US-based Nigerian scholar and Art History Professor, University of Texas in Austin, Prof Moyo Okediji, has had an encounter with the Nigeria Police over claims by some locals that he is building an occult house, Àkòdì Òrìsà, at Oke Akintade in Ile Ife, Osun State.
Interestingly, Akodi Orisa is a centre for Gown-Town Project, which Okediji began at Ile Ife as a project of the University of African Art. The project conceptualised the city as an intellectual, research and educational metropolis, with the support of the Ooni of Ile Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II, who also is the Grand Patron of the university. It holds and embodies the sacred, secular, spiritual, aesthetic, philosophical and ecumenical aspects of the Gown-Town experience. Below are Prof Okediji’s account of his arrest and interrogation by the police.
I was arrested by the Nigeria Police on July 5, 2018. To be fair to them, they were angry with my new building, the Àkòdì Òrìsà, in Ile Ife. The police landed in trucks, arms, uniforms, and plain clothes to storm the construction site. There were about 10 workers at the site when the police came. The previous day when the police arrived, the workers fled into the surrounding bushes, abandoning their tools, unused building materials, and the entire construction area.
“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.
But, this time, the workers did not flee. Sticking to their plan, they carried their union identity cards with which they could identify themselves if required. Yet, they were all scared of the police presence.
The chief builder, Baba Ila, stepped forward. A short, thin man in his late 60s, he said: ‘I am in charge of the project. Everybody here works under me.’
The police officer scowled hard and down at Baba Ila. ‘Is this your house?’ he asked Baba Ila.
“No, I work as the head of the bricklayers here. I am a mason.”
“Who hired you for this work?”
“A doctor from the university and a Professor from the United States.”
“What are you building here?”
“We are constructing a unique building, but I do not know its purpose. I have to build whatever the draughtsman drew.”
“Do you have the numbers of those who hired you?”
“I have the number of one of them, the doctor. But, not the number of the Prof from the United States.”
“What is the name of the doctor?”
“And the name of the Prof from America? You don’t have his number?”
“Professor Moyo. No, I don’t have his number.”
“Fine. 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 out.”
The doctor is Seyi Ogunjobi, an artist-in-residence at the Obafemi Awolowo University’s Center for Cultural Studies. He has been assisting me to build the Àkòdì Òrìsà. At the exact time, the police were storming the construction site of the Àkòdì Òrìsà, Ogunjobi, a Leeds doctorate in creative arts, was moderating a discussion in the lecture theatre of the Center for Cultural Studies, at the Obafemi Awolowo University campus. Part of the seminar series at the center where Ogunjobi works, his duties include hosting the seminar series, at which invited guests present on a regular basis. Yesterday, Ogunjobi was moderating a seminar that I gave, titled: “Invisible Canvas: Painting as Performance in Ile Ife.” The small seminar room was packed to capacity, and I was enjoying the talk that I was giving when Ogunjobi’s phone rang. I was distracted and irritated, but Ogunjobi ran out of the room to take the call. I continued to give the talk.
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