Archibong: Posthumous challenge of continuity
By Tajudeen Sowole
DEATH may have cut short the life of veteran artist and acute businessman, Fred Okon Archibong, but his dream of using art to add value to the environment remains intact.
Archibong, the chairman and chief executive officer of BHS International, the concessionaires of Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), died on Saturday, November 28, 2009, in Abuja. Born on July 1, 1959, the artist celebrated his 50th birthday last July. About a month earlier, Federal Government honoured him with the National Productivity Order of Merit Award.
Legal adviser to BHS, Otunba Olu Adenodi, who responded to the issue of possible abandoning of infrastructural and other lofty projects initiated by Archibong assured that business partners of the artist remained loyal to the projects.
Towards the end of the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, TBS was one of the Federal Government assets leased out to private developers. BHS International won the bid to manage it on May 7, 2007 - for a 30-year lease of N9. 8bn. On taking over the management of the edifice after battling with several forces, BHS, at a press conference unveiled plans to redevelop the place into a city centre with tourism and culture as its focus. Adeyemi Ibironke of TBS Corporate Affairs Department said BHS would source for finance from both local and foreign investors to the tune of N48b for the proposed City Centre project. The redevelopment, it was stated, would include the construction of 1000 additional shops, offices, two high capacity conference halls; art gallery, museums, cinema, theatre; multi-storey automated car park building, a 20-floor multi-purpose recreational complex with shopping malls similar to that of Sandon City, South Africa, a five-star hotel with up to 500 rooms, and a block of 200 luxury flats.
Adenodi, "the only way to do justice to what Archibong fought for, is to continue his projects, at least all the projects he initiated when he was alive." Aside the city centre projection for TBS, sources from BHS disclosed that there were many other similar projects in about three states across the country, which he had embarked on with local and foreign investors before his death.
However, burial of the late artist is most likely to hold in the first quarter of next year. His brother, Bassey Archibong argued that there was no need to bury him in a hurry. He also explained that the cause of Archibong's death is not yet known "because we are still waiting for doctor's report."
And contrary to insinuation that pressure of financial burden of the TBS project led to his death, sources from BHS office argued that there were never any signs of such from his business partners. Banks partners of BHS, they stressed, have been having a healthy working relationship with him.
In response Bassey raised alarm that those who "were opposed to the re-development of TBS are behind the rumours that his brother died as a result of unfounded pressure. There were many directors involved as investors, so, Fred could not have been under the so called financial pressure"
Last October, one of the Managing Director of BHS, Mr. Martin Baines, during the presentation of the drawings of the various proposed structures of the redevelopment of TBS explained that "we are projecting a 24-hour, seven days a week, 12 months influx of international visitors and about 20-25 million tourists within few years after completion." Investors, he assured will be visiting TBS City Centre as they do to Dubai, Paris and Cape Town among other attractive destinations around the world.
Baines stated: "The proposed City Centre, will have regular art activities with the atmosphere of Hollywood, little Las Vegas etc, with artists and movie stars coming on a regular visit. With assorted restaurants, nightclubs, huge shopping arena of about 2,000 shops; the project stands to be the first modern world trade centre in Africa."
Archibong was a frontline advocate of art and cultural input into the nation's mainstream economy. During his 50th birthday, he said: "I want to let Nigerians know that no country in the world developed without their artists and creative minds. They create the concept; they are the creative vehicles that helped the growth of their countries".
He also warned that Nigeria's Vision 2020 would be a reality if only the nation's creative personalities will be allowed to play their roles. He urged the people to learn from the 15th century era of Europe.
"Leornado Da Vinci saw a riding horse and designed the first car. Other creative minds: the Wright Brothers, designed the first plane; Nostradamus, the man who saw tomorrow, a sculptor, predicted many events that had come to pass, same with the man who designed the first telephone. They were part of the reasons why their countries have developed."
No doubt, Archibong contributed immensely to the nation's art landscape in the 80s through 90s, doing quite a number of sculptures and paintings across the country as some of his several efforts aimed at using art to add value to the environment. Some of his works at public places are sculptures of currencies mounted in front of Nigeria Security, Minting and Printing building, Victoria Island, Lagos; a mixed media sculpture of metal, steel, concrete and fibre glass, measuring 100 feet at the entrance of Abuja, (FCT); fibre glass murals of beads and cast aluminum at the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN; embellishment at the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Abuja. Abroad, his works are at several of the nation's foreign offices such as in the US and Brazil among others.
From art, Archibong, in his over 20 years career delved into other areas of the economy. He died sitting atop other companies such as Minicomps, an automation outfit; Bepong, a tourism and culture company; B-Environment, an environmental and engineering services outfit.
With this, the late artist argued that he has proven a point that artists are no less important in contributing to the development of the country in whatever capacity they are called. He explained: "It is disturbing when people say that because you are an artist, you cannot be a success story in other areas of the economy. For example, a former governor was overheard saying 'how can an artist win TBS; ordinary artist, it's impossible. There must be somebody behind it.' I find this and similar attitude of the public towards artists very annoying. Some people are even saying I am fronting for somebody. I make bold to state that BHS International, a company I co-founded with my mother, solely sourced out the finance and worked out strategy for the bidding of TBS, of which BHS won in an open bidding widely televised live on TV."
The determination to rise above the ceiling was noticed very early in his career, he said, "when I was working directly with the then Managing Director of Nicon Hilton Hotel, Yinka Lijadu, on designing, construction and interior/exterior decors of the Hotel. My gallery, Fred Archibong Gallery was responsible for the production of artistic embellishment and the opening plaque of the hotel."
Abroad, he shared his thought on what he called a link between culture and diplomacy at the diplomatic level three years ago, when he used his art to explain what co-existence meant within the context of culture and development. The event was his solo art exhibition at the European Union Commission, Brussels, Belgium. Titled Peace and Cultural Development held at the La Galleria-Europaid Co-operation Office, Brussels, Belgium from May 29 to June 2006. Archibong shared his wealth of creativity in promoting peace with the audience.
And during the Commonwealth of Government Meeting, CHOGM 2003 Abuja, Fred Archibong Gallery, as it was learnt, provided about 52 original sculptural pieces used for the suites of the visiting Heads of States.