26 years shooting sports: International photographer Jimoh Otisoro shares experience in Nigeria’s ‘risky’ football league

Jimoh Otisoro
jimoh otisoro

Jimoh Otisoro is a photographer who has been covering sports in Nigeria in the last 26 years. That is four years after the formation of football league in Nigeria in 1990, today, we have the Nigeria Professional Football League, NPFL. Many are still struggling to hold grasp of the league which is often looked down as not good enough or lacks basic ingredients to be recognized as a ‘professional’ league.

The early days of league football in the country were full of rivalries which are expected in any football league. The derbies are always intense but do so in a professional way; whereas in Nigeria, it was always fiercely contested, exchange of blows, fans riot which made many to wash their hands off football league in Nigeria.

In an exclusive interview with The Athletic NG correspondent, Nsikakabsi Akpan, the veteran photographer Otisoro shares his experience as a photographer who started photography during his days in the university. The profession helped him while he was an undergraduate back in the 90s.

Otisoro said he started covering sports professionally during his NYSC days. “After my graduation, I was posted to Akwa Ibom for my National Youth Service in 1994, You know back then Akwa Ibom and Cross River paired orientation camp in Obubra Cross River state, so after my orientation camp I arrived Akwa Ibom and was posted to the Ministry of Agriculture. From there I started helping school’s and students in arranging Football matches, I also arranged games with the then newly formed Ibom Stars FC, it was from there that I started using my analog camera to cover matches at the Uyo Township Stadium and Eket.”

Jimoh Otisoro has been covering sports in Nigeria for 26 years and counting
Jimoh Otisoro has been covering sports in Nigeria for 26 years and counting

Often times, fight will likely erupt in the stadium during matches and Otisoro says photographers were always targeted by violent fans. “That was the time of Ibom Stars, Mobil Pegasus, Udoji United, NPA. I can recall the risk involved in covering the Nigerian League back then. The rivalry between Udoji United and Mobil Pegasus was so fierce that you never can tell when a fight would start and as a photographer, most people will target you so you don’t capture the scenes, I’ve seen a lot in Nigerian football.”

Serving as a youth corp member in Akwa Ibom State in 1996, Jimoh Otisoro found his niche organising football tournaments for schools. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Economics, but says he has found satisfaction in capturing sports moments with his cameras.

“A lot of the boys we brought were very young and football was not so lucrative then so I recommended a few who went on to play for Ibom Stars, I remember the current chairman of Ikono Local Government Area Mr Itoro Columba was one of my boys back then. The greatest satisfaction is doing what you love doing, I was already doing a great job covering league matches so I decided to continue. I cannot really tell if I would have been more famous if I left it or if it could have been a bad decision. It’s God that directs everything.”

The Oyo State-born photographer has attended numerous international competitions like the FIFA World Cups, Olympic Games, Nations Cup and National Sports Festivals from 1996 without missing a single tournament. He has done this without officially being sponsored or employed by any body. Raising funds to attend these competitions is no mean feat and Otisoro reveals he is open to a good job in football if there is an offer.

Jimoh Otisoro has attended the FIFA World Cup in 2002, 2010, 2014, and 2018
Jimoh Otisoro has attended the FIFA World Cup in 2002, 2010, 2014, and 2018

“I started attending international competitions in 1998. Aside from the 2006 Nations Cup I have attended all others, I also have been at 2002, 2010, 2014, and 2018 World Cups, I have been to all the National Sports Festival from 1996 to the last one and several others. It’s not easy making a trip to any international competition, I am not under any payroll so I raise funds from my savings and support from persons to be able to make every trip.

“Ofcourse, I will accept any job in the football field. I must commend the current sports administration, at least, I’ve been getting better recognition for my efforts, I think if a full-time job materializes it would be a thing of joy to me and even everyone who has seen my contributions over the Years.”

The legendary photographer has seen it all in the field of photojournalism, from the days of analog cameras to this digital era. Jimoh Otisoro was there when Vincent Enyeama started his career at Ibom Stars now Akwa United. “I have seen it all, from the difficulties of the analog era, those days of the likes of Kanu, Finidi, Ikpeba, I covered how Vincent Enyeama started at Ibom Stars, to this day where the main priority has switched from paper printing to Soft copy, I’ve always adjusted to the trend.”

It goes without saying that Jimoh Otisoro, who is an NFF, CAF and FIFA licensed photojournalist is one Nigerian who has witnessed the evolution of sports and football league in the country. His shots have created lasting memories in the lives of sports-loving fans in Nigeria and will continue to do so in the years to come.


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