21st November 2022

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Spanish Family Returns A Nigerian Suitcase Kept In Its Custody For Over Half A Century

It is always gladdening to hear and witness acts and accomplishments that rekindle hopes, encourages good doings, inspires patriotism, sustains gainful relationship and cements cord of friendship , especially in a world laden with hurts, deceits, disloyalty, dangers, devastation, disappointments among other unpleasantness.

One of these rare acts of global positive inspiration and promotions of people-to-people ties, (especially between Nigeria and Spain) was recently demonstrated by a Spaniard family to a Nigerian household. The life-long experience is a tale of Integrity, Optimism, Love, Keeping Promises & Faith; virtues fast eroding these days and which must be constantly highlighted for humanity co-existence and improvements towards ensuring a more livable planet.

Photos in the suitcase showing Late Prince Emmanuael and Wife Elizabeth Oyenuga

More than 40 years ago, two wonderful friends, a Nigerian, Prince Emmanuel Adewale Oyenuga and a Spaniard, Mrs. Luisa, ( both now-deceased)  met at the prestigious Art Class ‘Escuela Massana’ in Barcelona, Spain. And, on the strength of the interactions and trust established during the course of their association, Prince Oyenuga left his suitcase in the home of his Spaniard friend and departed for London with his wife Elizabeth in the ‘70s with the promise of coming back later for it. Mrs. Luisa never saw or heard from her Nigerian friends again. She made several frantic efforts to get across to him or his wife with the intention of returning back the suitcase left in her care either to him or any known member (s) of his family in Nigeria.

Mr. Adenike ‘Doyin’ Oyenuga (Late Prince Oyenuga’s son) speaking flanked by Ms Briongos (l) and Eva Barta Martin (R)

In 2014, at the age of 96 she decided to open the suitcase after keeping it safe for over 40 years.  The suitcase was full of paintings, drawings and sketches by Emmanuel; crayons and tubes of oil paint and inks; hair rollers for Elizabeth, the hairdresser. There was a large ancient sword in a cracked leather cover.  There were records, letters, and above all, a mountain of photographs and photo albums.

The Official Handover of the Suitcase to the Oyenugas

Infact, Mrs. Luisa who died at the ripe age of 99 years and her daughter Ana Briongos made several efforts writing to fourteen addresses in Nigeria (mainly in Lagos) found in Emanuel and Elizabeth’s postal correspondence, but they receive no answers. Ana Maria Briongos, an award winning and acclaimed Spanish writer and public speaker also visited Nigeria to look for the family of the late Nigerian artist with the aim of delivering the box full of memories to the children or relatives of her late mother’s friend.

The Oyenuga’s Family (Son & spouse and Grand-Children) poses for a photo-session before the unpacked suitcase

Returning the suitcase safely and intact to the Oyenugas in Nigeria was not only the desire of Ana’s mother but also a testimony of how a good and gainful friendship should be if rightly courted, sustained and promoted and the profitable lessons this uncommon experience teaches in a world full of hatred and selfishness.

‘’My mother wanted to return the photos as she considered them to be a chronicle of those peoples’ lives and should be returned to them or their descendants. She wrote to all the senders of those letters. Nobody answered. We searched the Internet without success. We put away again the hundreds of photos and everything else in the hope of finding the way to return this treasure to whom it truly belongs, if and when we can find the way.”

On the 19th of July 2020 Ana Briongos reaches out to her friend, a photography historian Dr. Carmen Perez Gonzalez. They decided to give it another try and send letters to the addresses in Nigeria once gain. Ana also shares some photographic material with Carmen, where she finds a mention of Paramount Photographers.

Dr. Carmen Perez Gonzalez started searching for information about this studio and finds an interesting article, according to which in the late 90’s Andre Magnin bought several hundreds of photographs from Mama J, the daughter of “Paramount Photographers”. Carmen started researching the introduction of photography in Nigeria in the 19th century and its development along the 20th century.

Guests inspecting the unpacked suitcase

On January 27th 2021 Ana Briongos, also got in touch with Azu Nwagbogu, a curator, founder and director of the African Artists’ Foundation. Ana shares a story of the mysterious suitcase left with her mother some 50 years ago.. The duo of Moritz Neumueller and Veronica Losantos Sanchez also visited Ana Briongos and photographed the suitcase. They were able to document and digitized the suitcase, all the albums, loose photographs and letters and other contents therein.

In an encouraging and collaborative effort, the Embassy of Spain in Nigeria through its Cultural Section led by the untiring and dedicated Cultural Adviser Mrs. Eva Barta Martin set to work in helping to locate the children of Late Prince Emmanuel and Elizabeth Oyenuga in Lagos and thus assist in handing over their parent’s luggage (and an important part of their history) left in Spain to them.

Prince Doyin inspecting his father’s suitcase

Towards this, the Embassy invited the public and members of the press on Monday 14th February, 2022 by 12.30pm to an “Unpacking the Suitcase” presentation and a press conference with the Spanish writer Ana Briongos and the LagosPhoto team. At the well-attended and informative event, the Ambassador of Spain to Nigeria, H.E. Mr. Juan Sell among others participants urged joint efforts in helping to find and return the suitcase back to offspring/ relations of the rightful owners.

Cross-sections of attendees at the privately held event

Cheeringly, the combined efforts and extensive reachouts of the search team yielded a breakthrough in locating the family of Prince Emmanuel Adewale Oyenuga after over-half-a-century search. As expected, the Spanish Mission in Nigeria committed to promoting cultural growth and bolstering relationship bonds, organized a handing over ceremony at the Consulate General of Spain in Lagos on the 7th November, 2022.

The suitcase returning event was attended by relevant stakeholders including the Oyenuga’s family, The Consul-General of Spain in Lagos and staff, Spanish Embassy representatives led by Mrs. Eva Barta Martin, Mrs Ana Briongos, representatives of Lagosphoto, related NGOs and distinguished members of the Nigerian press among others. The privately held ceremony was indeed emotional, memorable and pleasant.

Group photograph of the Spanish Mission , staff of PhotoLagos, Mrs Ana Briongos and Late Prince Oyenuga’s children

Inspiring remarks were given by various speakers and participants, Mrs. Briongos who was visibly elated as her search efforts came to a positive end was also on ground to formally present the suitcase on behalf of her mother and family to the Oyenuga’s Family. Consul General Daniel Losada, the Lagos event chief host spoke on more profitable collaborations between Spain and Nigeria and was particularly delighted the ceremony was a huge success. Mrs. Eva Martin Barta also used the opportunity to reiterate the Embassy’s commitment to more cultural works and synergy between the two countries.

Other search/collaborative team in Lagos also used the gathering to advocate for increased cultural projects and programmes as ways of strengthening cultural diplomacy between Spain and Nigeria. An attendee at the event also suggested the suitcase and some of its contents be displayed in the Museum for wider public access, benefits and history preservation, a suggestion the  Oyenugas  consider worthy of undertaking in the days ahead.

Refreshment & mingling time @ the Spanish Consulate in Lagos

It was an event of re-connection, interaction, refreshment and photo sessions.

‘Special Thanks’ to Ambassador Juan Sell, Consul General Daniel Losada, Ms Eva Barta Martin, Ana Briongos, Dr. Carmen Perez Gonzalez, curator, photography historian, Wuppertal, Germany Azu Nwagbogu, curator, founder and director of the African Artists’ Foundation and LagosPhoto, Lagos, Nigeria Asya Yaghmurian, curator, Berlin, Germany Moritz Neumüller, curator, educator and writer in the field of photography and new media, Barcelona, Spain Verónica Losantos Sanchez, digitisation, photography, Barcelona, Spain and several others for a job well done.

The eventual return of the suitcase to the owner’s family is an inspiring success story of uprightness, determination and perseverance anchored on truth and honor.

Acclaim Nigeria International Magazine (ANIM) was there and covered the events.

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