic, problematic and tied to the stability, survival, growth and development of any country”.
Jelili O. Atiku