Professor Victor Uwaifo is a multi-instrument, inventor and lecturer Architectural Sculpture and Applied Arts, University of Benin. He was also a Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Edo State. He told FLORA ONWUDIWE in this interview how he feels after recently celebrating his 80th birthday and his legacy. Excerpts…
Congratulations Prof. on joining the octogenarian club?
Yes, I have proudly joined the octogenarian club.
Looking at the video celebration of your birthday at the residence of Chief Dan Orbih, it would seem that you are not 80 but in your 60s…
“Res ipa facto loquito” The fact speaks for itself. The picture you saw with me and Chief Dan Orbih in his house was when he hosted me in his mansion to honour me on the occasion of my 80th birthday. The celebration was real and not doctored. If you say that I look 60 or 20 years younger, you are right because, “Mensana in corpora sano” in other words, “A sound mind in a sound body.”
What regular exercises do you do to look young and good looking?
Body building, which I have been doing consistently for over 60 years and still counting, mental, physical and spiritual exercises. I meditate frequently and commune with His universal mind, God, that created all things, seen and unseen. My life style is anchored on moderation, I have never smoked in my life, I don’t drink, I don’t take hard drugs, a glass of red wine is not bad, but music intoxicates me.
It is believed that when age is not on one’s side, it affects sexual performance, do you agree with this thinking?
Those who make this argument are not right. How come Abraham was able to make a baby with Sarah at old age of 90? Secondly, if you water flower, it will blossom, if you neglect it, definitely it will wither. If you buy a new car and misuse it as if there is no tomorrow, the engine will knock. If you fix the engine, it becomes second hand and cannot perform as a brand new one. Life is what you put into it, garbage in, garbage out, “You can’t reap where you don’t sow”. However, there are a few exceptions, these are people afflicted by ailments or diseases. Some however, are hereditary arising from diabetes and DNA or wrong match of blood groups and genotypes.
Do you work at the same pace now that you are in the octogenarian club or you select some works that you do?
I still work at the same pace I used to but sometimes I delegate some of them to my assistants with strong warning that, Delegatus non delegare” works delegated to you cannot be delegated to another person. To be happy, keep busy; work makes me happy and I like it.
You are versatile in the creative industry, but Sculpture may appear to be painstaking work because of the attention paid to details, do you still spend such time now given that man by nature dwindles later in life?
As a Fine and Applied artist with Ph.D. in Architectural Sculpture from the University of Benin, I still give it equal attention as I give to Music and Tourism in my Palazzo Museum in Benin City. Creativity cuts across all spheres of life and it is common denomination that r u n s across all different pages of discoveries.
The late Prof. Ben Enwonwu was an internationally-renowned sculptor and placed on the same pedestal with the Western sculptors, like Michelangelo, Lorenzo, Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, among others; these men were of high repute, they shaped Western Art and Culture, coming home, what has this generation of artists done to be given equal appellation?
Like Ben Enwonwu you mentioned, writers have also likened me to Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, among others, but I must say that every artist is unique. Everybody cannot sleep with their heads facing one direction and if they dream in their sleep, they’ll have different stories to tell. Here are some philosophies and quotes: wake up your destiny, don’t wait for your destiny to wake you up. You can stop the clock, but you can’t stop the time. Creativity is the ultimate creator, I’m just a tool of implementation, a man who thinks he knows it all can never grow, what you cannot do in the open don’t do it in hiding, I have something to learn from the foolery of a fool, my greatest enemy is failure, everybody stoops for a penny, the rich and the poor, no exception. Time and chance could happen to attain stardom but may not be able to keep the sustenance; I live not for yesterday or today but for tomorrow and history will tell the rest of the story. The pendulum of a man’s temper becomes slow to anger with age, your past can affect your present and your present can affect your future, remain focused always. Time runs after me, I take the lead, that is why I’m always busy, teaching you is good enough, but your personal experience is your best teacher, the secret of success is positive thinking and speed, prepare the child for the road and not the road for the child.
When you had the opportunity in becoming the Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Edo, what were your own contributions to the development of the creative industry?
As the first music legend and artist, Honourable Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism, I created a new window for everybody in the entertainment industry to get political and public appointments. Today, you find them everywhere in government. In Edo State, I completed the Oba Akenzua II Cultural complex designed by Demas Nwoko. I gave the Igun Benin Bronze casting World Heritage a face lift by lock-tarring the road and also designed the gate at the Sopkonba Road axis. My ministry became a major player in the hospitality industry in Edo State and Nigeria in general. I discovered the Fugar Cave in Afemai, between Auchi and Agenebode. If Mongo Park discovered River Niger that was already in existence, let it not be said that one American came to Nigeria and discovered the Fugar Cave.
What has life taught you having sojourn for eight decades on planet earth?
Life is a continuum. You cannot cheat nature. Nature would give you back what you gave it with interest. It’s like a fixed deposit in a bank account. The more you give to life, the more interest you get in return.
Your residence that you have almost converted to semi-museum, do you intend to bequeath your works of art to the department of Creative Arts, University of Benin or for tourist attraction?
Any government, federal or state, private organisations, universities or NGO’s are free to collaborate with us at the Revelation Palazzo Museum for posterity. As the saying goes, “Act well your part and there the honour lies” I have played my part.
You spoke foreign language intermittently, we cannot really place the language; is it Greek, Latin or French, and how fluent are you in it?
It’s Latin. I was good at Latin during my Secondary School days. I have sharp retentive memory and can recall many quotes in Latin. I understand Latin, “Da mihiterra et ego move burn” That’s “ Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the world”.
Some people have argued that you did not have an encounter with a mermaid, that it was fable. But it was the inspiration for the song titled, Guitar Boy if you see Mammy water… What is your comment?
Mammy water is real. Guitar Boy is real.
In your younger days, you were body builder, was it for self defence or it was for athletic purpose?
My body building was both for athletics and self defence. Body building enhances your health, performance and self-confidence. I had high jump record at Western Boys High School, Benin City, before Saint Gregory College Obalende, Lagos.
What was your growing up like?
I called the shots in athletics, social life, creativity in many areas like swimming, shooting catapult, flying kites, building cages with bamboo, constructing guitar and improvising trap strings for guitar strings, riding bicycle in contrary motion with back facing front, pedalling backwards.
How would you describe Princess?
My wife and I are happily married. I’m a Catholic and a Communicant. My wife, Princess Osaretin is beautiful but her heart is more beautiful, good character and good home upbringing, sincere, kind, loving, respectful and strong faith in time of anxiety and challenges with equanimity. She’s the best woman in the world. Our last boy, Leroy Osaro Uwaifo, a graduate of Sociology, University of Benin, is now 25 years old.