For many years, Anambra State-born cultural activist and art promoter, Ozochinedu Idezuna, has been campaigning for the dismantling of the Odumegwu Ojukwu statue at the Onitsha head bridge, Anambra State. His reason: “the statue makes the Ikemba look more like a dictator rather than an authentic Igbo leader”. Agozino Agozino meets him again.
Anambra State-born cultural activist and art promoter, Ozochinedu Idezuna, is always the last person to be happy, each time he crosses over the Onitsha head bridge and sees the gigantic statue of the late Biafran leader and leading symbol of the Igbo, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu , a befitting public sculpture of his statue dubbed ‘Ojukwu’s Gateway Statue which was unveiled just across the River Niger bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State.
His reason, the giant image, hailed as a statue that will forever immortalise Ojukwu, does not make Ojukwu look like an Igbo leader. The imposing statue was unveiled many years ago by the former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and former Governor, Mr. Peter Obi of Anambra State, who described it as the symbol of South East unity, but, Idezuna said he would continue to campaign for the statue to be removed and remolded with Ojukwu in Igbo regalia wearing red cap.
The 48-year old art promoter said he embarked on the mission having discovered that the statue is a shame to Igboland because it makes Ojukwu look like a dictator instead of a true Igbo leader. “That statue makes Ojukwu look like a dictator. Each time I pass through Onitsha, I cover my face. The Ojukwu statue should not be made to dress like a warlord, dressed in Army uniform, with gun at his back. I knew Ojukwu very well, this sculpture was commissioned by a politician who did not care about our culture. I don’t think his soul will be happy with this kind of representation,” the art promoter said.
On the difficult task of convincing the government to dismantle the statue, Idezuna said he would not budge even if it takes him 100 years, adding that one day, government would listen and reason with him. Asked why he waited for so long before embarking on his campaign, the art promoter said he raised the alarm when the work was to be mounted but no one listened to him. He blamed politicians who never consulted well before giving such creative works to their cronies.
“We have seen statues in other parts of the country. How many of them have you seen in army uniform with gun at the back. We know that Ojukwu fought a war for self-determination for Igbo people, who were being massacred in the North. So why should they make him look like a warlord? Every good artist I have spoken with agrees that it is not a good representation. What do we want to teach our children when they see Ikemba with a gun at his back?”
Throwing light on how the statue should have been molded, Idezuna said, “When you want to make this kind of sculpture, you make it look like a traditional Igbo leader to reflect our culture. He should wear the traditional Igbo dress with red cap and if possible with ofor stick in his hands”.
Comparing the statue with others of its kind like M.I Okpara’s statue at Okpara Square in Enugu and the statue of the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in front of Zik’s house in Onitsha, the artist said these are better jobs representative of those great Nigerians but Ojukwu’s statue is not a true representation, and the government of Anambra with South East governments should remove it immediately.
Idezuna said what they should have done is to consult experts in arts. A job of this magnitude and importance that concerns the greatest Igbo leader requires the careful choice of a professional sculptor.
He said that the authorities should have sought the advice of the Society of Nigerian Artists, SNA, for example, and put together a team that would produce the best. “The statue, right now, is a shame to Ndigbo and it reminds us of the civil war defeat. When you produce something like this, it is not something a politician can do alone because Ojukwu remains a world figure. Imagine seeing that image whenever you cross the River Niger, it scares many young people. Our children will ask ‘Is this Ojukwu?’ And that question is already on the lips of many youths who have seen the statue,’’ he said.
Daily Times man spoke with some other artists on the statue issue and they shared Iduzuna’s view but said the problem was not so big that would demand the dismantling of the statue. “There is no doubt that they did not consult widely. Otherwise, I know many sculptors who would have done a better job. To me, the statue looks good but we could have something better,’’ said Sunday Okeke.
Chukwemeka Anyaso, another respondent, said “ Even if it does not look like Ojukwu, I think it is too late to call for its demolition”. According to Anyaso, “I have made a comment to a friend before that the statue may not be the best but we still like it.’’ There is no reason for one to call for its demolition.
Chuks Okechukwu, a, trader in Onitsha, who claims to be an avid art lover said the accuracy was not there, compared with the real Ojukwu. “This is just an impression. So, to me it is still okay.”
But Ato Arinze, a Lagos-based sculptor and potter believes the statue looked more like him. According to Arinze, there is no way everything about sculpture will look like the person.
He said “It does not really matter. What people should know is that the statue represents Ojukwu.’’
Chukwudi Anyaso said: “Though it resembles him a bit, I don’t like the colour they used in painting. It is too dark.”
According to him, from afar, one might never know that it is Ojukwu until when one moves closer. The colours did not match,” he said.
But for Kenneth Chukwu, “From afar, you might be having an opinion of another person but on a closer look, you can now see that it resembles Ojukwu. I overheard someone saying that it does not look like him. People should know that the children, some of whom were at the commissioning would have said a similar thing if it were so. The governor, who awarded the contract, would not have commissioned
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