Friday, 4 May 2012

Rite of passage for artist, businessman, Archibong

By Tajudeen Sowole
(First published
Wednesday, January 20, 2010)
EVEN in death, Fred Okon Archibong was great. 

Archibong, the chairman and chief executive officer of BHS International, the concessionaires of Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), died November last year in Abuja. His remains were interred in Calabar, Cross River State last Friday. 
   
Born on July 1, 1959, his 50th birthday was celebrated with pomp and pageantry last July. About a month earlier, Federal Government honoured the renowned artist with the National Productivity Order of Merit Award. He died on November 28, 2009.

During the interment at Hawkins Cemetery Extension, Eyo Ita Axis, Calabar, the Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke extolled the virtue of Archibong as one of the most creative personalities bestowed on the country. the deceased's brother Bassey Archibong said.


The five-day burial programme kicked off in Lagos on Monday, January 11 at the TBS where a
Service of songs was held inside the multi purpose hall of the complex. Service of songs were also held in Warri by the old students of Federal Government College Warri; and in Abuja where he lived until his passing on.

Friends, business associates and tenants of TBS, and other sympathisers were present at the service of songs in Lagos, which was coordinated by Reverend Lawal, who urged participants to look up to death as a journey into eternity. "For good Christians, death is sweeter than living," he stressed. Lawal was also the same cleric who ministered at the wedding ceremony of Archibong and his wife, Victoria in 1999.

Guests at the service shared their memory of the artist:

Fred Archibong (left), wife, Victoria and daughter Seline during the late artist's 50th birthday celebration in Abuja
Archibong's legal adviser, Otunba Adenodi recalled that the artist had planned to continue the celebration of his 50th birthday in Lagos with an art exhibition and dinner inside the new multi purpose hall of the TBS. "Rather than celebrating his birthday here, we are having a service of songs for him, preparatory to his burial," Adenodi lamented. But he added, "God knows why he took him away from us."

Others commended what they described as Archibong's ruggedness and commitment.

Shortly after his death, a leading art patron, Mr. Sammy Olagbaju described Archibong as a focused artist. "Fred's strength was not just about talent; he was focus. He knew what he wanted and went for it, getting a lot of commission works."

Olagbaju recalled a visit he made to the artist's Victoria Island residence (before Archibong relocated to Abuja) and said he was amazed with the volume of studio assistants working with him on many of his commission works.
                                                  
Archibong attended Federal Government College, Warri. The artist always traced the beginning of his art career to his secondary school days. He would say: "being one of the best students in art at school shaped me for who I am today."         



One of the Archbong's works, Calabash Dome, design for the proposed TBS Shopping Mall
"He is responsible for about 75 per cent of the notable works of art in corporate Nigeria, conceptualised, created and consulted on a great number of artistic projects both in Nigeria, Africa and of recent, in Europe. He was the Art Consultant to the Presidency of Nigeria (SSA on Arts and Culture).
"The artist has exhibited in many countries around the globe among which are at the Sandton Convention Center, Sandton, South Africa; Cob Galleries in Atlanta, U.S.A.; BAT Center in Durban, South Africa; at the opening of the Akintola Williams, Deloitte & Touche's Complex in Lagos, Nigeria and at the Durban Hilton Hotel, Durban, South Africa."

At the twilight of President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo's administration, TBS was one of the Federal Government's assets leased out to private developers. On May 7, 2007, BHS International won the bid to manage the edifice for 30 years at lease cost of N9. 8bn. On taking over the management of the complex, BHS, at a press conference unveiled plans to redevelop the place into a city centre with tourism and culture as its main thrust. Adeyemi Ibironke of TBS Corporate Affairs Department said BHS would source for finance from both local and foreign investors to the tune of N48b for the proposed City Centre project.

The redevelopment, it was stated, would include the construction of 1000 additional shops, offices, two high capacity conference halls; art gallery, museums, cinema, theatre; multi-storey automated car park building, a 20-floor multi-purpose recreational complex with shopping malls similar to that of Sandon City, South Africa, a five-star
hotel with up to 500 rooms, and a block of 200 luxury flats.

  
Fred Archbong shortly after he was given a national award in 2009
Few weeks after Archibong died, Adenodi pledged the continuity of the projects. He said: "The only way to do justice to what Archibong fought for, is to continue his projects, at least all the projects he initiated when he was alive." Aside the city centre projection for TBS, sources from BHS disclosed that there were many other similar projects in other three states across the country, which he had embarked on in collabortaion with local and foreign investors.
                                      
Last October, one of the Managing Director of BHS, Mr. Martin Baines, during the presentation of the prototype of the various proposed structures of the new TBS explained, "we are projecting a 24-hour, seven days a week, 12 months influx of international visitors and about 20-25 million tourists within few years after completion."
                                                       
 
Investors, he envisaged, would be visiting TBS City Centre as they do to Dubai, Paris and Cape Town among other attractive destinations around the world.

Baines stated: "The proposed City Centre, will have regular art activities with the atmosphere of Hollywood, little Las Vegas etc, with artists and movie stars coming on a regular visits. With assorted restaurants, nightclubs, huge shopping arena of about 2,000 shops; the project stands to be the first modern world trade centre in Africa."

Archibong distinguished himself as a frontline advocate of arts and culture input into the nation's mainstream economy.

On the occasion of his 50th birthday, he said: "I want to let Nigerians know that no country in the world developed without their artists and creative minds. They create the concept; they are the creative vehicles that

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