General — 04 January 2008 — by Aaron Humes
For five years, Nigerian-born Stephen Okeke’s voice cried in the wilderness, imploring support from the Belizean people for his ambitious project – a bust of Belizean patriot and statesman, the late Hon. Philip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson (1923-2001).
Unveiled on New Years’ Eve, it had provoked mass indifference from the populace, many of whom are perhaps too young to remember Goldson, and considerable indignation from the Belize City Council and the United Democratic Party over evident ignorance of “protocol”.
But thanks to the efforts of UDP Mesopotamia area representative, Hon. Michael Finnegan, and Mayor Zenaida Moya on Wednesday, the controversial bust will rest at the Pallotti Roundabout at the junction of Freetown Road and Princess Margaret Drive, after it finishes its exhibition at Market Square on Saturday.
Unfortunately, the usual dose of political interference may have tarnished this tribute to the legacy of so great a statesman.
Okeke, who had previously completed a similar bust of National Hero, Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price, with assistance from the ruling People’s United Party, encountered much greater difficulty with this particular bust.
Perhaps that was to be expected, given Goldson’s awkward status in both major parties. He parted from the PUP in 1956 due to internal differences and formed the Honduran Independence Party, which absorbed the National Party in 1958 to form the National Independence Party, one-third of the current United Democratic Party. His 1965 election victory in Albert sparked an unbeaten run of service until 1998, but even two Ministerial positions could not dim the disappointment of twice being passed over for leadership positions in the UDP and nearly having his reputation sullied in the infamous Immigration scandal of 1995. Previous to that he had stepped away to form the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR) in 1991 after failing to get the ear of his party’s leaders over the Maritime Areas Act.
A frightened Okeke had told Amandala yesterday that the furor over the bust might have necessitated its removal from Market Square by the weekend after reported arm-twisting and name-calling by elements in the Opposition UDP.
This followed calls Okeke made to the morning shows at LOVE FM, Positive Vibes Radio and our own KREM WUB Morning Vibes on Wednesday morning, in which he disputed claims by the City Council that he refused to pay $1,250 in rent fees for the 10 days in which the bust would be exhibited.
According to Okeke, he made an application to the City Traffic Manager on Friday, December 28. They visited his chosen site and got approval from the management of Augusto Quan Ltd., owners of the area. The Traffic Manager also gave his approval.
On Saturday, however, the Traffic Manager twice visited Okeke’s workers, asking them to remove the bust because it had not been approved as yet by Mayor Zenaida Moya. The workers, in turn, called Okeke, who suggested the Mayor get in touch with him.
Sunday, December 30, saw the Mayor giving the requested approval, citing Goldson as her personal hero and saying she would assist in placing the bust prominently at the conclusion of the original exhibition.
But by 10:00 a.m. of unveiling day, Monday, December 31, one Mr. Thompson of the Revenue Office and CitCo public relations officer, Kenny Morgan, called on Okeke to make payment for use of the area for $1,250, an average of about $125 per day. Morgan personally visited the event and repeated this to the media assembled there.
But Okeke told us Wednesday it was his understanding the Mayor would be willing to waive the fee pending an application, which she had originally done before the behind-the scenes-intrigue, and which she eventually did at the behest of Finnegan. What concerned Okeke is why the Council would even bother to make trouble over the bust, given that Goldson was a prominent figure in the UDP from its establishment in 1973. He argued to us today that the waiving of the fee was the least the Council could do in salute to a man famous for his patriotism.
According to Okeke, he had asked for assistance from all quarters, including the UDP Opposition, without much success. The pressure, he claims, forced him underground and he completed the bust with his own funds, to the detriment of his galleries on Albert and North Front Streets. This week’s Guardian disputes that claim. Its page 3 story claimed, “No doubt, NICH money paid to have the bust completed”, and that neither they nor WAVE Radio were invited to cover the event.
The NICH (National Institute of Culture and History) comment may refer to its president, Yasser Musa, Prime Minister Said Musa’s son, being present and speaking at the event, fueling suggestions of PUP skullduggery.
Our attempts to get in contact with the Belize City Council and/or the UDP office to confirm Okeke’s statements were unsuccessful.
Plans for future Okeke busts of Isaiah Morter, Antonio Soberanis and Beverly Smith-Lopez, among others, have been put on hold.
Toward the end of the week, the parties sparred in their weeklies over the events of Monday and Wednesday. Queen Street railed in this week’s Belize Times that the UDP had “scorned” Philip Goldson, while BelChina complained in the Guardian that Okeke had allowed himself to be used by the PUP for “political games” and “move (d) the discussion …(to) false perceptions of the UDP carefully crafted by the PUP.”
Certain individuals have also claimed the sculpture does not fit their impression of Philip Goldson. The Guardian coyly sidestepped the issue, but Okeke told us he worked primarily with pictures and descriptions of the late statesman.
However, none of the political football diminishes the significance of the achievement, and Amandala salutes the proficient Okeke.