A former director of organisation in the defunct Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, in this interview with SUNDAY ABORISADE of Punch, advises Governor Akinwumi Ambode to consider the criticisms trailing the latest statue of the late sage and rebuild a new one
Some Nigerians have identified certain ‘abnormalities’ in the statue of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo recently unveiled by the Lagos State Government. What is your reaction to this?
I have not seen the statue physically. I only saw the picture on the pages of newspapers but I have listened to series of comments and criticisms. I live in my hometown, Ilesa in Osun State now but I will still find time to go and see the statue.
One of the complaints is about the sitting posture of the statue. The critics argued that Awo was known to stand up for the masses throughout his lifetime, hence the current posture is negating this attribute.
I agree that Awo statue should not have been constructed in a sitting posture. I will be very glad if Gov. Akin Ambode can help us to rebuild the statue and make Papa to stand up because he was an activist throughout his life. Portraying him as an emperor on a comfortable chair is not correct. Papa would have loved (his statue) to stand up because he was a fighter right from the beginning to the end of his political journey.
What do you think of an Awolowo statue without his two-finger victory sign trademark?
That point is very important and instructive. Papa’s symbol was his two-finger victory sign. I really don’t think it is the fault of Governor Ambode but that of the sculptor and those who supervised the work of art. The governor should be commended for having the vision of coming up with a novel idea of constructing a befitting statue for Awo. The professionals in the cabinet should have briefed the sculptor to let Nigerians know through the artwork that Awolowo was a fighter throughout his lifetime and a warrior should not be portrayed in a relaxed mood when he is supposed to be on the battlefield waging wars against poverty, injustice, hunger, unemployment and poor infrastructure. If Awolowo were to be alive, he would have rejected any statue without his V-sign which also symbolises progress for Nigeria and Africa in general. I want to therefore appeal to Gov. Ambode, while appreciating what he has done, to kindly do a rebuilding of the statue and ensure that the victory sign is there and that Papa is standing on his legs.
Another critic also accused the sculptor of forcing huge boots on the feet of Awo, who was reputed for his sense of fashion even in his modesty.
Papa Awolowo remains Papa Awolowo. He was a great fighter. There is nothing they would put on his legs that would take away his sense of fashion. An average Yoruba elder which Awolowo typified would never wear a complete Agbada and wear National Youth Service Corps boots. So, let the Lagos State government consider the reservations expressed by Nigerians, especially those who knew Awo quite well and do the right thing befitting of the great sage. Awolowo should be presented in a way that will depict his life and times. The sculptor should have been provided with the photograph of Awo to prevent the alleged distortions being pointed out.
Some also said that the facial look on the image resembles that of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun.
(Laughs) All the anomalies would have been taken care of if the sculptor was asked to use the real picture taken of Awolowo when he was alive.
What other ways do you think that Awo should have been immortalised apart from the statue that could lead to criticisms?
The statue building should be commended and I must congratulate Gov. Ambode for taking the bold step. Awolowo has been immortalised by the Federal Government and the state governments because he did very well for this country, alongside the late (Nnamdi) Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and others who had really tried their best for our great country. We should continue in our resolve to further immortalise them in appreciation of their great contributions which are really commendable and appreciated. Papa Awolowo remains a titan in the Nigeria and African issues generally. He is a symbol of peace and unity for the entire African continent. That is why I will still repeat my appeal to Gov. Ambode to kindly revisit the statue and rebuild it according to what Chief Awolowo was when he was alive.
Will you say the Afenifere as an organisation formed by Papa Awo is still upholding the ideals left behind by the late sage?
Afenifere is a great movement, a formidable group put together by Papa Awolowo and it represents his symbols, his philosophy and political viewpoint, especially while fighting the colonial battle in Nigeria. We cannot really blame Afenifere for what is actually happening in Yoruba politics at the moment. Awolowo is a symbol that every leader, especially those in positions of authority in Yorubaland, must emulate. Any group that wants to represent the interest of the Yoruba must hold in high esteem the ideals of the late Awo. Afenifere to a great extent is still upholding these ideals and should be commended for this.