“I Worry About Our Waters If Nigeria Becomes A Manufacturing Nation Without …”

Artist Unoma Numero

The painting on Global Warming/Global Warming, moving buses (molue) and cars on the Lagos Mainland Bridge does it represent your thoughts about both phenomena of climate change and environmental sustainability?

I am very worried, because you only have to be in Lagos for a week or two, and you know how polluted the air is there. At the opposite end, the north frontiers, Zamfara and Katsina States, you see encroaching desert. I wonder if tomorrow, we had 100 per cent electricity production and distribution, if we stopped having power cuts (power outages), if we become a manufacturing nation, I will be happy for our economy in that regard. At the same time, if we suddenly stop having power cuts, I will be extremely worried about our rivers, because manufacturing comes with wastes, and we are not very good at legislation and regulation. We simply want to make money. So, if tomorrow I can go make a 100 day, whatever they may be; Cups. Pills. I will manufacture them, and dump the wastes wherever I can, because I know nobody can arrest or hold me responsible for doing that (improper disposal of manufacturing wastes).

You believe people often dump their wastes in the rivers and waterways, in Nigeria?

Yes. It happens everywhere in the world, not just Nigeria. Another thing Nigerians are quite good at doing, which is very unhealthy is that, we are not good at looking to things that happen outside our environment, to learn from it. We always have to undergo the punishing lesson that we could have learnt by studying other countries’ or peoples experience. We could simply have learnt what happened in those places, actions they took to mitigate the effect, before we apply those remedial to our environment.

What is the way forward to that?

Only one thing, that is a critical mass of consciousness. That means we need to raise awareness, catch our people young. We let them know that the non-biodegradable wastes they dispose lackadaisically, such as pure water satchet, nylon bags etc. do not decompose even in the next 100 years. If we make them aware of how toxic their small habits are to the environment, which is their environment, and the environment they will leave for their children, we can make progress.

With the government introducing the concept of the great green wall, and a few green organizations popping up here and there, do you think we are progressing the right manner, because it appears as if all actions in sustaining the environment is targeted at a particular class of the Nigerian society, while the main class that really needs that environmental sustainability lifestyle are left out?

I will answer this question indirectly. I won’t take you as far as India, Brasil or Bangladesh. Let’s just take a look at Rwanda, a country in Africa. The Rwadan government has banned plastic bags. If anyone goes to Rwanda, their plastic bags are confiscated right at the airport. The day plastic bags are banned in Nigeria, that’s the day we are going to start make progressing, because that is when those profiting from that plastic business will feel uncomfortable and react (will make noise). Remember, for whatever regulation put in place, they will always be initial resistance. People resisting change is natural, that is why we have change managers, whose job it is to manage resistance to changes. The day that the existence of plastic bags is banned, that’s the day I know that we are ready to make change.


You also looked at the consumerist nature of the Nigeria. Nigerians are determined becoming more and more dependent on imported products and services rather than manufacturing. Tell us about that aspect in your works?

All nations are consumers. Our problem in Nigeria, is that we simply consume and don’t manufacture. We need to manufacture more. Bu I also fear the day we become producers, if we don’t have strong regulations and policies in place.

Some people say we have all the policies and regulations in place but we are just bad at implementing them.

Yes, that’s true. But it is just a matter of political will. Other countries that have achieved such feats are filled with normal people. None have peoples two heads. It is all about political will and political will comes from social political will, and not about politicians or other what have nots. We have to learn to educate and admonish one another on the disadvantages of casual dispose of wastes and refuse. Once we learn to say to one another, “Why drop that there, when there is a waste bin over there,” people will become more conscious. I mean people around my residence know me for that.

Your exhibition successfully engaged your audience because they touched on subjects and themes they comprehend. Do you think our artists should do more of such socio-political artworks, and engage their viewers’ intellect rather than just commissioned works and beautiful and/or abstract paintings that a greater part of their audience do not understand?

I am not in a position to tell anybody what to do. However, I will really like to see more meaningful art in Nigeria. I understand how difficult it is to make meaningful art, because the buyers are buying pretty and decorative art. However, we are in a phase of the eruption of the new, if only for the strongest demographics of Nigerians we have today – the young generation. I will like more of our artists put out in the world, more conversational art pieces than just beautiful pieces, where is a meaning in there, a there is a riddle.

What do you want viewers to take away from the exhibition?

I want them to have a laugh, and then an A-ha moment. I want them to take away the serious message raised, that’s packaged within the exhibition. It is good to have a laugh and also take away the message therein.

Is that a way of conceding that Nigerians need to become more introspect rather than taking things at the surface level where they are always very unserious?

Yes. we have been so blessed with resources, uncountable sunlight hours within the year, and huge amounts rainfall at other parts of the country. We need to be more introspective, because what Nigerians do best is create waste, with time, money, resources and lives.

What do we expect from you after this? Any new project in the works?

La Nigritude series is one that will continue to add to, and to build upon. It almost has no end. However, I am going to start a new series called Stamp of Approval. People don’t use stamps anymore. They text with their phones. Stamp is used to send out hand written letters. So, It is almost a nostalgic piece, and will feature the two late environmentalists, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his son Saro Wiwa Junior. It is almost a way of stamping approval on the real heroes of Nigeria. It is very important to me because I see so many names on our streets that don’t should be there. I would like to take a very subjective view of who our true heroes are. If you invite people to nominate someone that I find interesting, I will do a stamp of that person.

Do you plan on using the social media to get people to nominate those to wear the Stamp of Approval?

Yes, they can go to arnuvo on facebook to nominate.