The ancient city of Calabar is known for its clean and green status with a serene environment that creates an ambiance of beauty for tourists and residents in the state.
The state capital, Calabar, has become a melting point of tourism over the years, due to its attractive sites embedded with historical and cultural monuments.
These monuments, erected in public spaces, has added colour and beauty to the city of Calabar.
Recently, the Cross River State Government through the Ministry of Environment, embarked on the restoration of the monuments with a view to give the monuments a facelift and sustain the beauty of the historical and iconic images for the future.
The state government thought it wise to call on Mr Anthony Akinbola who originally designed and built the monuments to come and do a restoration project of all the monuments.
Akinbola, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of Masta Piece Production Company Nigeria Limited, a company that has over the last three decades been a major player and a trail blazer in the beautification of public spaces in Nigeria with iconic monuments.
This remodelling project is the beginning of a new face in the restoration of the monuments in preparation for others.
Akinbola, who also designed the logo of the Nigeria Defence Academy, said that Calabar had historical monuments that represented humanity and history.
Akinbola, who is a painter and sculptor by profession and a full time studio artist, said Calabar as a town is one of the few historic cities that you cannot neglect when writing the story of Nigeria; having been a capital city of Nigeria.
Akinbola, a product of the prestigious Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, said it was a thing of joy to return back to the state years after, to restore the monuments.
The monuments that were remodeled include the Coat of Arms, the Mary Slessor statue, the Calabar-Calabar roundabout and the Monoliths and pots.
In 2006, Akinbola was commissioned by the Donald Duke administration to do the Nkarasi Monolith and Nsibidi pots. A composition of three Nkarasi Monoliths and three Nsibidi pots were placed in the roundabout leading into the city of Calabar in celebration of the people’s of Cross River State before the advent of the white man.
Akinbola had worked with the Cross River State Government in the design, building and creation and restoration of the monuments over the last 16 years.
The Monolith were believed to have been done in about 600AD and they happened to be archaeological discoveries that were found in Ikom local government area and the site have since become the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
“In 2007, we did the Calabar-Calabar monument; in 2010, we did the Coat of Arms monument, in 2011, we did the Destination Cross River monument while in 2013, we did the Mary Slessor statue.
“The Coat of Arms was unveiled on October 1, 2010 by former Governor Liyel Imoke to celebrate Nigeria’s 50 years Independence anniversary. The Coat of Arms is a national monument and Calabar is the only state with a 3 dimension Coat of Arms. It is a thing of pride for the state.
“The celebration in 2010 was a beautiful one, but 10 years after, Cross River remains the only state with the Coat of Arms, displaying the unity and strength of the country.
“The statement the Coat of Arms is making is that at one time, Calabar has been the capital of Nigeria. The Monument is erected about 400 metres away from the Old Residency, a building that was once the first State House of Nigeria, built in 1884 by the British Colonialist as their operational base and has now become a National Monument and a National Museum,” he said.
The Coat of Arms in Calabar is also situated close to the Old Residency Museum, the Nigerian Navy Ship Victory, the Cross River State House of Assembly and the U.J Esuene Sport Stadium.
Akinbola explained that the monuments inspires patriotism, unity and nationalism.
He said that the “Destination Cross River” monument was done to showcase the 20 metre revolving logo of the state at a time where Cross River was rebranded.
The Destination Cross River monument is strategically located at the Cross River City Gate.
“In 2013, we did the Mary Slessor statue in honour of the reforms of the Missionary who stopped the killing of twins in Africa,” he said.
The artists said that making monuments for public spaces must be with an intent to make a statement.
He added what ever statement that would be made must be relevant over time and must be tied to the history and culture of the people and must signify a major landmark.
“At the period of time when we where called to come and erect these monuments from 2006, the major trust of the Donald Duke administration then was tourism.
“The then administration of Donald Duke achieved a major feat in turning the state into a number one tourism destination in West Africa.
“The intention of the administration then was to be at the forefront of tourism in West Africa and so that bold drive ventured into doing things at an exceptionally high level and some of us where called in to be a part of that initiative.
“We sat down, looked at the culture, identity and uniqueness of the people before coming up with the designs. Most of these works have contributed greatly in telling the world who the people of Cross River State truly are in terms of exposure, civilisation and culture.
“The beauty about the Monoliths is that the carvers used natural shape of the stone as part of the carving. It takes someone who is creative and highly skilled to bring out the natural shapes of the stones to create a pattern,” he added.
Akinbola said that the philosphy behind the Monoliths and Nsibidi pots were to make a statement that the people were already civilised before the coming of the white men.
The Nsibidi is communicating with signs and symbols and it transcends to Northern Cameroon and beyond due to its sophisticated sign language, symbols and probably the first in Sun Saharan Africa.
The artist said that the Calabar-Calabar monument was done in 2007 when the Calabar Carnival had started building momentum.
He said that the monument was designed to celebrate the birth of the Carnival and to showcase Calabar as the home and host of the largest street party in Africa.
He added that the monument have been restored with beautiful colours, fushion and sparks to celebrate the carnival bands.
Akinbola defined the moments of coming back to Calabar to remodel the monuments years after as “Fantastic and exciting”, adding that the monuments needed a remodelling to keep them preserved for the future.
“Coming back to work on something we had done about 14 years ago means we have to add a couple of new things to reflect the beauty of the work.
“These images have given Calabar a unique identity and we must give serious attention to it. Cross River and Calabar in particular have blazed the trail in terms of beautifying public spaces with relevant monuments.
“This year by October 1, Nigeria will be celebrating her Diamond Jubilee, Calabar as an ancient city is in the process of erecting some new monuments in collaboration with Masta Piece Production Nigeria Limited,” he said.
Akinbola is also preparing for a solo art exhibition towards the last quarter of the year where some of the images will be showcased.
The Gov. Ben Ayade administration through the Commissioner for Environment, Mr Mfon Bassey is re-establishing a good relationship with the artist to sustain the historic monuments with a view to keep them as the number one tourism spot in Africa.
He however, called on the state government to also preserve the monuments for the historical knowledge of the future generations