Swim in its oriental ambience, enjoy its natural jewels, meet its wonderful people, and delve into the rich Igbo culture and history whenever–or wherever, you are in Eastern Nigeria. It’s been interesting few days here for me and I am still hungry for more. Today, I’m capping my trip with a feel of artistic grandeur. While there is a rich artistic ambience all over eastern Nigeria, I found Owerri more appealing for logistic and strategic reasons.
Logistically, Owerri is a perfect connecting point to virtually all the states in South-Eastern Nigeria (including some Niger-Delta cities like Port Harcourt) because you can travel by road from here to every other state capital in that region of the country under two hours. There is also an airport in the city for those coming from or going to farther destinations—who may even find it easier to stay in Owerri and connect other South East cities. These partly account for why the city has about the highest number of hotels in Nigeria, with an average of about 200 hotels within a walking distance in New Owerri alone.
Strategically, because of the easy influx of travellers to Owerri, the city has unwittingly opened up and borrowed a lot from far and near, creating in the process a richer artistic space and experience. Add these to its historical relevance as the last capital of the defunct Republic of Biafra and you’ll understand my (biased) reason for choosing Owerri as my destination for Eastern Nigerian Art.
I didn’t have to travel very far to find a perfect kick-off point. From my hotel, I drove only a few metres to get to Concorde Boulevard, a serene double-lane road where the Ojukwu Centre and the Heroes’ Square is located. I am here to meet the Special Adviser to the State Governor on Arts, culture and traditional medicine, Mr Paddy Obinna, who is an artist.
Mr Obinna has his way of making everyone he meets feel so comfortable with him like an old friend. I had barely greeted him when we started chit-chatting like old friends. Soon afterwards, he took me on a tour of the centre, beginning with his office which, in fact, is his personal art exhibition studio. While admiring the nice painting works in the studio, I asked Obinna what inspires him and he said “it’s nature”. “Nature is very inspiring. See the trees, the rivers and the wind. They have been here long before us. They understand the earth better than we do”.
Then he added that a bulk of his works were black and white paintings because both colours are natural. And what story does his work tell? “My works show you whatever you want to see”, he said. What a chiasmus!
Then he shows me a piece where an artist is depicted with a stencil stuck between his lips as he uses the lips to hold the stencil and paint. “What do you see,” he asks me, I was still trying to find an answer when he says, “This work tells me there is ability in disability”. On and on, Mr Obinna dazzles me with different works, from the ones showing greens dancing to the music of the wind, to those depicting scenes of Nigerian civil war and of leaders who betrayed the trust of their people.
We left the studio and began a tour of the artistic features of the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre starting with a long walk through the ‘Cave of Life’. When you are visiting, ensure you have enough power for your camera as you’ll lose the war against the temptation to take a few shots.
The cave is a massive artificial earthwork constructed like a set of stones arranged carefully on one another to create a cave look and feel. After taking the steps up, you’ll walk through the cave on a constructed walkway that is about 100metres long. As you walk, you’ll see the massive statue of various nationalists and leaders to your right, while green recreation area and playground for kids lie to your left.
After the long walk on the connecting bridge between the caves, we moved to the arena where the massive statues are. Here, I took some nice shots. The row of statue includes that of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Dr Kwame Nkurumah (Ghana), Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, Jacob Zuma (South Africa). Sir Tafawa Belewa, Olusegun Obasanjo, Alex Ekweme among others.
These statues had raised a national outcry when they were unveiled because of the financial implication of making them—some ‘experts’ estimated the cost of each statue at over five hundred million naira—at a time Nigeria was facing crunchy economic recession. The controversy notwithstanding, these edifices will easily pique the interest of art aficionados and many tourists who visit Owerri.
Food is as much an art as it is science, so I extended my experience of African Art in Owerri to the restaurants of Villa Garden Hotel where I tasted the city’s famous soup, Ofe Owerri, (soup indigenous to the people of Owerri).
The chef told me that Ofe Owerri is one of the most expensive Nigerian soups; it is made with assorted meat (beef), snails, dried fish and stockfish, uziza, pumpkin leaves (ugwu) and Cocoyam (ede), etc. For me, the soup is a perfect accompaniment for local delicacies like fufu, gari, semo, etc. and my taste bud really appreciated me for the nice treatment.
You don’t go to Owerri and miss the nightlife—that’ll be sacrilegious! And the real happening places are the nightclubs that dot New Owerri and World Bank areas. Despite my long day, I still managed to make it to one of the clubs.
At the entrance of the nightclub, I met cute ladies chatting away, while others were standing at specific spots like some revival was going on. Inside, the ooze of buzz and smoke was balanced with the nice smell of vanilla. I moved a little closer to a podium where people crowed, it was the strippers’ stand. I found my way to the bar, ordered some shots, then headed to the dance floor; ‘it’s gonna be a long night,’ I thought!
To book a tour of Imo State, contact Afro Tourism on +2348058825102 or search for a travel deal here on AfroDeals