News The African Way

Nigeria: Amidst Strike, Law Student Finds Respite In Photography Business

By Bathsheba Nerus, GOMBE

It is hard to believe that the room in which enlarged pictures are hung was once a vehicle garage. The 2 X 7 feet white painted room has necessary equipment required of a photography studio.

Last March, he came back to his hometown, Bauchi, to continue the business of selling clothes and shoes, which he buys from Jos, Plateau state, Nigeria. The business carried out mostly online was not fetching him the comfort and distraction to fight the boredom of being home all day.

Yahaya Nathaniel, 28, wakes up every day running through the same routine over and over again, “it is boring,” he said. Even with the football training he had enrolled himself into, he feels unsatisfied. The training holds mostly in the evenings and after that, it is home again – the beginning of another cycle.

Nathaniel is a 400-Level Law student at the University of Maiguduri, northeast Nigeria. Like other students, he is paying heavily the cost of ongoing strike by lecturers of Nigerian universities called by its union, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). The strike which started on the Feb. 4, 2022, sees the suspension of academic activities in schools – students had to vacate school and go back home.

ASUU is demanding increase in salaries and allowances of members, as well as government’s commitment to invest in public universities, in the areas of infrastructure and research funding.

For Nathaniel, the experience of having to wake up every morning with no schedule other than pressing phone’s keypad is not new. But then, “the thoughts of doing something towards meeting people’s personal needs started growing in my mind,” he recalls.

He knew that the Nigerian economy is not strong. According to World Bank, Nigeria’s GDP is 440.8 billion USD (2021). He therefore must do something – it would be irresponsible to continue sleeping in the bosom of laziness, expecting others to take care of him. At the least, there lies a camera that shares the bed – a tool kept at the right-hand side of the 6X6 inches mattress.

“Instead of just lying on the bed, posting pictures and begging to be patronized, something has to be done to show how serious the step to productivity is,” he thought. “Besides” he told himself, “other students are doing it.”

Quite a number of Nigerian students have been up and doing to make the best out of the hundreds of days at home.

Some have secured part-time jobs as teachers, waitress, salesperson, while others enrolled in skill acquisitions programmes that cover baking, fashion designing, graphic/web designing, make-up and photography.

For these students, life’s activities had them moving forward, ASUU’s strike has no effect on their productivity.

The introduction of smartphones may have impacted negatively on the business of photography – it is perhaps one of the businesses that have reached their worst levels in patronage. Either with phone or digital camera, photography has become a feature today in the world of technology.

“Smartphone is doing a lot substitute work with urgency than going to the studio or waiting for the arrival of a photographer,” Yakenthim Nayako, a graduate of Archeology said. “It has slowed the frequent patronage of the studios.

In a minute she snaps an image, or a record of her material remains without delay. She feels even if the pictorial documentation of the remains require the services of a professional photographer, she at least, have a copy of the image on time.

Photography has been demystified. A good number of people have ventured into the photography world to pursue passion, though, others are into it for financial gains. People taking pictures are not restricted to what they can snap; they go for everything around and about their surroundings. With these they are able to save memories and evidence for future reference.

Yet, people go to the studios when they need certain professional photographs – this is the angle for Nathaniel. He already had a strategy before venturing into the photography world. Except for the conflict of continuing with a career in Law, or concentrate on the business of professional photography.

Nathaniel had a long passion for photography, “it did not start because of the strike, it had been a long-time passion,” he quickly pointed out. “I learnt it without undergoing through any apprenticeship programme. I learnt it online by going to Opera – lots of videos online and going to friends who were into it. They served as guides and for the most part of the learning, It was self-inspired. This was like 5 years ago,” he said.

Along the way, I had to drop the camera to concentrate fully on my academics.

For him, the feeling of being into Photography is more intriguing than the idea of being in a law firm, but school is a necessary part of growth – at least, in part of the world he comes from.

“With the strike and my studies on hold, I needed to make the best out of the long period away from classrooms.

Nathaniel’s plan to have a studio was not to happen this soon. It was supposed to come after Law school. But after returning home in May, there was no sign of calling off the lecturers strike – he needed to take charge of the endless sleep and doing nothing.

He looked around, and there he found the solution – the family garage which has not been in use for a long time. With the help of a friend, Tameshi, also a photographer, whom he met about 2 years ago they went into work of reconstructing and converting the garage into a photo studio.

Two years ago Yahaya needed a professional photography assistance, a mutual friend recommended Tameshi, and since then, they became the best of friends as their passion for photography bonded them to brotherhood.

Tameshi describes Nathaniel as a good, focused and cheerful person. Those qualities were out of many that drew him closer to Nathaniel. So, when Nathaniel called on him to assist implement the “garage to studio” idea, he quickly jumped in. “I am ever set to help him to the best of my ability,” Tameshi said.

Together they cleared the garage, fix all that was needed and painted it. “It took a lot of perseverance and a good friend, to which today YAHAI Photography studio is operating and had even recovered the cost spent to set up the place,” Nathaniel said.

Now, Nathaniel is excited, all he thinks of is productivity, from the time he wakes to about 9am, its house chores, after that, the studio opens. He starts the day with editing of pictures and any leftover work until the clock strikes 1pm, when he breaks, except for days when there are bookings for an outdoor photo. When customers knock on the door to take photos, Nathaniel suspends editing at any point, to attend to them.

He feels at rest now, especially when he recalls how in the past he goes about looking for spaces to edit his works and carry out other indoor shoots – he sometimes had to wait for a long time, or when the owner is not using the studio – leading to delays in delivering services to his clients.

Nathaniel believes that the best thing to teach humans is never to lay down on bed whining over suffering or misfortune, each must think for solutions and rise to work towards providing the results.

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