CITIES have souls, spirits and peculiar traits. They have their unique DNA.
An observant traveller across Anambra State would notice a growing trend of quiet but bold efforts by towns, particularly those in urban and sub-urban locations to smartly tell their epic stories through conspicuously cited sculptural monuments – a cultural and socio-economic spur for growth which, over the ages has proved effective in establishing the height of refinement and enlightenment of a people against their neighbours and made them retain sojourners to the envy of peers.
You would have no reason to doubt where you are once you approach the broad ’roundabout’ at the city centre of Aguleri, and the big story about the historic town. Even if you approach the town through any of the major roads that hail from Onitsha, Igbariam, Anam et al, you will behold a big about 4X (four times of life size) realistic sculpture of the world-renowned clergy man, Blessed Cyprain Iwene Tansi, standing in the middle of the ring-road junction. Images of elephants encircling the statue sum the epic story.
Main image in the fiberglass sculptural composition is the statue of the world-recognised 20th Century priest of the Onitsha Archdiocese of Roman Catholic Church who later died in United Kingdom (UK) as a monk, Blessed Tansi (1903 – 1964).
The native of Aguleri, Anambra State who was beautified (a step towards canonisation as a saint) by Pope John Paul II on March 22, 1998 after many miracles and religious feats have been recorded at his initial burial site in Leicester, UK, remains one of the very few icons of Christianity who hail from Africa.
His figure is painted black and white, in a way that replicates his uniform as a Trappist Monk at Mount Saint Bernard Monastery in England where he served his last missionary work until his death. The elephants, a rare breed of animals that once roamed the jungles of Aguleri and the Omabala river banks where the town is situated are depicted in a plethora to communicate the many big feats about the people.
In Igbo worldview, the elephant conceptualises largeness, boldness, wealth and absence of want. The many elephants in the composition communicate the sumptuous attributes of the land that is also home of tall warriors like the fabled Anukili na Ugama.
Joined with the Blessed Tansi image the multiple image sculpture gives its beholder the impression that he is in a town that is noted for heroic deeds and plenty of giant feats. You leave the monument with the impression that the entire Aguleri are enthused about their Blessed Tansi legacy as well as proud in their heritage in age-long heroism and agricultural wealth.
Drive deeper into the town, towards Otuocha beach from the roundabout and you behold another sculptural monument. This time, an imposing multi-figure flat metal sculpture composition towering overhead at the Y-Junction near Aguleri Township Stadium.
The monument there is made of two big tilapia fish, suspended on a tripod. The sculpture makes it clear that you are in a town that thrives heavily on fishing and fish sales. Within five minutes of crossing the monument, you are in the expansive, white sand-marked Otuocha beach where there is a vibrant market with an active fish trading regime by very affable, well-endowed women.
The sculptures in Aguleri in the northern zone of Anambra State promptly set the sojourner in right mood to understand the town once he encounters it, the way many major cities of the western world present themselves to people who encounter them from outset.
On the central zone of the state, there is Neni in Anaocha local council. Upon approaching the town from neighbouring Nimo, at Okacha junction, a well moulded 2X life sculpture of the great Chief Michael Okpala (1939 – 2004) also known as ‘Power Mike,’ a globally-popular wrestler who retired as undefeated World Heavyweight wrestling champion.
Born, August 8, 1939, in Neni by parents who hail from Umueze village in the town, Power Mike rose from relative anonymity in the town to rule the world of combat sports and show business as one the best in the world not just Africa.
Starting as failed armature boxer in Onitsha he moved up to the north of Nigeria where he doubled as a trader in tyres and a ‘superman’ physical fitness exhibition show person which made him popular locally in Kano in the 1950s, Power Mike evolved to become a national figure after his 1961 nationwide tour which crossed such cities as Onitsha, Enugu, Aba, Port Harcourt, Lagos, Jos and Kaduna. The success of his 1964 performance tours of such West African countries as Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal opened opportunities for his migration to Europe in 1967 where he veered into professional wrestling and became a huge star of the sports. From his defeat of Gambia’s Massambula to become the African heavyweight wrestling champion and titleholder Power Mike waltzed on and defeated world-popular wrestlers as Ali Baba of Lebanon in 1973; Johnny Kwango (in Lagos); Power Jack; Joseph Kovacs, Judd Harris, John Tiger of Canada and other superstars.
Upon retiring in 1976, he became a wrestling promoter through his Power Mike International Promotions which staged notable bouts that served such big fighters as Mil Mascaras, Dick the ‘Bulldog Brower’, Buddy Rose, Michael Hayes, Mighty Igor, The Mongols, Carlos Colon, Chris Adams, Thunderbolt Williams among others in Nigeria.
Passing through the well sculpted monument on a low basement, the beholder feels he has a close touch of the great fighter who was presented with one of the belts he won on his waist. No visitor would doubt the town’s affection for their notable son after encountering the art. Three kilometres beyond the Power Mike monument a bust of another son of the soil, Col. Bob Akonobi (rtd), a former military officer who was governor of the old Anambra State is mounted in a high elevation in a roundabout at the major market of the town, Oye Neni.
Akonobi from Eziaja, Neni is presented in full army ceremonial gear with all the epaulettes of an accomplished soldier. A stone throw from the bust is an impressive civic centre. You leave the town with an impression that it is an abode of a people of refined minds who know how to preserve and showcase their history intangible treasures.
The sculpture at Eke Agu Market Junction, Agbaja Abatete, Oma Nne by Sylvanus Ezigbo is a step farther in a people’s effort to preserve history and project their heritage. The gigantic epical monument encapsulates a lot of folklore and indigenous symbols, native to the people of Abatete, Umuoji and Nkpor in Idemili North local government area. The sculpture said to have been revealed to the artist who hails from the area in trance is a visual narrative of the people’s ancestry, including a recall of one of the people’s forgotten forefather who died without successors.
It brings up the story of Oma Nne festival, a feast of nativity, which the people of area hitherto marked together. At the zenith of the Oma Nne sculpture the artist set the founding father of the people, Okolie Etie.
The second stratum features the four male children of Etie – Ede Ogu ( fore father of Abatete), Okodu (Umuoji), Dim Udeke (Nkpor) and Ora who had no known survivor. At the basements, there are images that tell war stories, masquerading feats (no wonder Umuoji is noted to have the highest record of masquerades in the East) and unique signs of the area. The sculpture simply makes the beholder ask: “Who are these people?” And that is its purpose.
In Onitsha, at the DMGS Roundabout, another memorable historical sculpture made by Mr. Ezigbo stands with its huge history. Without doubt, no public art captures the story of the area better than the sculpture, unveiled by Anambra State governor, Chief Willie Obiano in 2018. The roundabout leads to the popular Onitsha Main market, better known among natives as the beach market where elephant tusks are sold (Ose Okwa Odu). As the native name explains, the Ose (Onitsha Main Market) is originally a place where an ivory merchant (later several merchants) sold their wares. It was more like an export and import beach for the precious item. The sculptor dug deep into history and exhumed the story to render the imposing metal sculpture which represents an array of tusks that now give the locality’s identity a monument of immense tourism dividend.
From Nnewi in Anambra South to Awka-Etiti, Umunze among others there are either hitherto existing or sprouting sculptures that tell pregnant tales of their host cities. What the monuments communicate is that Anambra cities are beginning to have stories for people who encounter them or pass through them.
At the Agulu road junction roundabout, beside Governors’ Lodge Amawbia in Awka South local council, a tall metal sculpture akin to a crown mounted on a white tripod stand with a big golden bell in the middle emerged during Christmas. Beholding the sculpture, it communicates the presence of a throne or seat of power nearby with big bell that sits atop serving dual functional purpose of symbolising alertness and representing the consciousness of time which the crown represents. The monument reminds one of ‘The Bell’ in London which is as much a public house at 29 Bush Lane in the City, London as it is a monument. Just as the mid-19th century UK monument has served as a symbol of a city’s keenness for time-consciousness so one hopes the Amawbia monument will spur alertness in Anambra State’s capital.
Indeed, landmarks such as monuments, gardens, squares, statues and outstanding structures define towns, cities and states. They give their hosting lands unique attributes and distinguishing vistae. Most notable among society-defining spectacles are historical outdoor sculptures. They give their locales special identity and summarily tell the locations’ story in such ways that passers-bye, travellers and tourists never get satisfied and crave to visit again to savour and imagine more things about the place. The allure of well-articulated public artefacts like sculptures is inexplicable. The artefacts’ ability the imbue myth and spectacle to cities have remained core factors in tourism, travelogues, fictions and films. They enrich their host lands’ history forever. This is one magic cities use to retain growth in developed nations.
The emerging trend in Anambra is commendable but one worry is an equally growing trend of people defacing the monuments with posters, banners, structure and all manner of disgusting rot which relevant city authorities will never tolerate elsewhere.