• Monday, April 15, 2024
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African Artists’ Foundation decries illegal possession of office by bank

African Artists’ Foundation decries illegal possession of office by bank

…action forces relocation, Nigerian art community feels vacuum

For almost two decades, the African Artists’ Foundation (AAF), a non-profit organisation and an art space based in Lagos, has been in the business of encouraging the highest standard of art in Africa.

It created some well-curated art events, engagements and creative challenges that have discovered talents, further nurture and connect them to global art platforms.

From hosting enthralling art exhibitions, artists talks, workshops, fellowships, collaborations among others, the AAF has remained a force to reckon with in the development of visual art in Nigeria, amid huge impacts on the art landscape, with influence beyond Nigeria and even Africa.

But top among AAF’s initiative is the Lagos Photo Festival, an annual and the first international festival of photography in West Africa.

With 14 successful editions, the festival, which draws international photographers from across the world to Nigeria for creative rivalry, is one of the most impactful art initiatives in Africa.

Sadly, the Lagos Photo Festival has been disrupted by the forceful takeover of the AAF office on # 3B Isiola Oyekan Close, Off Adeleke Adedoyin Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, by Keystone Bank from the Estate of late Dr. Ime Umanah, the landlord.

“The purpose of this conference is to answer the inquiries and concerns of everyone concerning the lack of activity of the Foundation,” Azu Nwabuogu, founder and director, AAF, explained.

“You will recall that at the end of every year for the past 10 years, we have hosted various activities at our Victoria Island gallery in Lagos. You will also notice that in the last two years we have not been able to do that due to a reason, a sole reason.

“Sometime in October 2020, we were evicted by Keystone Bank in the most embarrassing and humiliating manner. Claiming ownership through a court order. They claimed several properties belonging to the Umanah family, our landlords, claiming they were owed money by the late patriarch of the Umanah family”.

The situation is a very sad one, as the bank has refused to allow AAF to enter the premises and to collect its valuable office equipment, especially art works donated by many artists, collectors and art lovers.

On the alleged debt, Azu noted that, “The court learnt of an earlier suit on the same subject matter, where the court had determined after due and necessary determination of issues that the Umanah family not only didn’t owe the bank, but were in excess credit with the bank. The court realized that the bank came to get what it couldn’t from the earlier court through the back door.

“After careful consideration, the court dismissed the suit and sternly admonished the lawyers of Keystone bank for abuse of the court process.

Based on this, we approached the bank for a refund of the purchase price of N600m, reminding them of the indemnity clause and letter signed by the bank management. The bank instead through its lawyer’s blatantly refused to refund the purchase price. This situation further led to an extraordinary meeting of the board of trustees where it was

decided that the foundation which had done so well and placed Nigeria proudly on the world art scene was to be moved to another African country.”

The seemingly helpless situation made the AAF executive to call a media parley where it intimated the media, particularly art editors, on the development, the callousness of Keystone Bank and need to call the bank to order.

Offering more details on the issue, Nwabuogu, who is also the founder and director if Lagos Photo Festival, decried that the bank offered AAF the property on #3B Isiola Oyekan Close, Off Adeleke Adedoyin Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, after taking possession of it from the owner who it alleged defaulted in repaying bank debt.

According to him, AAF paid the N600 million, raised from a donor, to acquire the property, but the bank has refused to take possession of the property or repay the N600 million it paid to purchase it.

As at the time of the media parley, which was held at Bogobiri House, Ikoyi, Lagos, on February 24, 2024, AAF has still not taken possession of the property, money paid not refunded and its equipment still locked in the sealed property.

The above are reasons Nwabuogu is rallying the media to use their various platforms to create awareness of the fraudulent and callous actions of Keystone Bank, with hope that the authorities will take interest in it and intervene, especially the regulatory agencies.

Present at the media were; Inyene Nta, daughter of late Dr. Ime Umunah and the administrator of the Estate of late Dr. Ime Umanah; Wuyi Ogunyinka, one of the counsels to the Estate of late Dr. Ime Umanah; Ibrahim Abubakar, legal officer, AAF and Olayinka Sangotedo, general manager, AAF.

According to Inyene Nta, daughter of the late Dr. Ime Umanah and the administrator of the Estate of the late Dr. Ime Umanah, her father, settled all the debts he owed the bank with a N1 billion he paid and that the bank is the one owing her father.

She noted that her father, who was the CEO of Imesco Enterprises, the company with which he obtained the loan, was honest in his dealings with the bank, but that the bank’s action is illegal, callous and should be checked.

In the same vein, Wuyi Ogunyinka, one of the counsels to the Estate of the late Dr. Ime Umanah, presented copies of court rulings and decisions of the court, which Keystone Bank went contrary to.

He appealed to the media to follow up the case objectively to create further awareness on the callous act of the bank, with the expectation that intervention will come from some quarters to checkmate the bank, especially from the financial services regulators.

With evidence of the N600 million paid by AAF, Ibrahim Abubakar, legal officer, AAF, insisted that Keystone Bank must obey the court, act responsibly by allowing AAF to take possession of the property or refund the money paid.

Going forward, Nwabuogu noted that going forward, AAF will be operating from Cotonou in Benin Republic, but will be focusing more on intellectual development, training and equipping skilled workforce in the visual art industry, especially young curators.

In view of the lingering situation, AAF has implored the president to take further action to deter this sort of brigandage by banks like Keystone in ruining the country’s image and lying to waste the effort of hard working Nigerians.

“The government needs to deal decisively with this sort of behaviour and sanitise our policy to Instill confidence in the people,” Azu concluded.