People entrusted by the governor for the ongoing art and tourism projects must rise above mediocrity, seek recourse to professionals and ensure contemporaneity, not just for the preservation of the traditional identity of the society, but so the the labours of our heroes past will not be in vain.


This week Enugu witnessed the ugly situation of the destructive removal of two iconic and historic lion sculptures. These works, in my thinking, may have adorned their environment for up to 30 years, and their current value would be in millions of naira. Against the expectation that the pedestals were merely being renovated, the sculptures were unprofessionally knocked off their bases, and replaced with new white lions.

The history of public art in Enugu is documented in a paper titled, “Public Sculpture In Urban Development: Enugu City Experience”, presented by Dr. Obiora Anidi in 2015. Anidi acknowledged an ex-governor, Emeka Omeruah, as one who “gave the push and impetus” for these in the 1980s. Anidi notes that Omeruah collaborated with the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) to located seven major sculptures within the public spaces in Enugu metropolis. Anidi states that by 2015, there were 32 public sculptures in the city.

Another paper by Dr. Ferdinand Anekwe explains the rational behind the positioning of the public sculptures, proffering a narrative based on the history of the people. From the memorial monument to the massacre of coal miners in 1949, produced by Obi Ekwenchi and situated at the city gate, New Market, to the “Uprising” (Freedom) by Cyril Nwokoli at the Independence Avenue roundabout. Then, the lions introduce the seat of power (the Lion Building).

There is therefore a system and a narrative, as well as stylistic periodisation, well thought of and handled by fathers of artistic rebirth in Enugu, the Coal City. As such, there is cause for worry when conscious attempts are being made to change this narrative, without reference to professional ethics in some cases.

Lately, the governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who some of us regard as an outstanding administrator, in respect of his support for visual arts development in Nigeria, initiated new public art commissions with urban renewal in focus. Of note is the development of a tourism park, dubbed Unity Park, at Okpara Square. It becomes necessary that the artistic value of Enugu city, built around two nationally acclaimed art schools, IMT and the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, should not be undermined by unethical practices and an eurocentric ideology of art.

There was recent outrage in Lagos over the removal of Fela’s sculpture from Allen Roundabout, as widely reported by the newspapers. It was instructive that the State’s Ministry of Arts and Culture was involved in the decision, and efforts were made to explain that the artwork was reclaimed (not destroyed) for the propose of road reconstruction and that it would be properly relocated (not disposed) thereafter.


When artworks are installed in public spaces, they become reference points, landmarks, and objects of historical documentation. Over time, residents get emotionally attached to them. For example the Oti-gba, made by Sculptor Chris Afuba, not only serves as identity marker for the area in which it is located, but it is perceived by some as a symbol of the Enugu city.

There was recent outrage in Lagos over the removal of Fela’s sculpture from Allen Roundabout, as widely reported by the newspapers. It was instructive that the State’s Ministry of Arts and Culture was involved in the decision, and efforts were made to explain that the artwork was reclaimed (not destroyed) for the propose of road reconstruction and that it would be properly relocated (not disposed) thereafter. More importantly, public stakeholders were informed before the removal. This is illustrative of professionalism and respect for the public.

The implication of removing a public art without recourse to experts and professionals are multiple. The public is denied the opportunity of ownership and association with the work. And the failure to relocate such artworks also is a denial of history, lack of appreciation and respect for the creator, and disregard for the “labours of our heroes past”. In the case at hand, one would have expected the work to be relocated within the Unity Park (which is under constructing), repositioned within the premises of some public buildings or at least dumped in the IMT Sculpture Garden.

A public monument is not just a merely aesthetic object, it is bundle of history, an object of education, an emblem for conservation and a symbol of public emotional connection. People entrusted by the governor for the ongoing art and tourism projects must rise above mediocrity, seek recourse to professionals and ensure contemporaneity, not just for the preservation of the traditional identity of the society, but so the the labours of our heroes past will not be in vain.

Deji Ade writes from Enugu, Enugu State.

Picture credit: Deji Ade’s Facebook page.