The YNaija Interview: What it’s like to be Pres. Buhari’s official photographer – Bayo Omoboriowo opens up

One year after President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration, YNaija keeps its focus on moments, pronouncements, and activities that define his administration and individuals who made these happen.

One of such individuals is Bayo Omoboriowo, the multi-talented documentary photographer who brought President Buhari’s activities into our homes and social media platforms with iconic images that never fails to tell compelling stories.

In this interview with Isime Esene, Omoboriowo speaks on his appointment as the president’s official photographer, memorable moments working with him, and more.

Read excerpts from the interview below:

How has it been working with President Buhari over the past one year?

These has indeed been a rather remarkable journey. For me, It’s all about the discovery. Its about what I’ve been able to learn. While it’s easy to look at it from the perspective of ; ‘’Oh! I’m working with the president, the whole aura, it’s about knowledge, wisdom, diplomacy and how to relate with people. Because what people say on the outside, when I hear people talk – which I also did in those days with previous governments, the way we talked about government, the way we reacted to issues – you begin to see things from a much different perspective and you realise things are rather different as seen from the outside. That’s the joy for me, having to learn so much in such a short time, about governance, diplomacy and all from my close contact with the President and other government officials. So for me, how has it been? It’s been a space to gather knowledge, an opportunity to influence and be influenced. Meeting with individuals who I only got to see on TV screens during network news and being called by them has indeed been a dream come true. I’ve had the privilege to meet, seat, talk and even dine with Presidents, governors, ministers, etc.  You see, photographing a governor was something I dreamt and prayed would come true one day but to realize that you’re photographing a president and the governor you prayed to photograph, is staying next door, sitting next to you in a car or bus, and engaging you in a conversation, is more than a dream come true.

From the point of view of personal development, I’ve always been believed in effecting change, empowering people and touching lives, this appointment has thus helped broaden my horizon. I have previously photographed Makoko, alongside many other projects prior to working in the Presidency and I must say that I look forward to being done on this assignment and going back to do much more with these communities and impact more lives through Photography.

So what was your reaction on hearing that you will be the president’s official photographer?

There was no reaction. But, really, I didn’t even think of it. When I heard of it, what actually came to my mind was: ‘Okay, good’. Maybe what made it easier was because I had photographed him throughout the campaign and in my mind I felt I was done, because I felt I had done the biggest thing anybody could do. Like travelling with the president, because I really connected with him, I see him, I know him, and I knew that he’s not the kind of person people see from the outside. He’s totally different and it’s not just about him, because you can’t really know who a person is until you come close.

So when I came close, I was very comfortable with him. But after the campaign, when he won I thought that was all and I was ready to go back to what I was doing. In fact the first two weeks of him becoming the president and I was photographing him, I said I was done, I’m not doing this because the protocol of the Villa was different from that of the campaign.

And it was becoming too hectic like ah, you can’t do this. I was like what is this? Why would you tell me don’t do this, don’t do that? This is what I want to do, I’m a rugged, dogged photographer and I go for it when I feel and they say I’m running from it but I said no, it can’t be like this. But protocols have to be followed – which is not wrong in itself – but, you know, photography is kind of liberal, you just want to jump into it, and you just want to go for it. So at the end, you know, the first few week were discouraging like I don’t think that this is what I want to do, so I was not excited until I spoke with the photographer, TY Bello – she was like, “I’ve thought of every photographer I know, there’s no other option, you are the only person that can photograph Pres. Buhari. I’ve seen your work, I’ve seen what you do. You are the best candidate for this job and you’re anointed to do this.” Those were her words, and those words really spurred me on

And that was what sealed it and I said okay maybe should just cope. And after that I’ve been able to understand how the system works and I have also been able to influence it to work the way I want it to be.

Travelling with Mr. President must be very demanding, of course going all over the world, how do you juggle this with family life?

That’s the hardest part of it because you’re hardly around but thank God I have someone that understands and is willing to bear the challenges. She doesn’t even know anyone in Abuja, and then she has to be at home alone for long stretches of time. But I think it’s God’s given ability to understand and she understands. It’s the sacrifice we both agreed to bear for the time being.

Can you describe your typical work day with the president? What time does he wake up? How does he actually work?

The Presidency has schedules so you follow the schedule. So it’s not like you’ll just wake up and go and stand by the door. Definitely, sometimes I have to use my creative intuition and I feel like, I think I need to take pictures of the President as he comes out, walking from the residence to the office etc. And so sometimes I have to go early enough so I can catch that moment or I might wait for him to come out and them I’m ready to capture him. So it’s not fixed like; this how it is from 5:30 to 8pm, no.

Meanwhile, sometimes you can leave the office as early as 4pm, but sometimes you can still be in the office till 12 midnight. Nevertheless, it’s not everything that is photographed. So you must be able to say, what’s the story here? Is there a need to photograph? So, it’s not like if somebody is just coming to say hi to him, the you’re standing there to photograph, no it doesn’t work like that. There are schedules, so from the schedules you can know when the need for the images would arise. But there are moments, candid moments, that are not scheduled that you must catch. So you must always be as alert at every point in time, even when it is not scheduled, your eyes are open to catch it as it happens.

Then, the reality of things, maybe the relationship we’ve been able to build, he’s the kind of person that, he’s a lovable person, so he can call them and say, “Call Bayo for me”, “Bayo should be here.” Even when it’s not scheduled he can say “Bayo should be here” or “We need Bayo for this event.”

Although it’s different when we go out of the country. When we go out of the country, sometimes we’re awake as early as 4:30am and you work till night and you’re on your toes, running with your camera, running with your bag, running with your laptop, running with everything, to catch everything, so it’s tougher for different games. Sometimes it’s lighter, sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes you’re just like “I’m tired” and sometimes you’re just like “okay, what are we doing next?”

Bayo Omoboriowo
Bayo Omoboriowo

What has been your most memorable experience working with him – one moment you just can’t forget?

The moment they called me and said that the president said, “If you are not around, even when other photographers are there, it’s like he’s not in the picture.” So even as photography is involved, once Bayo is not there, it’s like he’s not in the picture. Do you understand? Maybe I couldn’t be there and they took picture, he’ll say, “Where is Bayo my friend.” These are little things, but for the President to call you his friend. For the President to say, “Where is Bayo?” For him to say, “I’m not in the picture without Bayo”, it goes a long way.

The first thing that I will never forget is the day we resumed at the Villa, his first day in office –  that one, for me, is the second most memorable moment –  everybody got into his office, you know first day, official picture and they all ran – the press –  all of them ran into his office and when they all positioned themselves, they pushed me and I was behind. Just when  they were ready to take the picture, the the President said, “Where is Bayo?’’ and everybody was like why is he asking for me?

And I straightened my neck from where I was and said ‘‘I am here.’’ He said, ‘‘Now the picture is complete.” Do you understand? You know that was his first day in office and he asked after me. That day all of them knew me and started calling me ‘Bayo Buhari’ – like a son. It really is not just because he likes me as a person, it’s rather a fondness that has developed as a result of his love for excellence. In all, I always endeavour to put in an excellent touch. Before me there have been photographers in the Villa (although I’m the first Personal photographer to a sitting Nigerian President) and there sure would be others after me, but what I believe would remain after I’m long gone from this role, is the things I get to do, and the quality of my work… how much they speak. I always try to look for what I can do? What other value I can add.

Now I have a book that will be launched in July for the President. It has never been done, that the Nigerian President – not campaigning – no, this is a book that talks about him, not propaganda, or political. It’s a book about him (from childhood to now – many never before seen images), covering over 300 images, with the foreword by Chief Emeka Anyaoku.

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