By Anote Ajeluorou
“Ekumeku War statue at Asaba was destroyed to make way for Zenith Bank roundabout, and later a flyover bridge. I nearly led a one-man riot to protest that vandalisation of our national patrimony!” That was how award-winning author of epic play, Iredi War, Prof. Sam Ukala, put it while expressing his bitterness at the demolished Ekumeku War statue in Asaba. It was while recently celebrating him for winning The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2014, worth USD$100,000, sponsored by NLNG, at Delta State University, Abraka.
His book threw up the question of abysmal neglect and even destruction of commissioned sculptural landmarks that beautify Delta State to the consternation of art lovers and scholars alike. Iredi War echoes such destroyed or neglected statues, as Ekumeku War echoes similar concerns in Ukala’s award-winning play in Asaaba people’s historic struggle with the white man in the early 1900s. Ojife statue also at Asaba and Delta Panorama in Warri and others adorning entrances to the state are not spared the same fate.
Ukala’s play particularly helped to raise questions about the state government’s neglect and poor attitude towards artistic objects scattered around the state. Dr. Nelson Edewor, who is chairman, Society of Nigerian Arts (SNA) and teaches at the Department of Fine Arts, DELSU, and Ukala then charged the Dr. Emmanuel Uduahan-led Delta State Government to immediately relocate, re-erect and rehabilitate all demolished landmark sculptural objects in the state.
Specifically, the two dons at the state-owned university urged the state government to re-erect Ekumeku War statue in the state capital, rehabilitate Ojife statue also in Asaba, remake or relocate Delta Panorama and rehabilitate all neglected sculptural works in all entry points to the state.
It was Edewor who raised the issue of demolished and abandoned sculptural works while responding to Ukala’s Iredi War’s play, a historical narrative of Owa people and their battle with the colonial powers that sought to subjugate them. Edewor said the play reminded him of similar wars wagged by Asaba people against the British colonial powers in 1900s, a war that Ekumeku statue helps to immortalise, as reminder of that historic struggle in Asaba people’s encounter with foreign powers.
According to Edewor, “Ekumeku War statue at Asaba was pulled down for no reason at all. But with Ukala’s book that part of our history has been restored. Pulling down Ekumeku is a disservice to visual arts society in Delta State. We have protested against it and made representation to government that it be restored. Restoration of that statue is very important to the cultural life of the people”.
For Edewor, the historical essence of Ekumeku War is inestimable and that only its restoration would make sense, saying, “For its historical essence, we desire Ekumeku War statue’s replacement on any acceptable location within Asaba, as consented to by the community’s royalty. Ekumeku War sculpture was made by Mr. Augustus Iweke in 1995 at Inter-Bua roundabout; it was destroyed in 2010. A giant Christmas tree first replaced the statue, then Zenith Bank advert, which was eventually demolished for the flyover bridge under construction.
“Also, the over 20-feet Delta Panorama made by Mr. Mike Igbowe and situated at Effurun roundabout in Warri went down. Delta Panorama was replaced with a mere water fountain. Last year it was also cleared off for a flyover bridge under construction”.
In a meeting with Delta State Commissioner for Art, Culture and Tourism, Richard Mofe-Damijo, Edewor, as chairman of SNA had charged, “(We) further decry the high rate of assault on public sculptures and monuments, with special focus on Ekumeku War and Delta Panorama public sculptures that adorned Asaba and Warri metropolises. This assault, the society believes, has grave consequences as abuse on intellectual property law and assault on social image”.
The state government’s neglect of statues erected at strategic parts of the state is another source of worry for the visual arts teacher and art practitioner. According to Edewor, “Government’s neglect of monuments or their destruction is insupportable. The Ojife statue at West-end roundabout in Asaba is falling apart already. All statues at all entrances to the state are in similar state of disrepair. Government must act to restore these sculptures to their glory days to beautify the state”.
AT the symposium, Ukala and Yeibo took opportunity to respond to the honour bestowed on them by their fellow academics. ON his part, Yeibo expressed gratitude for the honour accorded him when he said, “I’ve always regarded Abraka as my home. The event is unique and I’m blessed.” To the students in the hall, he said, “You’re on the right path; put in your best in whatever you do, as students, as aspiring writers and you will attain success.”
Ukala also expressed gratitude to English and Literary Studies Department for honouring him. According to him, “The department is cultivating, fostering what we see in older universities – academic culture! How can offices be shut at 4pm, even the library in a university? At University of Ibadan, offices are still open till 1am. The coming of Darah has changed things at Abraka.”
Ukala also responded to Omoko’s criticism of his play and explained that the time lag was justified, as the telegram didn’t arrive when it should and that the white feared juju given the circumstances of its happening and what was at stake.
He, however, praised the nobility of Igboba in not only standing up to the white man, but offering himself to be punished along with his subjects, as the hallmark of leadership. “Igboba didn’t allow his subjects to be chained or hanged without offering himself first, as the hallmark of good leadership,” he stated.
Dean, Faculty of Arts, DELSU, Prof. Austin Anigala, who was represented by Prof. Grace Orji-Ogwu, thanked the two prize-winning authors for “representing us well. Ukala has gone beyond the university to let the world know that this university is grooming men and women of distinction. The Faculty of Arts is proud of its men and women. Darah just came back from the National Conference. More is yet to come.”
Sadly though, not even a 10-minute drama skit was performed to serenade a master dramatist of Ukala’s stature. Clearly, it would seem Ukala’s department (Theatre Arts) merely watched from the sidelines while another (English) claimed him in celebration.