MATTHEW ASABOR digs into the controversies trailing the removal of M.K.O and Gani Fawehinmi’s statues from their parks in Lagos, reporting that it is actually an attempt by the Lagos State government to put both men in their rightful positions aesthetically.
IN life and death, the images of billionaire businessman, Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola and foremost human rights crusader, Ganiyu Oyesola Fawehinmi loom very large. Both personalities, though of different callings, philosophies, principles and outlook, are considered heroes in their different ways, but largely united in their fight for the emancipation of the Nigerian masses. Gani mainly used the instrumentality of the law and free legal representation, while Abiola put to use his humongous wealth and at the twilight of his life, his politics.
The huge sacrifices both paid, including the ultimate sacrifice of putting their lives, health and comfort on the line, are seen as enough for both men to occupy not only the hearts of men, but also conspicuous historical places in the nation, particularly Lagos, which served as the base of their struggles.
This perception accounted for the huge commendation the Lagos State government received when it decided to honour the two men, by creating special spaces for them in the state and have the locations named after them as a symbolic recognition of their contributions to humanity.
Abiola who was the first to pay the supreme price for democracy and justice to thrive in the land, had his statue erected at Ojota, on July 7, 2008, a park named after him by former governor of the state, Babatunde Fashola.
The lot also fell on the same Fashola, now Minister of Works, Housing and Power, to honour Fawehinmi with another park within the same Ojota axis named “Freedom Park” on 5th September, 2010, to signpost what the late legal luminary stood for.
The removal of the statues of the two men by the current administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on the excuse of remodeling the parks has been generating a lot of controversies and the more the government tried to explain the issue, the more controversial it became.
Comrade Akintunde Adedeji, Director for Programmes and Projects Committee for Defence of Human Rights, was not happy about the removal. In an interview with Sunday Tribune he described it as an ugly incident which the Lagos State government as a matter of urgency, needed to come out publicly to explain to the people of the state.
The statues, he said, were symbolic and serve as campaign grounds for downtrodden in the society to express their grievances against any government that are anti-human.
Apart from querying the rationale, he also noted that the Ambode led administration did not consult or inform the relevant civil society and human rights bodies “before such draconian directive was given.”
But in a swift move, the Lagos State government disclosed that the removal of both statues was part of a bigger effort to remodel the parks, a project which began in January, adding that work is now well into advanced stages on the twin agenda of enhancing the aesthetics of the parks and replacing the statues with bigger models.
To confirm the statement from the state government, Sunday Tribune visited the Freedom Park and discovered that reconstruction work was going on there.
A contractor at the site, Mr Bode Martins, confirmed that the Gani statue was not removed permanently but taken down, to pave the way for a bigger one that could be visible to everyone even from a very far distance.
According to the Acting Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Adebimpe Akinshola, “the ongoing remodeling of both parks was to give way to bigger sculptures of the two prominent statesmen.”
Akinshola stressed that, instead of just replacing the two conspicuous monuments, the ministry, with the approval of Governor Ambode had commissioned a group of artistes to remodel both parks and erect bigger statues with better aesthetics, of the two prominent Nigerians for better appreciation of their contribution to the development in the country.
She added that there was no need for unnecessary apprehension, as, for example, the government is on top of the project at Abiola Garden at Ojota to erect a new statue and water fountain to enhance its aesthetic value for better appreciation by visitors and enhancement of the June 12 Presidential election narrative.
The Public Relations Officer of Lagos Parks and Gardens, the body responsible for all recreational centres in the state, Mrs. Olufemi Tejumade, also echoed Akinshola’s view when Sunday Tribune spoke with her.
The National Secretary of the political party founded by Gani, the National Conscience Party, Comrade Yusuf Omuuya, Fashola initiative to honour the social crusader recalled the wife of the late icon led the opening rally of the park and it was on that day that the park was named Gani Fawehinmi Freedom Square, which according to him, had since turned out to be a symbolic ground for genuine agitation against oppressed Nigerians to express their feelings.
Sunday Tribune recalls that the Freedom Park statue was unveiled by Fashola exactly a year after Gani’s demise. The respected activist died on September 5, 2009 from cancer complications.
But MKO Abiola’s statue was unveiled 10 years after his death in the course of the struggles to actualise his presidential mandate. The businessman, publisher and politician ran for the presidency during the 1993 elections and was widely regarded as the winner, although the final results weren’t released.
In 1994, he was arrested and detained in prison on charges of treason after declaring himself as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He died on July 7, 1998, the day he was due to be released from prison. His death was trailed by suspicious circumstances, while an official autopsy stated that he died of heart attack.
His sculpture, made of bronze, displayed a smiling Abiola wearing a flowing agbada with his two hands raised.
The statue was first designed in 2003 before it was re-designed to the state it was, before the controversial pulling down.
Ambode’s administration has, however, revealed that the remodeling work on the statue which commenced late January 2017 is now at about 70 per cent completion, while that of Gani is also almost finished.