Explaining the rationale behind building the house, named Àkòdì Òrìṣà, Okediji said there was nothing to worry about…
• Residents fear art teacher’s house is diabolical
Residents of Oke Akintade community in Ile-Ife, Osun State, suddenly woke up one morning to see what they described as a “strange house” erected by Moyo Okediji, a professor of Art History, University of Texas, United States.
A sort of uneasiness had gripped them, and their vigilance was very high as a result of the prevalent security challenges in different parts of the country.
Explaining the rationale behind building the house, named Àkòdì Òrìṣà, Okediji said there was nothing to worry about and described their apprehension as a case of crying wolf where there is none. He said he had simply built the house as a project of the University of African Art to serve as a studio for the artists in the residency programme of the University of African Art.
“There is a connection between the architecture and the function of the house with a different design. The Àkòdì Òrìṣà, will not serve the same purpose it is beginning to accomplish today. It presents an opportunity to make a statement about the endless possibilities that creative activities present to an artist,” he said.
But residents of the community, in their bewilderment, went straight to the police station to complain against the building and its owner. They suspected that the owner might have built the house with ulterior motives in mind. The indigenes had thought it was a normal building but became concerned when it stood completed with a spooky-looking exterior.
The house was not of the regular building finishing with a smooth, plaster wall. From the surface of the structure, various sizes of earthen pots, receptacles and mud figures stuck out. The people got spooked and immediately alerted the police to help in unraveling the ‘mystery’ behind the house.
It was learnt that the community folk had informed their leader who told the police that an idol house had been built in their neighbourhood and they did not want it, given the Internet fraudsters (Yahoo boys or Yahoo-plus) trend in Nigeria. They complained that the trend has taken the dimension of ritual killings, especially in the case of unscrupulous youngsters. According to Okediji, the police arrived
the construction site in trucks, armed to the teeth, to arrest the controversial homeowner.
“I was arrested by the Nigerian Police on July 5, 2018. To be fair to them, they were angry with my new building, the Àkòdì Òrìṣà, in Ile-Ife. The police stormed the construction site in trucks, arms, uniforms, and plain clothes. There were about 10 workers on the site when they came.
“’Who is the owner of the house?’ one of the plain-clothed officers barked at the cowering plumbing workers, the master bricklayers, carpenters and labourers at various positions around the building.
“They carried their union identity cards with which they could identify themselves if required. Yet they were all scared of the police. The head of the builders, Baba Ila, stepped forward to say he was in charge of the project.
“The police officer scowled hard and down at Baba Ila. ‘Is this your house? Who hired you for this work?’
“’It is a doctor from the university and a professor from the United States. We are constructing a unique building, but I do not know its purpose. I have to build whatever the draughtsman drew.’
“’We will take you away to the police station,’ said the officer to Baba Ila, ‘and you can call the doctor to come and bail you,’” said Okediji
Okediji who had employed the help of Dr. Seyi Ogunjobi, an artist in residence at the Obafemi Awolowo University’s Centre for Cultural Studies and Leeds doctorate in creative arts to build the Àkòdì Òrìṣà, was at a lecture at the Centre for Cultural Studies, OAU campus for a seminar series where Ogunjobi worked.
“Ogunjobi was moderating when his phone rang. I was distracted and irritated, but Ogunjobi ran out of the room to take the call. Moments later, Ogunjobi returned to the auditorium, still clasping the phone to his ears, and made straight to the podium where I was speaking. He looked worried. I stopped talking as he spoke into my ears: ‘The police have arrested Baba Ila. He is calling at the police station.’ I carefully placed the loudspeaker on the podium and whispered to Ogujobi’s ears, ‘end the call. Tell him we will come to get him after this event.’
“The scope of the lecture grew substantially as I introduced the breaking news concerning the police raid and arrest at the building site and the detention of the head worker at the police station. The only condition for his bail was my presence at the police station.
“At the conclusion of the lecture, an entire roomful of listeners stood ready to go with me to the police station to answer the invitation from the state authorities.
“’People have come to lodge a complaint that you are building an occult house,’ the police officer informed me. ‘What do you have to say about this?’
“The police released the head mason immediately I arrived with a crew, including a lawyer.
“I told the story behind the emergence of Akodi Orisa, the divine abode. The project has conceptualised the entire city as an intellectual, research and educational metropolis, with the support of the His Imperial Majesty, the Ooni Ogunwusi Ojaja II, the king of Ile-Ife, also the grand patron of the university.”
Called the Akodi Orisa, the building holds and embodies the sacred, secular, spiritual, aesthetic, philosophical and ecumenical aspects of the Gown Town experience.
The building will serve as a studio for the artists in the residency programme of the University of African Art. It will function as a meditation space to release toxic physical and emotional tension, as part of the healing of the individual within the community.
According to Okedeji, “the spokesperson for those who brought accusations against me stood up and began his long and winding speech with an apology that he and his people were concerned about security when they heard that an orisa house was being constructed in their neighborhood. He was relieved, he said, to learn that his fears were unfounded.
“Second, he blamed me for causing the whole misunderstanding by not coming straight to the community to explain what I was about to do, even before I started doing it. Had I done this, he said, we would not be in such a difficult situation. The members of his community had run to him as the chairman of the community to complain about the building. He saw no reason to wait before running to the police.
“I reminded the chairman that there was no community present at the spot where the Akodi Orisa stands. The nearest household was more than half a mile down the hill on top of which Akodi Orisa peaks. Under construction are a couple of buildings near Akodi Orisa, and the owners of those buildings are in excellent relations with me. Their builders come to my well to draw water for their construction.
“My lawyer cautioned that two matters were being confused. The first is legal and the second moral. The first matter of litigation concern, he argued, was whether I, his client, had a right to erect this building. Though my building appears to be about orisa indigenous traditions, it was my right, he claimed, to construct a place of worship dedicated to my belief.
“He noted that the chairman of the community and his people were wrong to try and deny me the right to erect the building because it does not seem to serve Christian or Islamic values. The complaints arose, the lawyer claimed, because they tried to stop a project that appears to support indigenous African spiritual values and entities.
“The second moral matter was a distortion of the first matter of legality. That his client did not choose to publicise the project in the community before starting to build was merely a matter of social morality and choice. The complainants clearly would have preferred otherwise. But his client was not morally bound to respect the complainants’ desire for notification before commencement of construction.
“’The police Area Commander is interested in the case,’ a police officer with a cell phone said. ‘He just called to say that he is in office and wants to see all of you in his office.’
“He wanted me to introduce myself. He said he had seen the pictures and videos, and in his own opinion, the building reminded him of the time when he was a child growing up in the village, and adobe houses were everywhere. He did not see anything diabolic in the architecture, but he also understood that some people complained and wanted a clear explanation about the functions of the building. He just wanted me to leave a statement to explain that the architecture was nothing for people to be afraid of and I was free to go.”