How Lekki-Ikoyi bridge, ‘Idejo chiefs’ sculptures may emerge as iconic Lagos monuments

an<span style="font-size: 16px;">Despite its vast heritage, expressed in modern and contemporary monuments, Lagos still lacks an iconic spot to symbolise the city on the global tourism space.In public monuments such as architecture and art, a people’s history and value are expressed. Lagos is a city of mixed Gothic, Portuguese/Brazilian and postmodern architectural designs that have no space for indigenous contents.</span>

While cultural contents are almost non-existence in architectural works of most designs that dot a city like Lagos, art provides the ventilation for expression of the missing native values. However, on quite a number of the standing architectures, the remnants of the city’s Portuguese history still exists. As heritage enthusiasts still mourn the mowing of Ilojo Bar, a more than half a century-old Portuguese building formerly known as Casa do Fernandez house, at Tinubu Square, there is something to cheer in older buildings of monumental status. Among such is a renovated colonial era house inside the Railway Yard, Ebute Meta.

Now converted to Railway Museum by Octogenarian British expatriate, Prof John Godwin, the building is a strong statement in Nigeria’s architectural history. Godwin and his wife, Hopwood, also in 1990, restored a Brazilian design Lumpkin House (circa 1880), on Abibu Oke Street, Lagos Island, for Leventis Foundation. In fact, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) already engagedsGodwin to restore the Ilojo Bar before the building came down under the order of a mysterious Lagos ‘developer.’

Tourism potency of most big cities around the world are defined and induced, among other factors, by iconic art and architectures of monumental status. In the past decades and recent years, there have been worthy art and architectural monuments in Nigeria’s leading business and leisure hub city, Lagos. But none of such iconic monuments in public space has been promoted as symbolising the former seat of the Federal Government.

As regards public space art and architecture that tell a people’s history, no city in the world is as fortunate as Cairo in Egypt to have the Pyramid of Giza – the only surviving monument of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.’ But the modern world has quite a lot to express as well. Prominent public space art and architectures such as the ninteenth century copper sculpture, the Statue of Liberty, mounted at Liberty Island, New York, U.S defines not just the city, but the country’s professing of freedom; observatory architecture, Eifel Towers, on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France; one of the most profound expressions of love in modern period, a fifteenth century mausoleum, The Taj Mahal at Agra, India, symbolises the country on the international tourism destination scene; and of recent a beachside architectural masterpiece, Burj El Arab, at Madinat Jumeirah, in Dubai, UAE are among public space creative attractions around the world.

For Lagos, the National Arts Theatre building at Iganmu, Lagos is among the oldest that comes to mind in search of the city’s iconic monuments. But the National Theatre perhaps missed being the iconic architecture or symbol of Nigeria. Given its emergence as the remnant and memory of Black Festival of Arts and Culture (Festac ‘77), the edifice should have been seen as iconic in the lexicon of Black history, even beyond a symbol of the host city. Perhaps, its lack of originality makes the building unattractive to the lens of international photographers whose captures promote cities and monuments across the world. The National Arts Theatre, Lagos, designed and built by Bulgarian architects and contractors replicates a 1968 structure known as Palace of Culture and Sports, in Vama, Bulgaria.

For a people whose ancient and modern artists were known to have produced great masterpieces in art such as the Ife heads and Benin bronzes as well as revered wooden doors of ‘Olowo of Ise’, it is undignified to import designs from any part of the world. The lack of native African contents in the National Arts Theatre building design knocks it off from any list of possible proudly Nigerian iconic architecture monument worthy of consideration in symbolising a city like Lagos. More embarrassing, the National Arts Theatre building is listed among Nigeria’s 23 national monuments. For cultural pride and justice, the National Commssion for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) should delete the house from Nigeria’s list of National monuments.

Before the emergence of the National Arts Theatre building, Lagos was not exactly lacking in iconic public space monuuments. There were the ‘Unknown Soldiers’ statues (Soja Idumota) and the Ben Enwonwu depiction of Sango as symbol of electricity, mounted outside the building of the then Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN)/National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), along Marina axis of the city’s central business district.

Also for over 25 years, the three-figures of the ‘Idejo Chiefs’, mounted at the Lagos-Ogun State border actually represent a part of cultural value of the city’s indigenes. Given the uniqueness of the statues’ gestures as captured by the artist, Bodun Sodeinde, one wonders why the three-sculpture public art were not promoted to international attention by governments – past and current.

The ‘Idejo Chiefs’ sculptures are currently removed from their original spot, into an obscured location after being exposed to quite a number of hostile conditions over the years. What exactly were the sculptures saying with their gestures of arms and fists? Quite a number of interpretations have been churned out as the meanings of the Idejo Chiefs’ gestures. But the real meanings, according to sources can only be decoded by the “initiated ones.”

With its deep native contents, the Idejo Chiefs sculptures stand a stronger chance of attracting curiosity of visitors – mostly foreigners. Even from artistic and aesthetic perspective, the three-figure sculptures captured by Sodeinde could be a study in public space art. The Idejo Chiefs sculptures, also known as ‘The Three Wise Men’, if promoted, offer a window for researchers to focus on the culture of the Idejo people and their origin.

A strategic spot on the Lagos and Victoria Islands hub of leisure and business travel would be effective than the obscurity of Alausa where it is currently hidden.Also, in public space archtitecture, a drone view or aerial photo capture of Lagos and Victoria Islands, according to quite a number of pictures, suggest that the Lekki-Ikoyi cable stayed Link bridge is the iconic monument to beat in the aquatic city. The 1.36 kilometre bridge constructed by Julius Berger, is the first of its kind in Nigeria. But among similar cable architecture across the world, the Lekki-Ikoyi Link bridge’s cultural content in what looks like a minimalism of the iconic ‘Eyo Masqurade’ makes it unique.

Professionals in architecture and art whose practices in Lagos dates back to decades shared their views on the subject of iconic monument for the city. “Good, the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge (a.k.a Yanga or ako), so named by me, is an example of boom and progress during the tenure of Babatunde Raji Fashola as Governor of Lagos State,” a former chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists (SNA) Lagos State chapter, Olu Ajayi stated. Ajayi also added the Idejo Chiefs to his list of public space iconic monuments worthy of promoting. “The chiefs are statues that demonstrate an effort at portraying our culture of greetings.”

Public space art and architecture of monumental repute goes beyond the aesthetics, a sculptor, Olu Amoda argued. “As I work and live in Lagos, the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge is very much like the confederate sculpture that generated lots of controversies,” Amoda, a lecturer at Yaba College of Technology said. Indeed, it is of note that the construction and tolling of Lekki-Ikoyi cable stayed bridge led to litigation against the Lagos State Government during the tenure of Fashola.

Controversy over public space art or architecture of monumental status is not peculiar to the Lekki-Ikoyi cable stayed bridge. For example, till date Hindi extremists in India still want The Taj Mahal brought down for two reasons. They claimed that the spot on which Taj Mahal was built in 1631 by Maugham Emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his late wife Mumtaz, used to be the temple of a Hindu deity, ‘Shiva.’ They also claimed that The Taj, which has been listed a UNESCO World Heritage Site was constructed with the taxes and sweats of Hindu people. Such claims hardly make any difference on the beauty as well as acceptability of iconic monuments. But Amoda insisted that the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge “is a symbol of extortion,” adding that “this has beclouded my sense of appreciation” for the bridge.

An architect and art critic, Jess Castellote argued in favour of the beautiful bridge. “Undoubtedly, the current icon is the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge,” Castellote, an architect expatriate at Pan-Atlantic University, Ajah said. “Easily recognisable and easy to remember. Large physical presence and impact.”

If the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge or any other art and architecture monument in Lagos deserves to be projected on the international tourism space, photographers have crucial role to play. However, it seems Nigerian photographers haven’t done much in using their lenses to project beautiful structures and art of the city. There seems to be none of such monuments, Olayinka Oluwakuse III, a Lagos-based photographer noted. “I was recently engaged by Netflix to make a production in Lagos, and the same question arose: where is the one spot that an interview can take place and anyone would know this is Lagos?” He didn’t agree that the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge is unique in design “The Lekki -Ikoyi bridge looks like a bridge in Boston.” But investigation showed that the only cable stayed bridge in Boston, U.S, according to Internet search is different from the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge.

As a photographer whose works have included quite some architectural scene of Lagos, Oluwakuse was still passionate about the city’s art and architecture space. However he insisted that there is “lack of cultural and governmental interest in Art.” But he has a suggestion: “Why can’t there be a giant Eyo statue overlooking the third mainland Bridge that would show geo-locate Lagos?”

Clearly, the Lagos skyline is in need of iconic monument – art and architectural innovations – to be counted on the global scale of creative cities. Certainly, the debate will interest the leadership of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, which has shown desire to give the Centre of Excellence an assertive culture and artistic identity.

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Lekki-Ikoyi bridge
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