Sodiq Adelakun wins African stories category at 2022 World Press Photo contest with ‘Afraid To Go To School’ photo series

Sodiq Adelakun won the World Press Photo Award (African region) under the stories category at the 65th edition of the World Press Photo Regional Awards. Adelakun, who is the photo editor at Channels TV Digital Team and works globally as a contributing photographer for AFP, Everyday Africa, Everyday Everywhere, tells IFEDAYO OGUNYEMI what the award means to him and his career.

How did you receive the news that you have been awarded a winning prize under stories category for the African region at the World Press Photo Regional Awards in the year 2022 Photo Contest?

The day I received the news that I have been awarded the World Press Photo Regional Awards was a relieving moment for me because my boy was not feeling too well and I had spent like 12 days in the hospital. I had spent a lot of money and I was devastated. But immediately I received the mail from the organisers, I was relieved and I smiled that was the first time I was smiling after I had been in the hospital. It felt too unreal and I was like finally, I got this. I was very happy and my wife was happy too. I had had so much expectation for the award and the good news gave birth to a kind of new vibe because the following day, my boy was discharged from the hospital. It was really a memorable moment for me.

 

What does that kind of recognition afford your career as a young man in the field of photography and photojournalism?

The recognition and award in the photography and photojournalism will help me motivate and encourage other young people that are coming into the field to understand that journalism, most especially photojournalism is not a field that you can be biased in. It is a kind of recognition that will allow me tell more stories and get more passionate about telling stories about people, not only about politicians. It is about the people. When you tell stories about the populace, it helps the country and the people get better. It also helps the photographer to get better. This award will open more ways for me because all over the world, many people have the wrong perspective of Nigeria and I’m trying to change that narrative. Many believe that when a Nigerian goes outside the country, they just want to stay in that country and never want to return, but for a young man like me, I want to be a change agent and I want to tell more stories that will change the narrative of the country and make us have a great international reputation. It will also open up more opportunities for upcoming photojournalists.

Sodiq Adelakun

You were recognised for the unspoken stories that your ‘Afraid To Go To School’ series passed across. Can you share with us what kind of message are those?

My story that won the award, ‘Afraid To Go To School’ is a strong story that appeals to my heart and tells the state of Nigerian education at all levels. In this case, I’m focusing on how it affects the local level. They say if education is not attractive to a child at the lower level, it makes it difficult for such a child to find education attractive when they become an adult. The message of the story spotlights young girls who are out of school in the North-East, North-West and some parts of the North Central and how they are afraid to go back to school because of the fear of being kidnapped by bandits, the fear of not wanting to be educated and many other fears. These fears are not letting them get educated because when a child is kidnapped and the parents go through trauma. It sends a message that if the children are later released, the children and even the parents won’t want the children to go back to school so they don’t get kidnapped again.

 

As a professional, you must have taken a lot of photographs for the period under review. What made you submit ‘Afraid To Go To School’ series for the award?

Let me just say that I photograph a lot of stories; however, I don’t do that for award’s sake. What I do is I take my time to look at the story, research on it, look at the state of the story and why the story should be done at that particular time or why someone should buy a paper to read that story or watch it on the television or YouTube rather than other stories. So when I did a lot of stories in 2021, I asked myself the things that are affecting the country and are creating long-term damage in the system, then I decided on the story of the girls. I also took into consideration so many things as regards the story, and I felt it highlights why Nigeria needs to fix its educational system, especially in the North.

Sodiq Adelakun

One of the jury members praised the subtle editing you did on the project and described it as respectful to the plights of the relatives of the missing schoolgirls. However, you are the one on the field, what was the feeling like when capturing those heart-rending moments?

 


The editing is something one has to be careful about. As a photographer, one of the problems we face is when you have so many photographs on your desk after an assignment and you want to summarise them. At this point, you don’t want to miss out the points, and at the same time, you want to be sure you did justice to the story. I was embarking on a risky journey when I went to these villages. When I got there, many of the villagers said journalists were being biased with their reportage. I didn’t want to go back home without doing the story, so, I had to be patient with them and slept in the village for some days. I also explained to them that I was there to help them tell the story in a responsible way. I also told them to tell me what should be prioritised in the story because I wanted to have the feeling of having one’s child kidnapped; I wanted to get the anger, rage and emotions. Eventually, the villagers came around and I realised I had to do the story exactly the way it was told.

 

Can you share some hostile environments and events that you have covered and how you were able to carry out your reportorial duties?

One of the hostile environments I covered was the #EndSARS protest in Abuja, where they kept telling me to go back or I would be shot. I tried to take cover and understand my limitations. Another one was an attack between the Shiites and the police where a colleague, who was a corps member, was killed. I am always grateful to God for protecting me because it is very hard. I try to be someone who is responsible and try to tell stories. So many Nigerians talk down on journalists, that we don’t tell stories and we are afraid to go into danger zones but at the same time, we want to tell them that some of us have families too and we are responsible and we also want to live as we are telling the stories. It takes a lot of courage to do stories like this.

 

You are the founder of ‘Everyone Has a Story’. What is the motive behind this project and how would it help young photojournalists tell stories better?

It is an initiative for a non-governmental organisation that is set up to help young photographers and journalists to be able to tell stores irrespective of wherever they are. Several times, we’ve had young people say they have been to a particular place but they don’t think there’s any story there. Over time, we’ve understood that even when you go to a place where they say there is no story, the picture without a story is still a story. So, I’m trying to change the narrative that there is no story in a particular place or the story has been heard before, there is a new way a story can be reproduced. The NGO is to also help these photographers get funds and equipment from international communities.

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