Aina Onabolu became Nigeria’s first art teacher in 1922, 37 years later Ben Enwonwu made a statue of HM Queen Elizabeth

Chief Aina Onabolu was appointed as the first art teacher in any Nigerian school in 1922. Following his appointment, he developed the structure of art education in secondary schools and teacher training colleges in the country.

Thirty-seven years later, one of Nigeria’s most famous artist and sculptor, Prof Ben Enwonwu, had completed work on the statue of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the last British Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson and other dignitaries were on hand to unveil the masterpiece. Just outside the Parliament building in Lagos. Had things gone according to Prime Minister Balewa’s statement at the unveiling, the statue would have been moved to the proposed Parliament building that was planned for somewhere in Victoria Island, Lagos.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Balewa was killed in the January 15, 1966 coup that brought his government to an end. Military rule replaced the parliamentary system of government which Nigeria operated at the time. And plan for a Parliament building in Victoria Island evaporated into thin air, mixing with the Harmattan haze that blew so fiercely across Nigeria that January morning.

But the fact of the historical importance of the statue cannot be ignored. For Prime Minister Balewa spoke for all Nigerians when he declared thus “… I am deeply conscious of the international reputation, which Mr Enwonwu has won for himself by this inspired work.”

The production of the statue had started with a request from Prof Enwonwu to Alan-Lennox Boyd, Secretary of State for the colonies, to commemorate the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to Nigeria in 1956.

In the course of the project, Her Majesty sat a total of twelve times for the famed genius to work his magic!

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