As I scrolled through Facebook, I came across a picture of a friend of mine that had a strong message – “Nigerians, don’t tear Nigeria apart.” Curious to see what this was about, I clicked on the photo and saw a bunch of similar photos with more messages. It was a different and unique way to spread a very positive message to Nigerians. I found the Creative Director of the COGNITO CHANGE NIGERIA PROJECT idea, Seun Asala, popularly known as Shawn and asked him a few questions about his idea and his views on Nigeria.
Initially, I thought photography was his profession. I later found out that Shawn is a medical doctor with a great passion for driving positive change in the Nigerian society through creative means including this photo art project. Read more about Shawn and his hope for our dear country, Nigeria.
Brief Introduction of Seun Asala:
My name is Seun Asala, but in most of my social circles, I am known as Shawn. Born and bred up North in Zaria. I am a medical doctor by profession working in the field of public health, specifically HIV AIDS, TB and Malaria. However I am more popularly known for my artistic talents: photography, fine art, and writing. All through school I was into that, and many years later, today, it has culminated into a business-Cognito Studios. The studio is a platform for me, and other creative people I work with, to showcase a passion for everything artistic, and also provide services to people in the area of photography, art and design.
Your “Change Nigeria” project is so unique, what inspired it?
Well, first and foremost, I am very passionate about positive change and maximizing potential. I hate to see injustice, stagnation, retrogression and all the pain and suffering that poverty, ignorance and bad governance brings. In Nigeria I see so much of that. And it torments me.
Secondly I am the kind of guy who is always looking for a way out, a way forward, something to do. I believe creativity is the key to finding solutions. Creativity is not just about art or design. Creativity is what has brought the world to where it is now; it is the root of development and technological advancement. So in the past I have always had pet projects designed to create some kind of positive change. One of them is a blog I run called True2Society Nigeria (http://true2society.blogspot.com) where I write articles designed to get people thinking of a better Nigeria.
In trying to improve myself as a photo-artist (I like to call myself that) I go round the world of the internet, following and learning from other photographers and artists, getting inspiration from what they do. I watched a short documentary by a renowned photographer, Jeremy Cowart, about Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that assailed them last year or so. (http://jeremycowart.com/humanitarian/voices-of-haiti-2/) and (http://www.profoto.com/blog/portrait-photography-2/jeremy-cowart-voices-of-haiti/) He used his photography skills to creatively draw the world’s attention to the plight of Haitians by taking pictures of the natives right there in the rubble and chaos. It was really something. And very moving too. I think he was invited to showcase the photos at a United Nations meeting or so and was able to help raise millions of dollars in aid for the country.
As one who is always thinking about creative solutions, I looked around me at our beloved Naija. I realized that I could use photography to draw people’s attention to the Nigerian situation and stimulate some kind of positive movement, because images say much more than words can. And that’s how the Cognito ‘Change Nigeria’ Photography project came about.
What role do you think Businesses play in the political scene?
That’s a very good question. A whole lot has been said about the impact a private-sector-led economy has on development and advancement. I am a firm believer of that. This is more so in a country like Nigeria where governments have performed poorly. All people do is sit around waiting for government to change their lives. I believe businesses, private projects, enterprise and creativity can move Nigeria forward. Of course they have to battle with the harsh economic environment that an inefficient government produces. However, with enough creativity and perseverance, they can make a difference. Successful businesses can be an example to the polity, and show them the way to go. The Dangote business empire is a good example. Government can learn a lot of lessons from them. I am not an economist so I will leave it at that.
What do you hope to get out of this project?
Money, fame, and a National award! Just kidding. First and foremost, I want to showcase what Nigerians think about moving this country forward. That is why we try get people to write down what they think will bring about change in Nigeria on a piece of paper and get their photos taken. The responses are always both interesting and inspiring.
Secondly I want to build up a collection of inspirational images over the next few months and showcase them at an exhibition or conference where I hope important personalities in government and enterprise will be in attendance, so that they too can get inspired to use their power, influence, affluence and goodwill to create a progressive Nigeria
Thirdly, I want to inspire others to find creative ways to stimulate positive change in this country.
Actually who knows where this will get to? The bottom line is I want to create a buzz. I want people to get busy, get creative, get into photography and get to changing this country for the better!
What is your hope for Nigeria?
I hope to see a country that maximizes its resources and potentials. Nigeria is too blessed. Yet her citizens suffer needlessly. We starve in the midst of plenty. We embarrass ourselves on the global stage with comedic and outrageous political drama, (like a governor getting kidnapped in his own state for instance), substandard movies and home videos, importation of oil, food and other natural resources we produce ourselves and a whole lot of other things.
I want to see a Nigeria that is enterprising, a country that is primarily concerned with making life comfortable and sweet for her citizens. I hope for constant power, good roads, beautiful modern cities, thriving industries, technological advancement; excellent healthcare and effective governance.
I hope for a Nigeria we can be proud of. I am so proud of our music entertainment industry today. We are seeing a lot of improvement and our music is getting more recognition on the global stage. I hope to see that spread across all sectors.
The security of the people is a major problem in Nigeria, from Boko Haram to Road Robbery, what solution do you suggest?
I have always said that the state and quality of our security system in Nigeria was a time bomb waiting to explode. Boko Haram was just the trigger.
Solution? Our security leaders should first of all define a vision, a status that they want to attain. Let me suggest: “In 5 years, the Nigerian Police force will be the best in the world” Simple! Then they should commit to that vision. And it is not hard. Understudy the security forces of other advanced nations. What quality of personnel do they employ? What gadgets, systems and procedures do they employ in ensuring security? What do they pay their police officers? What research have they undertaken in recent times to improve the general state of security?
I believe an end can come to all this insecurity. The right steps just have to be taken.
In addition Nigerians simply have to be more vigilant, more unified and more determined to stop the madness. As an alternative, I think the day Nigerians say they have had enough and occupy the streets in a determined protest, someone will wake up to his or her responsibility. But please don’t quote me on that!
If you had 30 seconds to talk to President Goodluck Jonathan, what would you say to him?
Sir, Fear God, serve the people, the common man, and you will be great. As a human being you are endowed with all it takes to creatively provide lasting solutions to our present problems. If you lean on God only, he will lead you as you lead us. No leader can be a leader without strength and courage. Be strong, be courageous and make it your one determination, to leave behind a legacy Nigerians will respect you for over the next 100 years. Because you will not be president forever! Gbam!
How many seconds was that?
More about Cognito Studios:
Simply put, Cognito Studios exists to inspire you through creative expressions in art, photography and design. Our services range from wedding, portrait and event photography, to photo editing, graphic design, to creation, procurement and sales of fine art.We also undertake projects centered on the aforementioned. For example photo documentaries, videos, short films and other endeavors tailored towards building society.
It is not just a quest for enterprise that drives us, but a genuine passion for creative expressions and beauty, and a passion to share those expressions with all.
A new website is in the works but we have a blog and a Facebook page where we interact with most of our clients and fans.
Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/Cognito.Studios
Phone: 08069470489, 08097708220, 08185791174
If you would like to keep this movement alive, contact Shawn Asala through one the above Cognito Links.