By Tajudeen Sowole (First published, Friday, November 28, 2008)
FORMER Head of Interim Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan, former Secretary of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Prof. Fried High of the University of Wisconsin, United States (U.S.) have expressed concerns on the current state of Nigerian arts and national museums. Shonekan, Anyaoku and High spoke at the 5th Ben Enwonwu Distinguished Lecture held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, on Wednesday. At the event organised by The Ben Enwonwu Foundation (BEF), Anyaoku, who was the chairman of the annual lecture, called the attention of the gathering to the good old days of Nigerian art when he recalled an event, which took place over two decades ago.
|Widow of Ben Enwonwu, Mrs Caroline Enwonwu (left) D-G, NGA, Joe Musa and former Scretary of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku during the lecture.|
He said that about 25 years ago, under the leadership of former director of the National Museum, Ekpo Eyo, there was an international tour art exhibition titled 2000 Years of Nigerian Arts, held in London and Nigeria. He said the show was described by the British press "as a side of Africa that was unknown in Europe." But today, Anyaoku appeared to be apprehensive about the preservation of those works and other museum objects, describing the state of things as "national disgrace." He, however, urged the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation to do everything possible to rescue the situation, adding that "art and culture are important part of every nation." Anyaoku also narrated how his intervention made the Federal Government, during the administration of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to set up a committee under the leadership of the former Director of National Museum, Ekpo Eyo, to rehabilitate the national museum. But at the point of funding of which about N700 million was said to have been approved by the Presidency, it was revealed that the exercise ran into a hitch so soon due to the complication that arose in accessing the fund. On what led to that committee, Anyaoku said that he ran into the decaying state of the national museum in company of his foreign visitors, three years ago. He explained: " Three years ago, I had visitors from Canada and I thought it would be right to take them to the Nigerian Museum. I took them their and what I saw was a shock to me. It was in my view, a national disgrace. When I got home, I called the President and he reacted immediately by setting up a committee. He called Ekpo Eyo to head the committee saddled with the responsibility of rehabilitating Nigerian museum. That committee produced a report, which before the end of the tenure, gave a budget for the rehabilitation of the museums." That was three years ago. But Anyaoku, however, informed the gathering that he had met with the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Adetokunbo Kayode. The minister, the former Commonwealth scribe disclosed, assured him that President Yar'Adua was interested in seeing that the state of the museums improved. Earlier, Anyaoku had extolled the creative virtue of Enwonwu, arguing that before the artist stamped his authority on the global art landscape, "primitive art was the expression commonly used to describe African art." Also, Shonekan, who was the special guest of honour at the event, advised on the need to appreciate artists and the cultural value they stand for. Speaking through his representative, Joop Berkout, Shonekan noted that artists live much longer after their demise on earth and, therefore, charged the BEF on using the image of Enwonwu to wake up more interest in art. The lecturer of the day, Prof. High, who spoke on the theme, Positioning Arts and Culture for Sustainable Influence in Nigeria, explained that sustainability could be achieved through conservation and preservation of works by the museum.