•After 53 years as photographer, he doesn’t contemplate retirement
•Has been photojournalist since 1979 at birth of PRP
By JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE
Among the battery of photojournalists from media houses at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, stands out one man. His unique feature is not in his youthfulness, far from it. On the contrary, what stands him out is his grey hair; his age.
Fondly called Baba Ladan by his colleagues, some of whom are as young as some of his grandchildren, Mr. Ladan Abubakar is no doubt an old hand at the Presidency, having been posted to the seat of power by the defunct Triumph Newspaper as in the days of Gen. Sani Abacha in the Villa.
Although he would not want to disclose his real age for reasons best known to him, even the small stature of the Kano-born but polyglot photojournalist cannot hide the fact that he is advanced in age. Baba Ladan speaks Hausa, French, Idoma, Tiv, Igbo, Efik flawlessly. Despite his age, however, he looks fit and that explains why he still struggles alongside younger colleagues and at times shoves some of them aside in his bid to take strategic positions when taking photographs in the State House. He is never daunted. Not even overzealous security men can intimidate Baba Ladan.
So unique is Baba Ladan that while addressing State House correspondents recently, the Minister for Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, and the Minister of State, Federal Capital Territory, Olajumoke Akinjide, had to pause to commend him. “I want to urge you (State House Correspondents) as a group, to write to the president and nominate this Baba for a national honour,” Maku said of Baba Ladan. But as soon as they left, Baba Ladan turned and said: “I am not interested in any national honour; I just enjoy doing what I love to do best.”
Baba Ladan aside from being a photographer is also a very good tailor. He sows native and foreign wears so well you can mistake them for ‘ready made’ and is also good at making handcrafts. These talents have taken him to several states in Nigeria and African countries. He said till date his name is well known in Cameroon, Senegal, Burundi and Congo as a result of photography, tailoring and handcrafts.
It’s easier to squeeze water from the rock than to get Baba Ladan to talk about himself not even to disclose his real age. He simply says “If Larry King and Karibu Fagga, an American journalist, with Voice of America (VOA) are still in business, there is no retirement for me. This is professional job, there is no retirement.”
Baba Ladan is a very reserved person and only chats once in a while probably triggered by an event. What brought about the idea of interviewing him, was one of those days when he was really in the mood to talk. He went down memory lane talking about his days in places like Calabar, Uyo and how he survived.
When Abuja Metro mooted the idea of an interview to him, he curled back into his shell, and would avoid our correspondent like a plague. When he finally agreed to talk after so much persuasion, he kept postponing it until he couldn’t any more.
Baba Ladan has two wives and 11 children. Only the fourth child has followed his love for tailoring and is managing the family shop in Kano. His first son studied science and is good at installing solar system. All his daughters are the eldest in the family and are all married.
All his children are educated at various levels. Presently four of them are undergraduates at the Bayero University Kano (BUK). “Ado is studying accounting, Zaniab Musa Abubabakar studies Computer Science, Farida reads sciences, Maryam Musa Abubakar is in the medical field.” But Baba won’t say what she specializes in.
Baba Ladan’s family has remained in Kano despite his nomadic life. In all of his tour of some states in Nigeria and some African states, no family member has gone with him, he always returns to them after months of being away from home and making money for their upkeep.
He started photography in 1960 with Photocine in Cameroon out of his love for it. He later opened his Tailor/Photo Studio, in Duala, where he was doing very well. He returned to the country in 1970, for two reasons – to start his private photography studio as well as open a tailoring shop to train some Hausa youths that were idling away in Kano.
He had noticed that the average Hausa youth would rather depend on handouts than work to earn a living and he wanted to change all that.
Teaching young ones self reliance
According to Baba Ladan, “As an expert in sewing suit and native dress, I returned to Nigeria to teach youths how to sew to be self employed. So I opened a shop in Kano in 1972.
“Most of the boys refused to learn and would only do so if you give them money. Having talked to them to no avail and since I did not have that kind of money to throw around I was forced to close the tailoring workshop and start photography.
At the time I returned to Nigeria, there was only one photographer in the whole of Kano, an Hausa man known as Useini Naka Photo.
Our people used to see photographers as useless and used to call me funny names, rubbishing my profession. When they see me coming with my camera round my neck, they will call out, Ladan me hoto. But I used laugh at them.
I started photojournalism 1979, when the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was formed, I was working with Mallam Aminu Kano and S.G. Ikoku as a private photography. When I take these pictures I will send them to various media organisation like New Nigerian Newspaper, Herald Newspapers. So when Abubakar Rimi started Triumph in 1981, I joined them in 1982 and have been there till now.
“In 1983, I went to the Nigerian Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba to study photojournalism and brush up my skills.”
I have also lived and plied my trade in Calabar, Uyo, Ikot Ekpene and other cities in Nigeria.
Many people are curious to know how come I can speak several languages. I am good with languages because it is all about interest. Once you are a trader, you will be quick to pick languages because you want to communicate with your customers freely. I can’t really say how long it takes me but in each of the places I lived, I was there for at most three years and there is no way one will not know language.
I started covering the State House during the Abacha regime. I covered him for almost three years before he died. Since then I have been here doing my job diligently,” he said with confidence.