Ben Enwonwu Annual Lecture

Donald Duke on art, barbarians, and tourism

By Akintayo Abodunrin, December 5, 2010 12:34AM

Though a lawyer, Donald Duke might have missed his real calling. The former governor of Cross River State blessed with the gift of the garb, had the audience hanging on his words for the over one hour as he spoke at the 7th Ben Enwonwu annual lecture on Tuesday, November 23.

Duke, guest lecturer at the event held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos, dazzled the guests with his story telling skills in discussing the theme, ‘The Role of Art and Tourism in National Development’.

A matter of necessity

He began with a caveat that his presentation was not going to be a formal lecture, but “sharing of experience, of the way I see art”, and expressed hope “that it would suffice.” It indeed sufficed, judging from the reaction and lively discussion that attended his unique delivery. Duke conveyed his ideas on how tourism and art can contribute to national development with hitherto untold stories of events that transpired during his administration.

Calabar, the state capital, has now become a popular destination for Nigerian and foreign tourists, but not many people know how the state attained that status. This was one of the first secrets Duke revealed, after reiterating the timelessness of art and the place of tourism in the human life. The former governor, who highlighted types of tourism, including health, financial, sports, recreational, and eco tourism, disclosed that necessity and the ‘politics of oil’ made his administration embrace tourism.

After Cross River, which he described as “one of the best pieces of real estate anywhere in the world” lost its oil revenue, he decided to make the state a tourist hub where her rich neighbours will spend their oil money.

Duke told of how the relationship dynamics between him and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah, changed when Cross River lost all its oil wells and the Bakassi peninsula. He also related the distinction between the core and peripheral Niger Delta states, and how Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State, and himself were subtly sidetracked because their states have little oil. Duke recalled the genesis of the onshore/offshore dichotomy and the long-drawn resource control legal battle and their effects on Cross River.

He disclosed the idea behind the introduction of the now popular Calabar Carnival, Tinapa, and the Obudu Cattle Ranch, conceived to promote tourism in the state. The former governor also offered insights into Charles Taylor’s sojourn in the state, and how the US tried to arm-twist Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president, into handing him over for trial at the United Nations.

Prerequisites for tourism

“Look at Chief Opral Benson; she’s listening with rapt attention,” Duke noted with a smile at a point in his narration, adding that storytelling is also part of tourism.

He further underscored the importance of art and tourism by disclosing that he visited Tunisia recently to see the ruins of Carthage. Noting the money the country makes from tourism, Duke said there are some prerequisites for tourism to thrive in any country.

“For tourism to thrive, you must have the infrastructures to support it. There must be good healthcare delivery ... You must have law and order. You can’t have tourism in a society where law and order do not exist; it is more than having the police. It includes a judicial system that will administer justice fairly and equitably... Whether it’s an industry or commerce, we have to create a network that will eventually put feet to the ground. And tourism, perhaps, plays the number one role in that. It’s the biggest earner in the world today. Far more than oil, far more than any other industry that exists... There is absolutely no other industry that touches as many people as that of culture.”

A way of life

Duke said he was pleased to note that the Enwonwu family was not selling off the works of the iconic artist, “because they will refer to a part of our history.” Cheekily, he suggested that Enwonwu’s Sango sculpture, in front of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria office on the Marina, Lagos Island, should be moved elsewhere “because there is no power going on there.”

Duke’s exit line was as interesting as the “If in the course of etching a living, we fail to create beauty around us, then the barbarian has already won,” he started the lecture with.

Art, he noted, “is not just carvings and paintings, but its mannerisms and a culture. Art is a way of life; it’s so intrinsic; it embellishes the stability of a people. A people without art, a people without that intrinsic quality can best be described as barbaric.”

Earlier, chair, Ben Enwonwu Foundation, Aina Oni-Okpaku, represented by Olasehinde Odimayo, had justified the series.

“The distinguished Ben Enwonwu Lecture Series has not only become a major forum for healthy debate on key issues and development in contemporary African art, but a major gathering for the rich diversity of the contemporary Nigerian society, male and female, professionals and students.”

Finest art icon

Chair of the occasion, David Aradeon, had also lauded the late Enwonwu, who was honoured by the Queen of England with the Member of British Empire (MBE) award, for his brilliance. He noted that family and associates had always converged since 2004 to celebrate the “times and life of Enwonwu, one of our finest art icons, because his works and ideas continue to inspire us in many ways.”

The retired professor of Architecture also touched on the importance of tourism and the conditions for it to thrive.

Winners of the 2010 Ben Enwonwu Foundation Young Artist Award - Animasaun Sesan, Bankole Olabode, and Adetola Victor, who came first, second, and third respectively in the competition, were given their prizes at the lecture.

Enwonwu’s widow, Caroline, artists, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Uche Okeke, Kolado Oshinowo, collectors, Sammie Olagbaju, Yemisi Shyllon, and Dotun Sulaiman, were among those at the occasion. Others were Joop Berkhout, Sandra Obiago, and Erelu Abiola Dosunmu.

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