Track your vehicles, go to sleep
Since its inception in 2006, Fast Track Technology Limited has provided online tracking services for thousands of car owners in the country. Can the cost of tracking equals the trauma victims of car snatchers go through? Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME reports.
Imagine being trailed by a group of teenage armed robbers on your way home from church service on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Unknown to you, a car suddenly pulled up and blocked your way. Behold, armed teenagers emerged ordering you and your family out of your vehicle. First, you contemplated ignoring them. But, in a matter of second, the robbers pulled out their pistols asking you cherish your life and that of your family. While your expectant wife is trying to attend to her three-year old baby that is crying for biscuits, you are being stripped of all your telephone hand sets, money, wallets, ATM cards, wedding rings and other valuables in your possession.
Troubled and frustrated under the scorching sun, you and your family watched helplessly as the robbers drove off with your car. In the midst of that trauma, your wife managed to alert the police and your employer on phone. And immediately, your employer notifies the security firm handling the tracking of your car. Few hours later, police patrol team recovered your car on the outskirt of Lagos. How and why? You want to ask.
Interestingly, the above scenario is a common occurrence these days.
The police were able to recover the car because it was installed with online tracking device that enabled it to be demobilized. Today, not many Nigerian car owners are buying into these vehicle protection and alerts services being provided by security solution firms like Fast Track Technology Limited.
Explaining his company’s mission to offer security solutions to these increasing spates of vehicle theft in most cities in the country, the general manager of Fast Track Technology Limited, Mr. Adir Mizrahi said his firm identified security issues as very fundamental to the socio-economic development of the country. He stated that his company has therefore designed various packages to meet the clients’ security challenges. He noted that the desire to provide these services to Nigerians is in reaction to the growing security risk in the country, which he said, is much more than most Western countries. “From daily reports on security matters in the country today, the need for security solutions like ours becomes very paramount. Also, security risk in Nigeria is higher if compared with other Western countries. So, Nigerians need to be more security conscious,” he said.
Fast Track Technology, a subsidiary of AA Group of Companies was established in 2006 as an IT security solution company and is currently handling the recently launched Lagos state government’s Safe City Project that provides 10,000 Close Circuit Camera facilities across the state and financed by the Security Trust Fund. Mizrahi said his target audience includes the private, the public, corporate sector, military and government but acknowledged that the needs of each differ from one to the other. “There are different segments within the market. Each sector responds to their needs differently. You do not expect the military, for instance, to respond to security issues the same way an individual or corporate body will do. Again, our clients have the advantage of choosing from the series of solution package we offer,” he added.
He stressed that tracking and fleet management service, which is one of the packages from the stable of Fast Track, has been able to reduce the trauma of loosing ones vehicle to armed robbers. He stated that apart from tracking, the service also enables vehicle owners to control and monitor the usage of their vehicles especially when they are driven by teenagers or unreliable drivers. According to him, “I cannot say categorically that there is a drop in theft of vehicles in Lagos since the commencement of online tracking. But I can say that car owners can now go to sleep with their two eyes closed because their cars are being monitored. There is that high percentage assurance of safety and recovery in the event of theft. Sometime, we can track a vehicle after three days.” But, he however warned that the earlier the theft alert gets to them, the better the chances of locating and demobilizing such stolen vehicle, otherwise, if the robber is smart, it might be difficult to track the vehicle.
“We wish to handle all Lagos cars including those of the security agencies like the emergency and ambulance as well as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Apart from tracking, you can also get alarm service through your telephone handset. You can control the on and off of your car engine, its fuel consumption as well as restrict the movement of such vehicle. All of this is to safe money,” Mizrahi said.
On how far tracking can cover, he explained: “I can track my vehicle in Israel, but it will be expensive for an individual to undertake. Interestingly, I am working with the best network coverage in Nigeria, but there is no one hundred percent securities guarantee any where in the world.
National gallery edifice: Private investors to the rescue
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
There are strong indications that the management of National Gallery of Art (NGA) will be considering private–public partnership (PPP) option for the construction of its multi million naira edifice in Abuja, the federal capital territory. Already, some foreign investors and local partners have indicated interest in the project that was originally expected to be funded by the federal government through the ministry of culture, tourism and national orientation.
In an interview with The Nation, the director-general of NGA, Mr. Joe Musa said the decision to embrace the PPP option became necessary following perceived apathy, paucity of fund and the gallery’s inability to get the approval of the presidency for government’s funding of the project. He explained that the project would take the build, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement between NGA and its partners. “Two monstrous challenges that have been confronting the realization of the edifice are apathy and funding. And what we have therefore decided is to adopt the BOT option to put up the edifice. I am sure I will flag it off soon because it is a vision the sector needs to reposition the visual art,” he said.
Musa who expressed optimism in the growth of the Nigerian art sector despite the financial meltdown observed that unlike other sectors of the economy, the art market has continued to thrive citing the recent auctions of Nigerian works of art held locally and outside the country. He explained that at a time when most investors are being forced to withdraw their funds from some sectors, patrons of the art are busy investing in the sector with the collection of works of art at major auctions. Last month, a London based auction house, Bonham held an auction of works by leading African artists like Prof. El Anatsui, Bruce Onobrakpeya and Nnenna Okore among others.
“Global financial meltdown has never affected the art. Patronage of the art is on the rise while art auctions are being held across the globe. In January this year, Sotheby’s auction house in London said the new emerging art market is African art market. Notwithstanding the low level of art appreciation n the continent, visual art remains a significant instrument of economic development. Nigeria has an art market and the secondary section of it, which is the auction, is already evolving,” he added.
Continuing, he said: “What we must do is to liberalise and deregulate the market. The issues of the 60s are not what obtain today, especially the volume of artists’ works in the market. The Nigerian art is at the point of breaking away from its old shackles. The sector is worth investing in. Cable Network News reported African Regional Exhibition and Summit on Visual Art (ARESUVA) and it got a good coverage.”
He disclosed that NGA is organizing a world tour of Nigerian arts beginning in Egypt in August this year. According to him, each tour will feature 15 best living Nigerian artists’ works. The world tour that will move to Italy, Australia and US, he said, is to serve as another platform to project and expose Nigerian art to the global art market.
On the second African Regional Exhibition and Summit on Visual Art, (ARESUVA) holding later in the year, he regretted that unlike the maiden edition last year, this year’s summit might suffer some setbacks because of poor funding. He recalled that last year, NGA got about N200million to hold the summit but has so far received N20million for this year’s edition. “From January till April, ARESUVA sub-head on the budget had remained zero. Almost all our programmes are not going to be funded by government, so we must depend on our ingenuity to raise fund. However, the challenges are there, but it takes human being to overcome them and achieve a milestone.
“ARESUVA was a huge success but now we are fighting several battles within the system. It is easy to use the private sector to assess our programmes, but the public sector has its own rules. We came to effect a change and that we must achieve. There are several influences we must contend with,” Musa said. He stressed that repositioning the art is more challenging in these days of global financial meltdown because in time of cost cutting, arts suffers. He noted that for sustainability, ‘we must continue to lobby the assembly in the face of apathy in order to push art appreciation.’
Commenting on the newly reconstituted board of directors of National Gallery of Art, the D-G hinted that the appointment of the Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) as one of the institutional members of the board was made possible because of the doggedness of the minister and permanent secretary in the ministry. The D-G who is also a practising artist, noted that unknown to many, the SNA slot on the board has always been in the available but not implemented by past administration.
Jos museum cries for re-birth
In less than few months of assuming office as curator, National Museum Jos, Mrs. Carol Ezeokeke is battling to re-orientate the staff. But the poor state of infrastructure at the museum is one major challenge, reports Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME
The curator of National Museum, Jos, Plateau State, Mrs. Carol Ezeokeke has decried the poor state of infrastructure at the museum, a situation she said, demands urgent attention of the authority in order to save the institution from total collapse. She disclosed that because of ageing, virtually all the buildings at the nation’s oldest museum are leaking including her office. Ezeokeke also identified mobility as another major challenge she had to contend with since assuming office as the curator of the museum. “My greatest challenge is mobility and the structures are ageing. Even my office is leaking. The buildings are all leaking, from my office to the library, accounts, store etc. In fact, the underground store is being threatened,” she said.
But in order to overcome the challenges, she has charted a new road map starting with the hosting of a re-packaged international museum day celebration last month. She initiated a three-point agenda upon which she anchors all her activities to revive Jos museum, citing re-orientation, restructuring and repositioning as the agenda for better service delivery to the public.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Ezeokeke said she met a work force with very low morale, a defeatist and poor attitude to work which, she added negated individual productivity and overall performance of the museum. She explained that in order to get the best from the workers she had to start with motivational strategies, using different approaches of orientation and taking advantage of the strength of the workers to achieve results.
According to her, the new road amp became necessary because she met a wok force of low morale and defeatist attitude to work. “First assignment was to motivate and re-orientate the workers. In fact, there are four museums in one in Jos. I had to give the staff a new orientation because our size must be o strength. The Jos Museum must move up and I told the staff I will put square peg in square hole, though I was deployed from the Institute of Museum and Archeological Studies, Jos. That was the first major step followed by the restructuring. She noted that after the international museum day celebration on May 18, she saw a new zeal and dedication among the workers, adding that to say she has committed followers, is to say the least.
She described museum as a product of tourism and destination, which must be kept alive.
This year’s museum day in Jos was celebrated with a difference. The event featured six local government councils in the senatorial zones presenting their traditional cuisines, dance drama, fashion show, poetry and football match. The event was designed to showcase the intangible heritage of the councils as well as other councils outside Jos.
To further attract tourists to the museum, the Coronation Hill, which lies within the museum premises is being considered for development by the museum authority in Jos. Atop the plateau is a flat landscape capable of accommodating the structures. But there is a rugged foot path leading to the hill top that requires improvement for convenient walk.
“We are reviving it for tourism destination. Each nationality in the state can erect a structure reflecting their identity. For instance, the Bassa people in Jos East are very interested. The hill, which provides an aerial view of Jos, will when developed, serves as recreation facility as well as geographical and environmental centre for learning,” she said.
In Umuahia, it’s children feast
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
‘Our great love for our future leaders cannot be quantified in material terms. We owe them every responsibility to bring them up in the fear of God and provide quality leadership, training and education to them for the actualization of their hidden roles of fatherhood, rulership and role modeling.’ This was the position of Director, Research and Education, National Gallery of Art, Dr. Kweku Tandoh while speaking at this year’s children day celebration organized by the National Gallery of Art, Umuahia, Abia State.
Dr. Tandoh stated that NGA in its mandate to fish out talents in visual art discovered in the children, great potentials, which in all proms and caprices are jewels in the hands of a prosperous nation. It is in this regard, he said, NGA designed the children day activities to provide platform for the actualization of their talents, as well as access to instructors who would expose the children to information and learning instructions capable of harnessing their innate abilities.
This year’s event was held by NGA in collaboration with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), Pacesetter FM 103.5 with supports from numerous sponsors like Hoeffers Restauant and Fast Food, ABC Transport Abia Line Transport, Seven Up Bottling Company, Eastern Comfort Hotel,
‘I left Nigeria an angry young man’
At a time many young Nigerians are ready to pay any price in order to travel to Europe and the US, Victor Ehikhamenor, a writer, painter and photographer shunned a US scholarship/fellowship in order to serve his country. Last year, he won the prestigious Breadloaf Writer’s Conference scholarship, which he turned down in order to NEXT newspaper in Lagos. He spoke with Assistant Editor Arts OZOLUA UHAKHEME on his planned solo art exhibition, Mirrors and Mirages and why he decided to return home twelve years after he left in anger.
Until very recently, Victor Ehikhamenor’s name never rang a bell within the Nigerian arts circuit. He is not a product of any of the Nigerian arts schools. He could not study arts in Nigeria because his high school did not offer arts. But in far away US, he has in recent time been in the mainstream of arts producing abstract and symbolic works with unmistakable ties to his Nigerian background. He has had numerous exhibitions with strong following mostly in US and later Nigeria.
Beyond visual arts, he has traversed other genres of the arts with several short stories, anthologies, documentaries to his credit. He has also produced over nine book covers among them are for publications by award winning authors like Chimamanda Adichie and Helon Habila,
In May this year, Ehikhamenor will unveil his recent collection of works in a solo art exhibition tagged Mirrors and Mirages at Terra Kulture on Victoria Island in Lagos. His works are eclectic because he creates artworks from everything and anything. He is continuously reinventing himself, which is very evident in his new body of works. “My past and present environments have continuously influence on my works. Growing up in a natural environment and mentally colonised country, which is deep in both African religion and Christian belief, has been a big source of influence to my work,” he explained, noting that the solo exhibition is meant to examine the benefits he has received from Nigeria and what Nigeria has gained from him as an artist. But the mirage aspect of the show is to highlight the disappointing thing about his continued search for the real home he has been longing for while in the US.
Despite the disappointment, the Edo State born graduate of English and Literary Studies is hopeful of a better and safer Nigeria, saying no country anywhere in the world is crime free. Since returning to Nigeria in June 2008, Ehikhamenor has been faced with the stark reality of the disappearing moral values in a society he thought would be a home. “I came to Nigeria at a period I was longing to return home. My working for NEXT newspaper was a catalyst for my coming home. There is a whole lot to be done here. The need to impact the expertise in developing Nigeria informed my decision. However, those attractions (food, masquerade, drink, music, folklores) of home have disappeared,” he said.
But home has remained a mirage after he escaped the chaos and insecurity that characterised the Abacha’s administration. And today in the face of persistent abuses, Nigeria as a home is still a mirage. “At 49, we are still a test-tube baby. However, we cannot give up. I know it is home, and I can survive here,” Ehikhamenor assured in spite of the growing misconception about the country.
As a former University of Maryland scholar and lecturer in the United States of America, he is happy to come back to his native country. Continbuing, he said: “This is great that I can come back to my homeland and to find a new means of expression, and to be part of a new newspaper. For me to take this giant step from the world of fine arts, to a totally new medium (print and web, and the business of news) is right on target as far as my professional development is concerned. I am learning much already, and the learning curve is quite high, but I am up to the challenge.”
The Creative Director of NEXT newspaper described art as the biggest cultural expxort of any nation, but observed that lapses in the country could be frustrating. He stressd that artists must examine the content of their works and how they present them becuase potential buyers of artworks must first be attracted to the work before deciding on whether to buy or not.
Ehikhamenor is a holder of Master of Science in Technology Management, and an international award-winning writer, poet and photographer. He was awarded a fellowship by University Of Maryland, College Park for an MFA in 2006. Before graduating, he won the historic prestigious Breadloaf Writer’s conference award, which he turned down to join NEXT newspaper. “I have to make history in my own country, Breadloaf can wait, plus I know I can always win the award again” he said of his refusal to honour the award..
‘My solo is my testimonial’
To most visual artists, a thousand group art exhibitions cannot equal a solo show. Every studio artist finds it very fulfilling holding a solo exhibition than participating in a series of group shows. Ajene Isegbe, one of the successful sculptors in Benue state did not agree less in this interview with Assistant Editor, (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME.
After working for six years at the National Gallery of Art (NGA), Ajene Isegbe, who is now a Markudi-based practising studio artist has rediscovered fresh vistas in the composition and presentation of his arts works, especially public arts. Also, his interest in preservation and restoration of such works is one area he has found strong passion since going into full time studio practice almost a decade ago. His first major commission was an outdoor sculpture of Aper Aku in Markudi, Benue state capital. The statue of the late Joseph Tarka at the J.S Tarka Foundation and the national coat of arms are among his other commissions.
Unlike most of his peers in the academia, the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria trained artist finds fulfillment in studio practice. He said he is not very keen in pursuing post graduate programme in arts noting that the only post graduate programme he desires to pursue now is preservation and restoration of art. “I don’t find higher degrees in arts as the ultimate. I can only go for training in special areas like preservation and restoration of modern works and antics. It is a specialized aspect of art management that is relatively not very popular here in Nigeria. Again, only one or two institutions in the country offer such training. In fact, that is where my heart is,” he declared.
Perhaps worried by the state of neglect of the nation’s heritage and art collections, Isegbe is determined to get the special training in order to assist in changing the uncaring attitudes of culture workers to priceless works of arts. He observed that a good percentage of artworks in national collections are not well preserved. He noted that the storage conditions of these works are not ideal thus making the works vulnerable to loss in value.
In an interview with The Nation, Isegbe described art appreciation in Benue state as very encouraging adding that some individuals in the state spent millions of naira for the execution of sculptural works in honour of their beloved parents. Beyond that, textile design is another vibrant sector of Benue art and culture, which has the red, black and white stripes hand made textile commonly used by the people of the state.
Benue State, known as food basket of the nation, according to him can boast of the likes of Akume and Justice Kastinalu who are emerging collectors in their own right. He hinted that Governor Gabriel Suswan is considering the creation of a desk for the special assistant to the governor on arts in the state. Interestingly, Isegbe produced a five-by-four feet metal sculpture, an abstract piece showing a food basket being presented by a female hand decorated with bangles. The sculpture which is made from metal scrap covered with fibre resin is suitable for both indoor and outdoor display. The metal was one of the biggest exhibits at last year’s African Regional Exhibition and Summit on Visual Arts (ARESUVA) in Abuja.
Commenting on the indiscriminate mounting of low quality public arts in some Nigerian cities, Isegbe said that in the composition and presentation of any public art, the pedestal (base) upon which a sculpture stands must not swallow the piece. This, he said, is to allow the pedestal to remain as support that will enhance the throwing up of the work for visibility. “If the contrary is the case, then the base will assume the position of the work on show. And that is not an ideal presentation format,” he added.
To most exhibiting artists, holding a debut solo art exhibition is a measure of maturity, especially when it is holding after long years of studio practice. So, to Isegbe, holding his first solo art exhibition, which will mark his 50th birthday celebration is one project too dear to his heart. The retrospective exhibition will hold in Markudi in November 2010. He described it as an appraisal of a sort that will feature selected old and current works he did since he left the university in 1983. “I thank God the journey has been successful. The only missing link is the solo art exhibition I am planning. The exhibition will serve as an appraisal of my journey so far in the arts. I love arts and I have been determined to remain focus in arts. My joy is that I am an artist and I never regret being a sculptor,” Isegbe recalled, disclosing that work on his private gallery located in Markudi would soon be completed.
Eyo salutes TOS in colours`
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
With less than four days to the hosting of the popular Eyo festival, hundreds of all-white-metal sculptural pieces depicting Eyo masquerader as well as colourful banners and posters heralding the festival are dotting most major streets on Lagos Island. This year’s festival will hold at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos beginning from 10am in honour of late Chief Theophilus Owolabi Shobowale Benson, a renowned lawyer and Nigeria’s first information minister. Already, some designated luxury buses plying the BRT lane have been assigned by the Lagos State government to transport people to and fro the event venue free.
And in preparation for the Saturday festival, Governor Raji Fashola was last Sunday presented with the traditional staff of Eyo for blessing. The ceremony, which was preceded by a meeting of the planning committee to review participations for the festival featured the leader of the Okolaba, the Eyo Adimu conclave, leading other conclave members to present the staff to the governor and pray for peace and prosperity of the state.
According to the programme the Eyos is expected will file out in order of seniority featuring Eyo Adimu, the Laba, Oniko, Oand Agere. Ologede, all identified by the colours of their hats. But on Friday, the palace of the Oba of Lagos, (Iga Idungaran), will host a music show accompanied with drinking and winning all through the night.
But on Saturday, commercial activities on Lagos Island will literarily be at a standstill as Eyos from different families will flood the city, thus adding colours and spectacle to the festival.
Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture, Mr. Tunde Balogun described Sunday’s presentation as (Ikapa ceremony) a traditional homage to whosoever is the head of Lagos Island and the governor happens to be the highest ranking person.
The Eyo masquerade has since inception always been celebrated with pomp and pageantry with people from all works of life attending the event. According to reports, it was introduced to Lagos in 1828 by the Ijebu traders in order to celebrate important personalities as well as to commemorate significant events. The celebration of the Eyo festival depends on the reigning traditional ruler of Lagos who has the power to authorize the celebration of the festival.
As in Chieftaincy title, where there is hierarchy of Chiefs there is an order of recognition and supremacy in the Eyo group starting with Eyo Adimu, the supreme head, Eyo Laba Alaketupupa, the police, Eyo Oniko, Onigemo, Eyo Ologede, Olugbani, Eyo Angere, Omo Olokun. All these are the major and well-known Eyo groups. Eyo Iga comprises of other Eyo from the recognized palace in Lagos such as Eyo Bajulaiye, Eyo Etti, Eyo Faji, and Eyo Elegushi. All the members of the Eyo groups wear white costumes and are distinguished by the patterns of their head gear. For instance, Eyo Adimu uses white head gear with black spots, Eyo Laba Alaketupupa uses red with white spots, Eyo Oniko uses green with black spots and its Osha wears Iko (Rafia), Eyo Ologede uses green head gear with black spots and the Osha wears dried banana leave, Eyo Angere uses fanciful colours for its head gear, Eyo Angere attaches two long sticks to its legs making it very tall and walks around greeting people.
The costume of a typical Eyo which ensures uniformity of all Eyo groups comprises of Aga (cap), Iboju (face cover), Agbada (top wear), Aropale (Elongated wrapper), Opambata (Staff ).before the d-day of the festival, a five day sensitization of public by group parade according to their hierarchic in which each group perform on a separate day. The construction of Agodo by Laba at designated spot, some meters away from the king’s palace. Imoku is where an imagery of the dead is prepared for the entire Eyo masquerade to pay homage on the day of parade.
It is a rule that every non member of Eyo group is required to knee down when Adamu is on parade in order to receive blessing. Part of the fun of the festival is beating of people with the staff (Opambata), greeting of notable personalities present at the occasion, Aro recitation, Ikapa procedure, drumming and dancing, and visitation to Agodo for Gbedu by Eyo group.
Painting to save women
By Ozolua Uhakheme
Assistant Editor (Arts)
Twelve years after holding her last solo art exhibition, Reflections, Tinu Olabanji, one of the modern Nigerian female artists, made a return to the exhibition circuit with a solo exhibition of paintings, Red Shift, at the National Museum, Onikan Lagos, between March 28 and April 2, 2009. The central themes of Olabanji’s works were the travails of contemporary African woman and the impact of the vices on the society. As a way to seeking redress of these vices, she uses her paintings to draw attention to the many issues affecting the woman.
Driven by the passion to promote a society where women are treated fairly and equally like their male counterparts, Olabanji, who made strong return to studio work in 2006, said: “The plight of women, especially in Africa, has been my burden since I was a quite young. I have had questions, many that my young mind could not find the right words to frame.” Red Shift, which featured about 50 works of paintings in pastel and pencil, is an effort in the direction of a paradigm shift that will result in the fulfillment of lives of African women.
Dry Season, a pastel piece, shows a pregnant woman in company of her two children seemingly scavenging the kitchen shelves for food to cook. For the woman, the empty shelves of the kitchen are symbolic of a dry season when there is little or no food in stock. The anxiety on the faces of the woman and her children shows that there seems to be no hope. This situation is a common experience among many homes in the country toady, because women are not empowered to cater for dry the season.
The red colour actually reinforces the hardship and danger facing the family. Even the unborn child is likely going to suffer from the dry season. Another indicator that all is not well in Dry Season is the composition of the forms, especially the limbs and necks of the human figures, while the shelves are very empty without any evidence of life.
Closely linked to Dry Season is He Is Not Back, another pastel painting that dwells on the trauma many women pass through in the hands of uncaring husbands. The artist captures the emotional pressure a nursing mother goes through in the middle of the night, trying to wait for the husband: staying awake till around 2 am, staring at the wall clock hopelessly. Another burden on her is the care for the kids who are also awake. The well-dressed bed lying empty with two pillows indicates that the woman has not been able to sleep, neither the kids too. Worry, fear and perhaps uncertainty are reflected in the colour scheme used by the artist.
But unlike others, It’s Positive, truly shows the other side of a woman who is waiting for the fruit of the womb. The painting depicts the happy mood of a woman who has been anxiously waiting for the day she will be positive to pregnancy test. It shows a woman with a broad smile and giving thanks to God. One can see that her joy knows no bound. It therefore means that her mood would have been horrible if the result of the pregnancy test was the reverse. Other works exhibited at the show include Let’s lead them aright.
Olabanji studied Fine Arts at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, majoring in painting in 1982 and won three awards including the best overall student. Since 1982, the plight of African women has constantly been the focus of her paintings.
‘Abuja is a colossal failure’
Paris. New York. London. Rome. These are capital cities that double as world tourism destinations. Sadly, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, lacks the character of a world class city…
Senator Anthony Agbo, vice-chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is not a loud legislator. But he is unequivocal in matters of national interest. The former Speaker of the Enugu State House of Assembly and one-time Finance Commissioner in Ebonyi State and proprietor of the Olive Gate Hotel, Enugu, describes Abuja as a colossal failure compared to other world tourism destinations. Senator Agbo spoke with Assistant Editor (Arts) OZOLUA UHAKHEME, in Enugu.
What is your take on hospitality business?
“When you talk of hospitality, you are talking of tourism, placing your nation on a trade platform of world tourism, showcasing what you have, hosting people and allowing tourists to appreciate your country’s environment and heritage.
If foreigners are visiting your country, they will stay in hotels and what they see in those places will give them the impression about the people and the country. This is the reason why our hospitality industry must rapidly improve on its environment and services. There is the need to make use of creative art, high level of landscape and environmental beautification.
What do you think of the project to re-brand the nation?
The angle they are coming from does not appeal to me because it cannot work. Re-branding is not something you do in the media. You start re-branding by recreating the environment to change the psyche of the people. Nigerians need to think right; imbibe the queue culture; beautify their environment; ensure safety of life and property and make their cities world destinations. Also, we must create those elements that will attract people to the country.
A country where armed robbers can kill 25 people in a day and it attracts a footnote on the television and even the President will not make a statement deserves more than re-branding. That incident alone should be a national tragedy that should be on CNN. Are we saying life is so cheap here?
Will you want to re-brand Swat Valley in Pakistan as a tourism destination? Will you re-brand Mogadishu in Somalia? And you expect tourists to go there and die in the hands of terrorists and Moslem fanatics? You cannot re-brand Nigeria in the media. You re-brand it by changing the psyche of the people, changing the Nigerian environment; ensuring security of life and property, and effecting changes in everything we do, including restoring infrastructure like electricity and water. How do you re-brand darkness? Do you tell people that what you are seeing is light not darkness? That is a funny thing. I think Dora Akunyili has got it wrong this time.
Is there a way out?
The way out is what I said earlier. If you want to re-brand Nigeria, we must first start to think right, behave right, then recreate the environment and make it attractive. Nigeria is the biggest black nation in the world. If you cannot see anything great in Nigeria, it means the black world has nothing to offer the world. So, we should create a destination in Abuja or Lagos. After all, Dubai started recently but today it is competing with Paris and London. We can do it. It is a matter of the brain. And we have the money to do it.
What makes the economy of a nation vibrant is how many foreigners that visit that country to spend their money. Every weekend, hundreds and thousands of Nigerians travel to Europe to spend their money. These countries have made their environments attractive, why can’t we create such an environment so that foreigners will troop in. Oil alone cannot give us the money we want; it is when you have hundreds of thousands of foreigners spending their dollars here that the economy will grow.
What is missing in Abuja as a tourism destination?
I am sorry to say that Abuja as an international African city is a colossal failure. There is no attraction in the city. Abuja master plan must be faulty. Abuja is now congested and it is barely 30 years old. The highest you find on its roads is four to six lanes. But if you go to Europe, you will find cities designed 300 years ago having 16 lanes. In Abuja, the architecture can’t attract any foreigner.
What differentiates a leader? All empire builders, be they democrats or dictators, have one thing in common: they create a landmark in their country that will be a selling point to the rest of the world. In Africa, you can’t find such leaders.
In Abuja, there are no gardens with sculptural monuments to attract tourists. Tourists pay to visit the Eiffel Towers in Paris and it attracts more than five million tourists yearly. This is the way it is in European countries.
So, Abuja is without life?
Culturally, there is no life in Abuja. Nothing can make a foreigner to purposely buy an air ticket to visit Abuja and spend his money. When you have that kind of a city, it is not part of the world community. It can only belong when it builds an environment that will attract people. Even if you are talking of foreign investment, you cannot tell people to go and invest in Afghanistan, Somalia or Congo for instance. People invest where they know people from across the world will come and patronise their investment. So, when you create the environment, foreign investment will follow. Unfortunately, you hear Nigerian leaders wooing investors to our country when the environment is not friendly enough. It is a shameful thing to do because you do not beg people to invest. When you create the right environment, investments will flow in.
Is the Senate initiating laws to redress all these?
Well, you know the legislature is a different arm of the government. In the legislature, you talk but cannot execute. If you watch the Senate proceedings, you will see the nationalistic spirit in Nigerians. But when it comes to execution, these things do not show. You see senators flowing with ideas about what should be done for the country to be better. But after saying it, it ends there. The legislature cannot execute any project. They do not have the power to do anything other than to talk. The problem is with the executive.
Can we link this to budget implementation?
Budget implementation is another problem. Our budget is not revolutionary at all. Nigerian budget has become a routine thing. Every year, it is the same story; repair of roads, provision of electricity supply and so on. However, the more money you approve, the less result you get.
Was there no Abuja beautification project?
I don’t know if there was a beautification project but if there was, it ended in rhetorics. When you are talking of beautifying Abuja it has to be a revolutionary thing. Abuja is still a riot of traffic lights and electric poles. Why can’t we create poles that disappear underground in the day and come up with light at nights? We can use light to decorate the city because it is a tourist attraction on its own.
Prospect of mass transit facility in FCT
Abuja has a lot of mass transit schemes. But the quarrel I have with the schemes is that they should get artists to design the buses and cabs such that if a senator or minister is passing, he can drop his car and jump into such bus or cab. That is how to create wealth. There are simple things you do and people will be interested and will start buying into it.
Beyond buses, can there be light trains in the future?
The authorities are working on that. When we came in, we started serious agitations for the train system because Abuja is the only city that does not have a train system.
Will that not be too capital intensive?
Modern light trains don’t cost much. In fact, they cost what the ugly ones will cost. If you want to decongest Abuja city, get the trains and buses working. And only a few people will use their cars. If a bus can move 5,000 people a day, a train can move 20,000 people a day. You will be making more money.
Some critics have observed that not many bills have been passed by the Senate since its inauguration in 2007. What is your take on this?
The National Assembly has many distractions. You cannot compare the legislature you have in Nigeria with that of Europe because in Europe, everything is standardised. And all the basic needs are available and nobody raises motion on electricity supply. Nobody will debate on bad roads. The problems of the country take much time of the legislature’s agenda and only a little time is reserved for the passing of the bill. There are so many bills pending but they have gone through first and second readings. There are so many distractions. The social and economic problems of Nigeria take the time of the legislature at the expense of doing real legislating. This is the problem.
Why is it so?
The reason is because this has been an unworkable system. Distraction is one reason for the slow pace of the legislature, otherwise so many beautiful things are laying there but they will be attended to. Corruption is everywhere and every government parastatal is in this mess. And the system is a riot of lawlessness.
How many bills have you initiated?
I have three bills. They have gone through the first and second readings. There is a bill on Nigeria honours award. It is to enable the National Assembly to award honours on deserving individuals as it is done by the US Congress with the America convention award. It is the highest honour in US given by the President but administered by the Senate. I raised this bill because the national honours award is not standardised. It is a case of the governors sending in names of nominees and any name they bring automatically gets the award. But I crafted this bill in a way that the standards can be compared to that of developed world and for you to merit it means you can merit a Nobel Prize.
Do you think the Nigerian factor will make it work?
For the committee on the award I recommend religious leaders, one international statesman, one Catholic Bishop and two Moslems, who may not be Nigerian. Recipients can be the likes of Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela, because it is not restricted to Nigerians only. The award is a way of projecting Nigeria. For instance, if the Nigerian Senate is giving an award to a world leader and invites diplomats to the ceremony, it will showcase Nigeria. And Nigeria will be read all over the world. Honouring great people will make others to work harder. Today, people want to beat the laws to make money because there is no culture of hard work. Everyone wants quick money, but when you start honouring hard work, everyone will begin to appreciate hard work.
What is the second bill about?
The second bill is about National Corporation for society’s federation. This is to centralise corporate institutions in Nigeria like the micro-finance banks. The body will liaise with international bodies and corporate agencies for borrowing of funds. The third one has to do with Professor Ikele Oyinbo. He is a Kogi-born Nigerian based in America who made the greatest discovery, commonly called the Theory of everything. It is the highest discovery in science. When the discovery was unveiled in 1999, I bought a space in Guardian Newspaper, to write a letter to President Obasanjo. That is the highest discovery in science and when Einsten died, he wrote a will that his only regret in life was that he could not discover the unified faith theory. It is a single equation that can solve the whole problem in the universe. Every problem will be subjected to that equation, Einsten laboured for 95 years and died and he could not discover it. Until the discovery, America, France, Japan, Russia and China commissioned their scientists to discover it. Eventually a Nigerian did it.
The essence of the bill is to establish an institution which will understudy this discovery and examine all the practical applications for Nigerians and to know the benefits and implication. In Europe now, they have set up a committee comprising the highest level of scientists and lecturers who are working on the discovery. But a Nigerian discovered it, nobody cares.
Has it passed through the first reading?
It has passed through first reading, but not yet scheduled for second reading.
What do you foresee as the handicap to the speedy passage of the bill?
The bill is a very strong one; Professor Oyinbo is from Kogi State, while I am from Ebonyi. I have concern for my country. The bill will be passed when it is eventually scheduled.
Have you started lobbying other politicians?
What we usually do when a bill is scheduled is that you start moving around your colleagues to lobby them. I am waiting for it to be scheduled after which I will lobby members in the Senate. I was happy when my bill scaled the second reading because none of them spoke against it. When we finished I went straight to my house and started drinking.
Are you an art connoisseur?
I am not sure if I qualify as an art connoisseur. But I know what art means to the world, I know how civilised art shows are. Art is a statement and the real work of art is the statement behind it. Art is not just an ordinary painting, what makes it an art is the hidden statement behind it. I like hidden knowledge; I like art for the words it creates. An artist creates images just like God but the only difference is that they cannot put breath in it. That is why art is appreciated all over the world. But here in Africa, we are ignorant and nobody cares about the artist, even the leaders don’t even understand art.
How many artists do you have their works in your collection?
I am friendly with artists. I read about them and there are some that I have not got their works. I read their biographies and buy books about them.
How have you touched the life of your constituency since your election?
It will be two years we were inaugurated in the Senate. I have spent only four weekends outside my constituency since I became a senator. I spend most of my weekends in my constituency. I have not travelled outside the country for any reason. In fact, I don’t enjoy travelling out because when I see the way things work out there, I get angry. So, every weekend, I go home and stay with my people and share ideas on how to solve their pr