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UNBELIEVABLE! 31 years after, FG still owes carver of FESTAC mask

Posted by By LAYI OLAJUMOKE on 2008/01/23 | Views: 880 |

UNBELIEVABLE! 31 years after, FG still owes carver of FESTAC mask


Joseph Igbinovia Alufa in a normal society should have been a name with househoild fame. But it is not here because Nigeria has the tradition of ignoring experts and not rewarding citizens that work hard or live for the image of fatherland.

• His suit has been in court for 19 years undecided

Joseph Igbinovia Alufa in a normal society should have been a name with househoild fame. But it is not here because Nigeria has the tradition of ignoring experts and not rewarding citizens that work hard or live for the image of fatherland.

That is the reason this man who carved the FESTAC 77 mask of Queen Idia has not been paid by the federal government for that noble work he did in replicating the art work stolen by the British plunderers during the Benin invasion.

Because of the nature of the festival, the nation needed the art work so badly to the extent that it had to approach Britain, which now retains the stolen property with vehemence to rent it for the festival.

Alufa helped the nation reproduce the Queen Idia’s mask, that popular icon and logo of the 2nd World Black Festival of Arts and Culture more popularly known as Festac, held in Nigeria in 1977.

We stole it, we own it
Following the refusal of Britain in 1976 to release the original in its possession at London Museum, even with Nigeria agreeing to pay £2 million as “rental fee” for the duration of the festival, the then federal military government under General Olusegun Obasanjo was in a quandary about what to do on the subject of emblem for the festival.

The original carving was part of the more than 5,000 works of art plundered from the treasury of the Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, the then Oba of Benin during the rampaging exploit of the British Punitive Expedition to the Benin Kingdom in 1897. It was then that the reigning Oba of Benin, Akenzua II brought the idea of having a replica carved by the ancient carvers’ guild, the Igbinsemwen, in Benin City. They thereafter searched out five members of the guild, judging their skills on the jobs that they undertook earlier.

In search of replica
That was when the Olokun wood carving by Alufa came to the notice of the Federal Arts Council. They were so taken in by this masterpiece that they took it down to Lagos to exhibit in the then newly-built National Arts Theatre, along with other works by Nigerian artists during the festival. Meanwhile, Alufa got on with his commission to faithfully reproduce the Queen Idia’s mask. As an aside, Alufa did more than 70 pieces of the carving which the federal government used as souvenir for the visiting heads of state and other dignitaries for the period of the festival.

Endless wait for payment
The understanding with Alufa on the Olokun’s carving was that should anybody be interested in the work and pay for it during the exhibition, they would come back to give him the money. Failing that, the federal government would have the first option of buying it. With the completion of the festival, Alufa was informed that his work, then valued at N10,000, (when the naira was almost at par with the British pound sterling and higher than the American dollar) was not sold but rather, the Federal Arts Council was interested in it and would buy it. Alufa was told to await payment. He is still awaiting payment more than 30 years later.

MON without EY
In his uncompleted building in Upper Sakpoba Quarters in Benin City, Alufa, the sexagenarian was bitter about the treatment he is receiving in the hands of the federal government. “It is very sad that our country only recognizes its heroes only after they are dead. It is only then that people would begin to shed crocodile tears and heap accolades on them and naming streets after them,” he laments.

Beside memories, all Alufa has got to show for his efforts at making Festac a success was a certificate signed by General Obasanjo informing him that he had been “nominated and appointed to be a Member of the Order of the Niger”, MON. The certicate reads: “You are by this Certificate authorized to have, hold and enjoy the dignity and privileges as a member of the said Order”. He was also given a sum of N1,000 (one thousand naira), which would translate to about N500,000 today, by the then Bendel State in recognition of his service to the fatherland. His paltry cash award was just enough to purchase the land on which his uncompleted building stands today. Spreading his “trophies” for the correspondent to see, a bitter Alufa bemoans his fate: “If I had been given the money due me from the federal government for the Olokun carving, I would have completed this building”.

19 years litigation
But Alufa is not taking all these Iying down with the passage of years. After entreaties failed, Alufa instituted a court process in 1989 against the then Bendel State Arts Council, a certain Mrs. Okupa, a top official of the Federal Art Establishment, the Federal Minister for Information and Culture and Attorney General of the Federation praying for reliefs, including N6 million as full compensation for his work presently gracing the National Theatre in Iganmu, Lagos.

The court process is endless, going from one adjournment to another. To Alufa, it is mind-boggling why he would have to go through all these for something as straightforward as buying and paying for a work of art, not by a private individual, not even by a corporate body, not by a state government but by the federal government. For a court process now spanning 19 years, it has changed hands both on the Bar as well as on the Bench.

But the issue at stake, plaintiff and defendants remain the same. Another thing that has changed is the sum the plaintiff is asking for. Barrister Peter Uwadia of P.E. Uwadiea and Company in Benin, the new counsel of Alufa explained, “It is well known in the world of arts that artwork appreciates over time, most especially famous artwork like my client’s work, the Olokun. In line with this fact, we are asking the federal government in our updated writ for N250 million”.

Ordinarily slow in Nigeria, this particular court process has not been helped by the frequent non-appearance of the federal government. Uwadia identifies another threat to speedy hearing: “Matters are not helped by the involvement of the trial judge, justice Komolafe Wilson in the Election Petition Tribunal”. As election matters are to enjoy accelerated hearing, all other matters would have to wait.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.