Fashola unveils new MKO sculpture
By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published July 6, 2008)
PRECISELY ten years after the death of the late business man, politician and leading symbol of Nigeria’s democratic struggle, late Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola, a befitting public sculpture of his statue was unveiled.
The occasion could be the beginning of dismantling of poorly executed public sculptures in Lagos State.
Held yesterday July 7, 2008 at Ojota, one of such sculptural works on the late MKO Abiola mounted over five years ago was replaced by a far better work done by another artist.The work, still a statue of the late politician and winner of the controversial presidential election of June 12, 1993 was unveiled by the Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Abiola died in detention on July 7, 1998 under a suspicious circumstance that generated a conspiracy theory that the politician was poisoned to death.
At the dedication ceremony attended by prominent NADECO chieftains including former governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Ayo Opadokun, among others, Governor Fashola in his address noted that it is tragic that some of those who commit so much to the society never live to see the result of their sacrifice.
He added: "One often wonders why the good and noble die off quickly before or in their prime, and why the bestial and the most vile are preserved almost into seeming perpetuity. It must be God's way of justice, some might think."
Tinubu while commending Fashola for his efforts in "keeping the spirit of development in Lagos alive" said everything would be done by the people to give Abiola a deserved place in history book. Earlier, the Honourable commissioner for environment, Muiz Banire in his welcome address had explained that the statue is an asset for the future and history.
Describing the features and quality of the sculpture, Banire said: "The image of Bashorun Abiola mounted on a concrete block with marble finish is for the future generations to have an idea of the physique of the colossus who laid down his life fore the nation to enjoy good governance."
The artist, Bunmi Babatunde while explaining the work said the broad smile given the statue typifies the Hope 93 Abiola sowed, noting that he never saw the seed germinate.
Although slightly shifted from the spot where the former statue was, the new work still has the figure imposing as the image of the man does in real life. At about 9 feet 8 inches Babatunde's version of MKO done in bronze is apparently a better semblance of the man as well as aesthetics and finishing compared to the former work.
Part of these aesthetics implored by the artist is the flowing agbada of the figure, enhanced by the drop of the arms, as against a packed arms of the robe by in the former sculpture, thereby adding to the elegance befitting of such public sculptural piece.
Speaking two days before the unveiling, the sculptor, who is a member of the revered Lagos-based group Universal Studio of Art (USA), National Theatre, Iganmu, said he was proud of the work and would take responsibility for whatever the outcome is.
Reacting to a possible replacement of the work in future if some critics suddenly found faults in the resemblance, the artist said he is not bordered, adding that he has invested his best in the statue.
According to him, the work, before delivery and mounting, "had tested the judgement of artists, within and outside the studio here who have critiqued it and passed it as worthy of being mounted."
He said it was executed over a period of 10 weeks inside the Iganmu studio, adding that, the process took off with the search for several pictures of the late business man-cum philanthropist.
From an observer's point of view, the bronze casting of the sculpture, indeed has a high quality. This, Babatunde said was done in Benin, noting that the place to get a higher quality of bronze anywhere in the world is Benin.
He said: "Even though I had to control the texture of the work during casting in order not to lose the representation, Benin is a natural choice when it comes to pure bronze. The quality you get there is even better than what you get abroad."
Less than a kilometre from the spot where the statue was unveiled, stands another public sculpture and symbol of democratic struggle in the memory of one of the wives of the late politician, Alhaja Kudirat Abiola. She was killed at the spot of the cenotaph by the bullets of men of Strike Force set up by the late maximum ruler, General Sanni Abacha.
Kudirat Abiola's cenotaph deliberately, is, devoid of the woman's statue as sources then disclosed that for religious reasons, her children were not disposed to a representation of their mother through a sculpture of her image.
For the same reason, it was disclosed, the statue of the woman was not erected at the junction of the former Oregun Road junction/Obafemi Awolowo Way, Ikeja when the place was named after her.
In the case of Abiola, a non-figural sculpture could not have represented the image of the man, Babatunde argud. While saying that one should respect the views of the family on religious ground as regards the issue of the wife, the artist said: "Abiola is larger than the scope of his family. He is a symbol of the democracy we are enjoying today; he is a national property; he laid down his life for us to have the democratic dispensation we are enjoying today."
In the Lagos art circle, quite a number of sculptures in public places across the state have no reason to be mounted in the first place. These works, to say the least are an embarrassment to the sensitivity of the public.
With the beautification of the environment embarked on by the state government, respite and sanity could be restored to the art landscape of the state. The beautification exercise, Babatunde argued is incomplete without public art. A member of the newly formed group, Guild of Professional Fine Artists of Nigeria (GFAN) Babatunde said the environment is expected affects the psyche of the people and so it is expected to radiate beauty. "Public places are expected to affect the psyche of the people. So, this is what art does, visually. Sometimes it could be contentious when you have works that remind us of our idolatrous past. But all well and good because such works serve as documentation and beautification."
And if standard has to be enforced in mounting public art, perhaps government needs to be more involved, maybe a kind of legislation is needed here. "Public place is sacrosanct. It is not suppose to be a place where you mount works without due approval. I think the government, both at state and federal level should make laws to guide art works to be mounted in our environment. Government can partner with association like the Society of Nigerian Artists, SNA and GFAN to ensure standards"