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Govt withdraws concession on New York monument

Posted by From Oghogho Obayuwana, Abuja on 2005/06/06 | Views: 295 |

Govt withdraws concession on New York monument

A BREWING controversy over an agreement to replace the Zuma monument at the Nigerian Consulate (Nigerian House) in New York has stopped the Federal Government from implementing the plan.

A BREWING controversy over an agreement to replace the Zuma monument at the Nigerian Consulate (Nigerian House) in New York has stopped the Federal Government from implementing the plan.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said at the weekend in Abuja that it was withholding the initial concession to replace the monument granted to one Fred Okon Archibong until "a legal boundary is drawn" to clearly map out the terms of replacement.

Before the ministry waded in, Archibong, himself an acknowledged artist, had been involved in a face off with Mr. Billy Omebegho, the sculptor who produced the 30- feet Zuma, over the suitability of the work of art in the Nigeria House.

Ministry spokesman and Director of Public Relations and Cultural Unit (PRCU) Sulaiman Dahiru disclosed to The Guardian at the weekend that: "The ministry will no longer get involved. We are reviewing our involvement in the whole affair. A lot of things were going wrong to the extent that the artist who approached us for a change of statue (Archibong) is now making serious threats...the ministry's legal department has been directed to write him to that effect..."

On the position of the ministry regarding the need to replace the sculpture at Nigeria House in New York, he said: "The ministry gave Mr. Archibong the go-ahead to replace the existing work because he offered to do it free of charge. The agreement was that we have no financial obligation for that. He wrote to us saying he would love to replace it... but now he has been making false claims and using the ministry's name to raise funds. We feel that this is unethical and a breach of our initial understanding... so now we have recommended that there will be a defined boundary drawn. The legal department has now taken charge so both sides will know what is expected of each other"

On the chances of Archibong regaining his initial commission to produce a befitting work of art for the Nigeria House given the ministry's displeasure with his style, Dahiru said: " Nigerians should wait. A recommendation has been made and due procedure will now be followed"

A copy of the letter written by the ministry dated July 25, 2003 in reply to Archibong's request for assent to replace Zuma, entitled: "Re: Fred Archibong-Art exhibition at the Chancery, Museum and gallery in Washington DC" declared that it had no objection to his plans. The Guardian as well as other correspondences showing that he was not entitled to any form of financial assistance in the execution of the project.

Dahiru spoke further: " What Archibong wrote to us concerning the other artist (Omabegho) was not good for that fellow professionally. It was capable of tarnishing his reputation...we agreed to help him invite members of the diplomatic corps for his exhibition on the 7th of March at the Le Meridien Hotel Abuja. We did ... just to encourage him even though we were not in any way bound...In this we miscalculated, but now we are re-tracing our steps. He wanted us to be involved in the fund raising dinner bringing a hand written specimen letter for us to emboss on the letterhead of the federal republic, against our ethics. Each person at the dinner, was to purchase a plate of food for N25, 000. This was one of our points of departure"

Before the ministry fell out of favour with the artist, Archibong had in a report published February 4 (not in The Guardian) said "The present sculptural work at the Nigerian House, does not reflect the rich cultural heritage of Nigerian people, hence the decision to erect a more central cultural piece to depict the beauty of Nigerian art"

He did not state how much the new piece of art would cost. Also at the weekend, the ministry could not confirm the amount that the old Zuma cost the government at the time it was commissioned.

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