By Maimunat Mohammad
One of the popular sites in Ahmadu Bello University Zaria is the sculpture garden, a unique space that houses and showcases the artistic talents of the students with over a thousand of captivating and detailed sculptures each speaking to the intuition of man. A place that unveils the talent and hardwork of the students.
The sculpture garden is not just a creative environment but a haven of artistic inspiration and expression. It stands as a poignant documentation of Nigeria’s rich history and current state of affairs. Among the captivating sculptures are depictions of esteemed figures who have played crucial roles in shaping the nation, such as Gen.Muritala Mohammed, Sir. Alvan Ikuku, Sir.Tafawa Balewa, Sir. Ahmadu Bello, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Mamma Vasta, Woke Soyinka, Olusegun Obasanjo, Okonkwo Iweala, and numerous others. This space in ABU Zaria celebrates those who have left a positive impact on Nigeria, offering them a deserving place of honor.
Remarkably, some of these sculptures have withstood the test of time, dating back to the 1980s. Moreover, the garden serves as a vital historical record of significant events that have shaped the country, ranging from the harrowing era of slave trade to moments of national pride like the Olympics, as well as times of turmoil such as insurgency and war. The garden also addresses critical societal issues like agriculture, commerce, child abuse, poverty, mental awareness, child labor and many others.
The most pressing concern that stands out is the depiction of the Almajiri issue, which has become a cancerous tumor in present-day Nigeria. By addressing this matter through the powerful medium of art, the sculpture garden serves as a poignant reminder of the pressing social challenges that demand urgent attention and resolution.
However, it is disheartening to note that a place of such cultural, creative and historical significance does not receive the proper care, attention, security and recognition it rightly deserves. This negligence has allowed miscreants to exploit the garden, stealing metals from the sculptures and littering the area with nylons, cigarette butts, and other refuse. The serene ambiance, intended to complement the beauty of the sculptures, is now shattered by the loud chatter and rowdy behavior of these unwelcome guests. Even though the school security men are often posted to the site, some smokers have made the garden their safe haven shrouding the artistic marvels in a haze of smoke. The stench of cigarettes now taints the air, assaulting the senses of those who dare to visit this once-sacred space. The sculptures, meant to invoke emotion and thought, now stand as silent witnesses to the abuse they endure.
Contrast this with renowned sculpture gardens in other parts of the world, where people flock to witness and admire art in its natural glory. These well-maintained gardens are treated with respect, and visitors are educated on the significance of each sculpture. Instead of theft and vandalism, these places thrive through financial support from visitors, who willingly pay admission fees to experience the beauty they offer. What can be done?
First and foremost, it is important for the school management to recognize the immense potential of the sculpture garden as a revenue-generating asset and take immediate steps to protect and preserve it for future generations. They must also be ready to allocate resources to ensure regular maintenance and preservation of the sculptures.
Secondly, the school should introduce admission fees for visitors, especially tourists, would provide a steady stream of income to support the garden’s upkeep. To encourage responsible tourism, guided tours and educational programs can be organized to enrich visitors’ experiences and create awareness about the significance of the sculptures while collaboration with local artists and cultural organizations can also bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the garden’s development.
There is need for online promotion. The school can create an online platforms or social media pages dedicated to this garden to reach a wider audience, telling the stories of these sculptures to attract tourists and art enthusiast from different part of the world to want to see, partner and even sponsor to ensure the garden’s long-term sustainability.
Moreso, the involvement of the local community is crucial. By engaging residents through art exhibitions, workshops, and events, the garden can foster a sense of ownership and pride among the people, leading to increased support and protection against vandalism and littering.
Conclusively, ABU Zaria’s sculpture garden stands as a vital testament to Nigeria’s history, offering a visual narrative of its past and present.
It is a hidden gem that, if properly nurtured and promoted, can become a symbol of cultural pride and a major economic asset for the university and the surrounding community. Learning from successful examples in other countries, the transformation of the garden into a well-maintained, culturally rich, and revenue-generating tourist center is within reach. It is time to unlock its full potential and make it a source of inspiration and enjoyment for generations to come.