The 120-kilometre long Lagos-Ibadan Expressway that connects Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos with the city of Ibadan – the third largest metropolitan area in the country – is considered the most important and busiest road in Nigeria. It was opened to traffic in 1979 at the peak of the oil boom, a period often described as ‘paradise on wheels’. As from the 1990s deterioration set in. Resulting from the fact that it has become one of the most accident-prone highways in Nigeria, a popular label for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is ‘Highway of Death’. While it has failed as the artery linking the north and the south of Nigeria, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has succeeded as a stage for the performance of public religiosity to the extent that it can be described as a ‘Spiritual Highway’. It owes this name to the fact that since the late 1980s numerous Christian and Muslim movements have cropped up along the highway.
This exhibition is a result of the work that Akintunde and Marloes produced as part of a project to explore and record these centres of religion that have become known as ‘prayer cities’ in the summer of 2013 along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. They concentrated on two of these. The Christian Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries or MFM Prayer City and the Muslim Nasrul-Lahi-Fatih Society of Nigeria, which translates as ‘There is no help except from Allah’ and is abbreviated to NASFAT.
These prayer cities are huge in scale with congregations of tens of thousands, competing with each other for new converts by offering a range of facilities and services ranging from faith healing, to education and health care. Challenging conventional assumptions of Christianity and Islam as bounded and distinct traditions, this project focuses instead on the convergence between the two religious traditions, thereby crossing boundaries and blurring sharp distinctions. The convergence of Pentecostal Christianity and revivalist Islam in the ways religion articulates with urbanity makes the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway a true crossroads.
Akintunde Akinleye - is the first Nigerian photographer to have been awarded a prize in the prestigious World Press Photo, Netherlands in 2007; an award fellow of the National Geographic Society; in 2012, Akintunde was nominated for the Prix Pictet Photography award and he has exhibited in Washington, Los Angeles, New Mexico, Lagos, Amsterdam, Graz, Bamako, Madrid, Munich and Pordenone in Italy.
Dr Marloes Janson – is a lecturer in anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London with her special area of interest in the intersection of anthropology and religion in West Africa, and author of the monograph Islam, Youth, and Modernity in the Gambia: The Tablighi Jamaʻat (Cambridge University Press/International African Institute, 2013)