Still in Enugu/Some Kind of Waithood (excerpt)

*full portfolio of images to be uploaded soon

To love Enugu is to love peace. Or at least that is what we tell ourselves when we compare the city to Aba or Lagos. We say: Enugu is calm, Enugu is cheaper, Enugu makes sense. The Uber driver I meet in Lagos tells me of his retirement plans to move to Enugu next year: “Please, let me go and join my friends drinking and eating nkwobi from 3pm.”

I remember how my family moved to Enugu from Aba. My mother had travelled with me to drop me off on my first day at boarding school in Abuja. She was sick with malaria, and so, driving back to Aba, she had to stop at Enugu. One day became three days, and my siblings begged to come to visit. This was the Aba of the 2000s, with a tremendous crime rate and the brutal Bakassi Boys. Sunday-morning-rotting-burnt-bodies-on-your-way-to-church Aba. You don’t leave Aba and look back.

When I travelled back to Enugu for Christmas holiday after that first term in boarding school, I saw what looked like the quiet after a storm. I mean that Enugu felt like it had seen things, seen better, brighter, more exuberant days, and had gotten tired of it all. Civil servant Enugu. The buildings were old and kept, the people religious and unrushed. The state government was in the process of changing one of its parks into a mall, landmarking it with a Ferris wheel. The water fountain on Independence Avenue worked; that felt so American. A water fountain? Working? In the middle of the road? For free?

But then years passed, and between school terms in Abuja and holidays spent in the village (still in Enugu state but not Enugu city), I was not able to make friends in Enugu city. The city began to feel like a party I could not attend. And then, more years passed, and I saw that there was no party in the first place. The quiet started to feel like stagnation; the peace, a lack of opportunities; the slowness, a lack of funds; and the religiosity, faith without works. I would walk around with my iPhone 5s, and sometimes my big Canon 5d, trying to get hold of the city’s spirit. Maybe then I will understand how to make the most of this city, I thought. When I shared these initial photos from my wanderings with editors, I used the word ‘languid’ a lot. I tried to connect the dots between the red dust that settled on everything, the assurance of Igbo Christianity, and the fact that no young person I knew in the city could find a formal job here. There is a bigger picture somewhere and I am still weaving it out; all these threads are still dangling in my head.

But see, here is the fruit of my attempt after all these years. Here is how I see the people of Enugu, seeing themselves, seeing the city.

Text above and some images published in:

Some images exhibited at:
  • Dec 2022 - Bamako Encounters, African Biennale of Photography (with the Nlele Institute at Bla Bla Bamako)

Sunrise Flour Mill Estate

Click to order ‘Sunrise Flour Mill (2021)’ (linked), published by Another Place Press (APP).
This field note zine makes a Nigerian metaphor out of the flour mill which went defunct after only two years of production and now lives as an echo of its potential, 25 years on.

The APP catalogue has been acquired by St. Andrews University, Scotland for their archive and will be in their reading room in 2024.

In 1983, the Enugu state government, established the Sunrise Flour Mill with production lines for flour, semolina and wheat.

Only two years later, in 1985, the mill went out of production as the industry could not survive the strain of an economic crisis. The closing of the mill is one the many instances of Nigeria’s deindustrialisation in the late century which resulted as a consequence of the forced abandonment of industrial policies induced by the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) which devastated many sub-Saharan African economies in the aftermath of the international debt crisis.

The mill has remained moribund for twenty-five years in spite of efforts to reignite production in 1992 and 2013. Most recently, in 2013, in line with federal establishment of a free trade zone in the state, the Enugu state government signed an agreement with a Vietnamese company, DVI Trading Services and Investment, to take over the Flour Mill for a period of 30 years. Yet, the mill remains defunct and the estate buildings out of use (except the living quarters). A few years ago, the administrative building in the estate suffered water damage, to add to the slow degradation it has suffered in its past 15 years of inactivity.

I shot these photographs of the building and its interiors to speak to the decay of Nigerian resources and capacity in the hands of consecutive administrations that continue to fail its potential. I hope for it to serve as a reflection of the country's socio-economic reality through its built environment. A flour mill that goes defunct only after two years of production, only to live for decades as an echo of its potential, feels like a metaphor for the Nigeria today.

Aunty Uche’s Garden

It has been 15 years since Aunty Uche and her family moved into this compound with a vast expanse of land where she grows both flowers and crops. The land, big enough to be called an estate, has a fence separating the compound from a stream.

I got to know about her through Instagram: I was looking for florists in Enugu. Every week for months during the pandemic, I went there to learn more about plants, indulge in their beauty and let their grace wash over me. On the first day, my wandering destructive fingers crushed a bud and soon I learnt that the cost of such carelessness could be an entire paw-paw tree. I also learnt how lessons from the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree from the Bible (Luke 13:6-9) helped her save one of her paw-paw trees and plant gist like how you can tell species of mango trees apart by tasting their leaves.

The photos in this project were shot over the weeks since I met Aunty Uche and intentionally formatted as postcards dispatched from her home. I also sat down with her to talk about the home she has made out of the land.

Enugu is in The Hands of God

Well, I mean, and here we are with Christianity. That says something. But, again, I don’t know… One of these days, I’ll ask my dad about how he felt abandoning his father’s traditional religious practices. I think he’ll probably say something like, it wasn’t hard because Jesus is the way, truth and life… I still remember the day they finally got my grandfather baptized. Sis, I guess tides turn every now and then...

From ‘In the Hands of God, We Rendezvous’, a short story by me in Saraba Magazine (Jan 2019).

How does religion shape a place?

Beginning in August 2017, this is a long-term project under Studio Styles through which I am exploring and documenting the contours and the substance of the culture of Christianity and wider religiosity in Enugu.

My focus so far has been on the material manifestations of the intangible aspects of Christianity in three ways:
  • institutions
  • practices
  • everyday effects of religious ideology in politics and governance

Practices: In the Hands of God, We Rendezvous (the church as site of community-making)

Institutions: The materiality of Enugu  Catholicism

Power and Governance in a God-state

Project: WebsiteInstagram

Work in progress since August 2017 (photography, audio-visuals, written interviews)

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