Saturday, September 30, 2017 2:26 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
The new Obafemi Awolowo Statue was unveiled by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at Lateef Jakande Road, Ikeja, on Tuesday, 26 September 2017. At the event, prominent members of the Awolowo family, comprising his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, including the wife of the Vice President of Nigeria, Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo and eminent politicians, were present.
However good the intention of the Lagos state government, Nigerians spoke for or against it. Criticisms against it ranged from the statue’s sitting position as against the standing posture of Awo with his trademark Winston Churchill’s victory sign (that was the nature of the statue removed from Allen roundabout, Ikeja before the new one). Cynics also pointed out that the work of Art does not resemble Awo but Odigie Oyegun, the All Progressives Congress Chairman. Worse still, apart from the king sized coal miner’s pair of shoes, those who condemned the work pointed out that Awo, being a Yoruba with fine dress sense, would never wear a laced pair of shoes with traditional attire, a culture alien to South West people.
But the flaks were not expected given the eclat with which the state government unveiled it. That day, Ambode spoke on the essence of the effort which was in sync with the position of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on restructuring and devolution of powers.
“In the same corollary, the position of Lagos State on restructuring remains the same as stipulated in the manifesto of our great party, the All progressives Congress, which states that ‘The APC shall initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to States and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.’ Hence, we welcome the restructuring committee of the APC presently going round the country,” he said.
He recalled Awolowo’s commitment to the growth and development of Nigeria especially during the post-independence era, adding he was a shining light among his contemporaries and displayed an incredible ability to use leadership as a tool for the advancement of the welfare of the people.
“Thirty years after his death, his thoughts and ideas on a wide range of issues relating to the economy, fiscal federalism and education among several others, are still as relevant today as they were back in time. His legacies and landmark achievements, particularly in the Western region including Lagos colony, have endured and remain a source of inspiration and benchmark for progressive leadership in the country.
“Awolowo was a symbol for the aspiration of Western Nigeria during his lifetime. His achievements remain indelible across the nation. The vision of new generation leaders like us, is to consciously rise up to his ideals and principles,” Governor Ambode said.
He said the quest to sustain the ideals which Awolowo stood for, prompted Lagos to join hands with five other South West States in the Oodua Investment Conglomerate to champion the political and economic integration of the region.
The Governor said the unveiling of the statue was thus in recognition of all the legacies that the Awolowo dynasty was enviably known for and the beginning of the realization of all his aspirations for a better Nigeria and the Yoruba people in particular. “This statue is not just about beautifying the environment or serving as a tourist attraction, but more importantly, it is meant to be a constant reminder to all of us and future generations of the need to value the sacrifice of our heroes and strive to uphold and promote the ideals which they stood for. May the labour of our heroes past never be in vain,” Governor Ambode said.
He said the idea for the statue which has Pa Awolowo in a sitting position was inspired by the fact that the late sage during his hay days, was not known to be one giving to sitting down majestically. “So, I made up my mind that I wanted to see him seat down majestically and actually looking at all of us and saying that, ‘okay, after 30 years where are you?’. That is the reason why we did that because I wanted to see him seat down and not standing all the time,” Governor Ambode explained.
In her remarks, daughter of the late sage, Dr. Tokunbo Dosunmu, said her late father was able to utilise taxes to drive most of his people oriented policies and that those who once criticized his tax drive later rallied round him and adopted same for economic growth. She said over the years, her late father’s success story had become a template for any government desirous of making meaningful impact in the life of its citizenry, adding that prompt payment of taxes is essential to the development of any State.
While thanking the Governor for the honour done to her late father, she commended him for steadfastly following the footsteps of her father, noting that Lagos under him, was recording impressive achievements.
No sooner did Ambode unveil the work of art to the public than critics went to town. Odia Ofeimun, political economist, poet, social critic and former private secretary to Awolowo told TheNEWS: “What I have seen is a bold attempt to represent Awolowo. But as a historical representation, it falls short of certain elements that are imperative if you are presenting him to the new generation who do not know Awo in real life. They ought to show what he was in every material particular. The effort is one of the most impressive but the Awo presented is not well dressed. A child who never knew Awo should know that he never wore those shoes; he was a man of style. Dideolu, his wife was also a woman of style, she impacted on him. I believe that artist did not see Awo’s photograph for him to have created tho pair of shoes. In art, there is something called verisimilitude, that there should be a closeness between art and reality.”
Ofeimun, however said the errors could be corrected thoug the fact that the stautue is shorter than Awo may not be easily fixed. He added that the one removed from Allen Avenue was closer to who Awo was. He advised that a work of that magnitude should have been inspected and exposed to those who could do a critique.
Awolowo, as Ofeimun advised, deserves a statue, mounted in a conducive environment like the Kwame Nkruma’s mausoleum in Accra, Ghana. True, when TheNEWS visited the site over 10 years ago, a guide showed a lot of items: the table and chair used by Nkruma when he was in secondary school, the shovel with which he laid the foundation stone of Akosombo dam, his grave and, statue, water fountain and the like.
According to another critic, Adegbenro Adebanjo: “I think the Lagos State Government got this wrong. The just unveiled statue of the departed sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in a siting position does not do justice to a man whose contributions to the development of Nigeria remain legendary and unequaled. It is almost an aberration. It simply does not portray the essential Awo. Contrast the new one with the old one where the sage is standing with his trade mark victory sign and his other hand resting on books. That looked more like it and fittingly portrayed the essential Awo. May be it should be revisited. Then there is the pair of bogus shoes, laced shoe on agbada is also not it, And of course the indecipherable visage, the almost twisted hand. The situation can be remedied. I rest my case.”
Adetokunbo Williams, another commentator advised that the old statue should be returned. It captures the whole essence of Great Awo. Also, Uche Maduemesi asked: “Does it mean that Awo never sat down in his life time? I think what we should be asking is if Awo had those kind of shoes.
However, some critics took their own arguments beyond the artwork itself. One of them is
Professor Olúfe´mi Táíwò who teaches at the Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, U.S.A. He argued: “Public, physical monuments do not teach history. All the things that would enable Ambode and his fellow leaders in the western part of Nigeria he exhorted in his speech to do the things that would really advance Awolowo’s legacy beyond material embodiments in statues are precisely what I find lacking in repeated celebrations and invocations of Awolowo in our public life. I have nothing against statues but I am convinced that a world in which there are more plaques commemorating Awolowo than schools, research centres and organisations studying his ideas and enshrining them in the imagination of future generations and the leadership they will furnish; or scholars, not hagiographers, dedicated to studying his ideas, is a world in which Awolowo’s memory is dishonoured and his ideas ignored, if not abandoned.
He added: “A word of caution here. However much we love plaques, we must not forget that it is a homonym of the plaque that our dentists are dedicated to removing when they afflict our teeth. All it takes is a parvenu, culturally illiterate future governor to tear down this or any other monument and remove the plaque just placed on it. It has happened before and, in light of our political culture, it will happen again. But certain things are invulnerable to removal or the excesses of uninformed executives in public office.”
Indeed, Taiwo argued further, the deeper the roots in the imagination, the more committed the workers in the vineyard of Awolowo’s ideas and their continuing relevance to the history of ideas, the more likely it is that future parvenu governors will have a difficult time toppling statues and removing plaques. Even when they do, more people will continue to live under the inspiration of those ideas and, therefore, be less agitated by the vagaries of a monument that remains forever vulnerable to the weather and human shenanigans.”
Taiwo advised also that in case Ambode and his colleagues need a reminder, ideas are not free floating like air to be inhaled from the atmosphere. “They are to be nurtured, cultivated, and carefully disseminated. Given that Awolowo left us a sterling legacy of significant writings, one would think that those who are really motivated to be inspired by him would do the needful, especially if they are leaders and in control of the direction of the society, and invest in platforms dedicated to the study, development, diffusion of ideas and principles for which Awolowo is justly celebrated.
“ Mr. Ambode, whatever happened to the Obafemi Awolowo Institute for Governance and Public Policy located in Lekki and which was meant to do exactly the kinds of things that are sure to make Awolowo’s legacy available to future generations and make those who pass by the new statue better informed of why that new statue matters and become more appreciative of the ideas that are really the soul of the cold stone on a pedestal? Yes, the Awolowo Institute is exactly the kind of monument that would ensure the prolongation of the legacy of Awolowo; the new statue will not. I went back to check the website of the institute before I started writing this piece and it is a shame to the memory of one of the foremost thinkers of the last century.”
On the same page with Taiwo was another critic, Patrick Omorodion: “I’ll rather support that money spent in building this statue should have been used to write a book on the virtues of the man and his achievements and distributed to primary and secondary schools for our children to read and know about him. The statue alone does not tell all the story or any story of the late sage at all to children of this generation.”
However, as there war many who did not like the gesture of government, there were those who did. One of them is Prof. Wale Adebanwi, the Director African Study Centre, Rhodes Professor of Race Relations, African Studies Centre, Oxford University. He argued in defence of the Ambode government: “As an Awo Scholar, particularly one who has written about the politics of Awo statues, I find the statue unveiled by Governor Ambode and his statement during the unveiling very significant.
“In an age in which most of our key players pay lip service to Awo’s ideals as well as the symbolism around his life and service, it is refreshing to find someone in such a critical position as the Governor who not only exemplifies Awo’s commitment to public good, but also recognizes the value of symbolic memory.”
Others defended government over the sitting position of the work. As Akinlade Kehinde asked, even as a citizen of heaven now you still want him to keep standing. Also, Oluwagbemiga Ige begged Nigerians to let the old man sit, he had been standing for so long, it is high time we gave him a sit. “Baba Awo, continue to rest in peace.
Hamza Atta, the artist whose company, Polystyrene Industries (in the past it produced Kano Monument, Mobolaji Bank Anthony, Lateef Jakande and Tinubu), created the work, explained to the media that the standing Awo has already been done before. “Our philosophy is not to copy but to create original works of art. Awolowo was a thinker. This is the side of him that we want to highlight. He always spoke of mental magnitude and the fact that the world had changed from one of brawn power to one of brain power. That is why he championed Education.”
And on the laced pair of shoes, Hamza said that what his company did was to create a work of art that would celebrate our own. “As a company Poly 3 D Art Studios engages local artists who have graduated from local universities and allow them to come together to express ourselves. We spent so much time on the detail of those shoes, to show what a gentleman this great sage was. Everybody cannot like what we have done but there are so many who also absolutely love it.” He explained elsewhere that there were too many things to accomplish that some fine details escaped his men.
The Lagos State Government, through Mrs. Adebimpe Akinsola, Special Adviser to the Governor on Tourism, Arts and Culture, clarified the ongoing insinuations: “It is a piece of artwork expressing the Artist’s impression of the late Sage and not a photograph’’, adding that it can be subjected to several interpretations.
“The reality is that Chief Awolowo was a colossus who cannot be stereotyped. Stereotyping such a highly intriguing personality only exposes the lack of depth of the totality of what the late sage represents,’’ she said. She stated further that great men all over the World, such as Abraham Lincoln, whose statue was sculpted by Daniel Chester French (1850–1931) and carved by the Piccirilli Brother, have been depicted in a sitting position. The Special Adviser explained that the State Government unveiled the new statue to celebrate the late sage who has a larger than life image, and whose shoes till date have yet to be filled.
Further reacting to the controversy, the Special Adviser posited that the late sage has become an institution, whose legacies should not be allowed to die, as such it should be daily celebrated to serve as inspiration to the unborn generation, which was why the Lagos State Government, unveiled this new statue in line with the policy of the current administration to immortalize and accord reference to personalities, heroes and heroines who have contributed to the development of the State in particular and the country in general.
Also, Mr. Segun Awolowo (Jnr), Awo’s grandson declared: “I love the statue and I think Hamza (the Sculptor) did justice to his memory. “As for the large boot, I believe the symbolism is that his shoes are still too big to fill after all this while,’’ he said.
This is not the only statue that generated acrimoious debates. The Awolowo statue at the junction at Ikenne, his home town was condemned in the past as not bearing resemblance of him. Even Fela’s own in Ikeja is being roundly condemned for ots headlessness.