How Oba Akenzua centre went from a home of cultural relics, to a dirty motor park

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It is not difficult to come to the knowledge of why Edo state is fondly referred to as the ‘heartbeat of the nation’.

It is because, among other reasons to be highlighted below, the state is actively involved in virtually every sector of the federation’s economy.

Added to the reality that Edo state is replete with a rich cultural heritage, becoming people, and fertile land for agriculture, the state is also popular for arts.

In Benin,  it is not uncommon to encounter such nuanced crafts as pottery, basket-making, cane furniture, cloth-weaving, mat-making and gold and silver casting, sculpting, and fabrication of ornamental adornments. Art thrives in Edo State with quality and standard, as exemplified in drama and dance of such immense skill worthy of competing favorably with others in the world.

One of the major art centres in Benin City, the state’s capital, is Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre, named after the great Benin monarch Late Oba Akenzua II, who was Oba of Benin from 1933 to 1978. One interesting fact about the cultural centre, which, sadly, now serves as a motor park and market, is that despite being commissioned in 1972, it was not until over another two decades that it was completed.

From what is known, this centre, a fine architectural masterpiece with beautiful murals comprising motifs of Edo tradition, used to be the hub of cultural activities in the state.

Complemented by Urhokpota hall, both theatres have hosted performances, symposia and exhibitions. A cursory research of images detailing the architectural magnificence of Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre in the 90s would sadden the heart to for those days are long gone.

The present day Oba Akenzua cultural centre is not conforming to land use. It has now been turned to a ‘temporary’ motor park and market.

Always very rowdy and dirty, the buildings, which held symposia are now abandoned or turned to convenience rooms by the traders there. 

One wonders what happened to all the art works in there. Edo Government in those days did not only maintain art to get revenue; they also appreciated them.

The people’s bond with the ancestors, forged in art, lies, deserving of pity.

The government may have done a tragic disservice to the people in assuming they are helping them by creating motor parks and market, but to the detriment of art. More so, passengers complain of the long distance they have to walk to get buses, the traders complain about the fact that they haven’t been making sales since they moved there, and the government is also losing a lot of money from arts because the centre could have been a viable tourist attraction.

In all these, the Obaseki-led administration must be commended for genuinely focusing on rebuilding the state’s economy. Yet this development drive must be rounded, and it would be much appreciated if the government gave a lucid account of his policy for reviving art much in the same way he did for education.

Report by Adamson Falilat

Aba Festival, Igara

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