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Join History of Art for the next in the Research Seminar Series chaired by Celeste-Marie Bernier.

This lecture will be hybrid. Please book your ticket for attendance in person or online. Further details on how to access the lecture will be sent to you following booking.

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception in the Higgitt Gallery.

Deconstructing Political Structure in Nigeria: Images, Social Media and the Obidient Movement


The extensive use of social networking sites during tumultuous events like the Occupy protest of 2012 and the Obidient movement of 2022-23 in Nigeria is often cited to highlight the transformative impact of social media culture on African politics. This paper revisits the notion of political transformation to examine how it is constituted, its limits and how it is shaped by the visual cultural practices produced on social media. The transformation involves deconstruction of dominant political structures by portraying specific public figures as iconic images representing an imagined new political landscape. The ruling elites respond by creating counter-images to undermine the icons whose pictures they ironically appropriate to project theirs. I further argue that upon the successful dismantling of the political structures which could take an extreme form of voting out a sitting president, a widespread sense of disillusionment ensues as it fails to effectively address the underlying socio-political issues that trigger the uprisings. To develop this argument, I draw on the Obidient movement through which participants identifying as ‘Obidients’ galvanised support for Peter Obi of the Labour Party during the 2023 Nigerian election. Obidients produced and circulated digital photos, music videos, and skits, involving the portrayal of Obi as a politician of unparalleled integrity, symbolising a new possibility in Nigerian politics.Top of Form I archived a huge number of images as they circulated on Facebook, WhatsApp, X, and YouTube, while also conducting online ethnographic study of the material. I analyse the material following Ariella Azoulay’s reflection on ‘political imagination’ as ‘the ability to imagine a political state of being that deviates significantly from the prevailing state of affairs’. The Obidient movement was a visual articulation of political imagination, but experienced both iconoclastic responses and appropriation of the same Obi image by political opponents. Obidients asserted that Obi won the election while alleging fraudulent declaration of Bola Tinubu from the APC party as the winner. I conclude that the political transformation spurred by social media photo-activism in Nigeria is more about reconfiguration of power than the intended good governance.

About George

George Emeka Agbo teaches African art at the School of History of Art, University of Edinburgh. His research explores Nigerian colonial and post-colonial histories through the visual lens of art, material culture, and photography. His seminar paper is drawn from his ongoing book project that examines social media activist photography as a new form of political mobilisation that offers the possibility of reading Nigerian post-independence history from the margins. He commenced his initial research in this area through the support of two doctoral scholarships at the University of the Western Cape – the Andrew Mellon Fellowship and the Ivan Karp and Corinne Kratz Fund. Further research was supported by the African Humanities Program of the American Council of Learned Societies. Prior to its publication in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, one of the papers developed from the research was awarded the Graduate Student Paper Prize at the University of Minnesota International African Studies Conference in 2016. Agbo conducted research in art and Nigerian colonial history at the University of Oxford, supported by the AfOx Travel Grant, and at the University of Cambridge through the AHRC-funded Museum Affordances/[Re:]Entanglements project.


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Event details

14 Mar '24
Hunter Building, Hunter Lecture Theatre (017), 74 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh, EH3 9DF
Dr George Emeka Agbo

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