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Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

THE  TOYIN FALOLA INTERVIEWS

A

 CONVERSATION WITH ERNESTO YEBOAH, PART 1

Youth Movement For Change

By

Toyin Falola

 Despite being famous for the abundance of its natural resources, Africa has not lived up to its potential in the eyes of many. The continent has come to be synonymous with strife in contemporary times. The current situation of the continent is often blamed on the sensationalism and selectiveness of western media coverage of the region, which is underscored by a seemingly unending string of unflattering experiences—bloody coups, ethnic conflicts, electoral violence, political repression, poverty, famine, and pandemics. Other arguments seeking to explain Africa’s undesirable socio-economic condition have pointed to the great atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism, which indubitably had—and continue to have—significant consequences for the region’s development but fail to exonerate Africa’s post-colonial leadership from its abysmal treatment of the continent’s most promising asset, its youth.

Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change

Photo: Ernesto Yeboah

Around the world and throughout history, the youth have been the backbone of social changes. From ancient times, even when our ancestors scarcely lived beyond their forties, the continuance of human civilization rested on the vigour of youth; on the farm, on the battlefield, and even on the floor of industry, youth have proven an indispensable asset. During and after the colonial rule in Africa, the youth have played a crucial role in political development. The youth movements of the 1920s and 30s gave rise to the political parties that bolstered Africa’s readiness for self-government, and a bulk of Africa’s independence leaders were youths themselves, under thirty-five years old.

READ ALSO: Nigeria And The Multiplication Of Chaos

In addition, the perpetrators of Africa’s first coups were young members of the army, some of whom held on to power for considerable periods. During the dark days of military rule, the African youth maintained activism for civil rights and democracy and fought against economic and social injustice through their various student union bodies. More recently, the Arab Spring movement in northern Africa, the RhodesMustFall movement in South Africa, and the EndSARS movement in Nigeria have represented the continuation of an agelong youth struggle against social and economic injustice.

Whatever the scientific or historical reason for the systemic association of the youth with ignorance, incompetence, and irresponsibility characteristic of contemporary society, it is more a reflection of the “life history theory” than it is of any biological limitation. The “life-history theory,” built on the conclusion that teens behave differently depending on how hostile and unforgiving their environment feels to them, is a testament to youth’s malleability and not their incapacity. This theory, which is primarily based on the perception that the period up to the 1950s was much tougher and its youth was “allowed” to assume responsibilities that would socially be considered outside its purview today, applies conversely to the emasculation of today’s African youth in a period of unprecedented difficulty. Today, against the backdrop of rising unemployment and other socio-economic difficulties induced by climate change and bad leadership, the African youth is, in addition to several socio-economic deprivations, burdened with concocted and atavistic ageist perceptions.

With a little apprehension, one may argue that nowhere has the youth suffered more deprivation in the twenty-first century than in Africa. Home to the world’s second-largest youth—people under 25 years old—population after China, Africa’s leadership has done very little to harness the creative energy of this vast human resource in providing the ideal socio-political and economic conditions required for this great continent to prosper. The widespread instances of debilitating poverty, disease, famine, and near-constant political instability on the continent weigh heavily on this youthful demographic that numbers about a billion people (around sixty per cent of the entire population).

If not faced with intimidation, marginalization, or abuse, African youth have had to contend with unemployment and other challenges that come with being denied access to the kind of education and vocational training that would allow them to become productive members of society. As a result, except for the marginal percentage who have successfully risen above monumental odds to establish themselves through hard work and ingenuity, even on the global stage, many others remain trapped in a disabling environment, succumbing to social pressures and becoming tools in the hands of mischief makers and, in effect, a menace to their society.

READ ALSO: Speaking Truth To Power: Attahiru Jega, Toye Olorode, And Nigeria’s Future

As all requests from the youth quarter for political inclusion and an address of the factors impeding youth development—human rights, women’s rights, quality education, proper healthcare facilities, gainful employment opportunities, and climate change—have either fallen on deaf ears or been attended to by lip-service, the African youth have concluded that the only way they can turn their plight around for good is to take matters into their own hands. Thus, the continent has seen an increase in the number of youth activists who have formed associations and organized awareness campaigns—sometimes through protest marches—to mobilize their contemporaries to the youth cause of equity, liberty, and inclusion. Certain names/faces have emerged as symbols of the youth struggle in Africa due to this endeavour, which the technological revolution of social media has greatly facilitated.

Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change

 

Alaa Salah

In 2018, twenty-five-year-old Alaa Salah (the “Nubian Queen”), an engineering student of the Sudan International University, gained global recognition for her role in the 2018/2019 Sudanese revolution that eventually led to Omar-al Bashar’s removal. As a Sudanese human rights activist and a member of MANSAM (Women of Sudanese Civic and Political Groups), Alaa and her fellow women activists decried the continued exclusion of women from leadership positions despite the significant role they have played in the struggle against social and economic injustices in the country. Alaa took the message of gender inequality in Sudan to the United Nations (UN) assembly in 2019. In her address to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Alaa called for an all-inclusive government encompassing ethnic and religious minorities, civil society, resistance groups, and a fifty-per cent parity for women in governance. In the same year, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to bringing peace to her country.

Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change

Elizabeth Wathuti

Elizabeth Wathuti is a twenty-six-year-old Kenyan environment and climate activist. She is the founder of Kenya’s Green Generation Initiative, which encourages young people to care more about nature and be environmentally conscious. Her initiative has led to the planting of 30,000 tree seedlings in Kenya, a portion of which are food trees aimed at combating hunger in Kenya. At the 2021 COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, Elizabeth delivered an impassioned speech, calling on delegates to consider the cost of their inaction on the African continent and its peoples. In her own words: “Please open your hearts…If you allow yourself to feel it the heartbreak and the injustice is hard to bear. Sub-Saharan Africans are responsible for just half a per cent of historical emissions, the children are responsible for none, but they are bearing the brunt.”

Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change

Kilifeu, Thiat, and Malal Tala

The trio of Malal Talla, Cheik Oumar Cyrille Toure, and Bessane Seck are a group of Senegalese musicians and journalists who started the protest group Y’en a Marre (Fed Up) in 2011 to protest against rampant power cuts in Dakar. From power cuts, the group came to identify a range of problems they were fed up with in Senegalese society. Beginning with their music, some of which evolved into rallying cries, the group and its members progressed to door-to-door campaigns to encourage youths to register to vote. Enduring arrests in 2012 for their role in organizing a sit-in protest at Dakar’s Obelisk Square, the group pressed on with their campaign for political reform and were alleged to have raised over 300,000 votes, which led to the ousting of then Senegalese President, Abdoulaye Wade. Since then, the group has remained active, organizing meetings and shows and calling on the government to implement reform agreements, including land ownership reforms, which remain a critical issue for Senegal’s rural poor.

Faces Of The African Youth Movement For Change

Stacy Owino

Stacy Owino, a twenty-one-year-old Kenyan women’s rights campaigner, is passionate about ending the widespread female genital mutilation (FGM) practice in East Africa. At the age of eighteen, Stacy, a Computer Science and Mathematics student, co-created an app that works to save girls from FGM by linking them with authorities and life-saving services close to them. Stacy Owino also represents Africa on the Youth Sounding Board for the European Commission. Her efforts towards eradicating FGM earned her honour at the 2020 Youth Activist Summit held at the UN in Geneva.

The activists mentioned above by no means cover the breadth of youth engaged in activism in Africa. Several other young African activists scattered around the regions are actively engaged with one social, political, or economic injustice or the other. In many instances, such movements are faceless. They do not have an identified leader/leadership as a way of avoiding targeted government arrests and crackdowns that can easily break the spirit of the movement. Pitiably, this has been the common government response to such youth demands for change. Despite the brutal crackdowns that have met youth actions against social injustice—as witnessed with the EndSARS movement in Nigeria in 2020, youth action against anti-people government policies/practices is expected to persist as long as the proper measures are not taken to address these grievances.

Please join us for a conversation with Ernesto Yeboah, the renowned Radical Activist and Commander-in-Chief, Economic Fighters League.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

4:00 PM Ghana

5:00 PM Nigeria

4:00 PM GMT

11:00 AM Austin CST

Register and Watch:

https://www.tfinterviews.com/post/ernesto-yeboah

Join via Zoom:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85663555793

Watch on Facebook:

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Watch on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2lvX7A2iVndiCq0NfFcb0w/live

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

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Professor Ademola Dasylva At 70: A Labourer In The Vineyard
Prof. Toyin Falola

By Toyin Falola

Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.

If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.

The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?

This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.

Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections

Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.

In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.

In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.

READ ALSO: Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.

The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.

Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda

The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.

The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?

Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.

Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.

The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.

In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.

  1. *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.

For the transcript, see:

YouTube: https://youtube.com/watch?v=VJP3CfnlC28

Facebook https://fb.watch/daf9NQxuml/

 

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola
In this last piece of the three-part series emanating from the Toyin Falola Interviews with Prince Yemisi Shyllon, we will examine salient issues brought forward during the conversation between Professor Dele Jegede and the guest. It is a befitting coincidence that the dissection of this section of the interview session will begin with a discussion point that is synonymous with what served as the concluding aspect of the second piece in the series. In the last piece, I outlined a reawakening action plan from the concept of art and society, which could readily revive Nigeria from the destructive slumber it is in. However, for such a plan to work, there is the need for collaboration between the people and the government; the role of the government in the effectuation of that plan is as pivotal as that of the citizens. Then, the puzzle that serves as the opening of Professor Jegede’s session: art and the government, specifically, the Nigerian government.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Prince Yemisi

In Nigeria, culture, art, creative art, and tourism are subsumed under the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, headed at the moment by Alhaji Lai Mohammed. In 2019, marking four years after the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president, Lai Mohammed revealed plans to, as he said, “transform Nigeria’s art, culture and tourism industry into Nigeria’s new oil within the next four years.” This year 2023 marks the last year for that plan, and suffice it to say 95% of the outlined projects have yet to be embarked upon or achieved — from the promised annual National Summit for Culture and Tourism to the Endowment Fund for the Arts, the promised National Tourism Day, Regional Summit on Culture and Tourism, among other lofty plans that the Minister made. It is no gainsaying that the Ministry’s focus in the past eight years of the Buhari administration has been largely one-sided — more on information than culture.

This is problematic for the Nigerian state, seeing as culture looms larger than information; it is supposed to shape how information is passed and received, and since there have been little to no attempts to solidify the existence of unified cultural values in the country, the resultant effect could be a misinterpretation of received information. Professor Jegede raised a thought-evoking point in his opening question: for the Nigerian government — through its Ministry of Information and Culture — art, culture, and tourism are nothing but optics; there is no real groundwork to revive, sustain, or promote these things. They are rather terminologies being deployed to show that the aspect of the ministry exists, words without corresponding substantial deeds.

READ ALSO: Victor Ekpuk In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Without mincing words, Prince Shyllon tapped into the foundations of this worrying problem in Nigeria, that culture is largely considered a synonym for traditional religion, and religion is but one of the several aspects of culture. As said before, culture is an aggregation of all aspects of a people’s life — it is alive; it breathes, grows, evolves, and gets added to. For instance, systemic corruption has quickly found its way into Nigerian culture. Culture extends beyond religion; it is, therefore, a false approach for Nigerians to consider culture as the sole religion. This false equivalence causes a dissociating attitude among the people, many of whom are either Christians or Muslims who do not want to have any affiliations with the traditional religions due to their adopted faith. However, the claim that culture is the same thing as religion could not be further from the truth; and it only serves to hamper the growth, preservation, and promotion of cultures in Nigeria, as the peoples of varying ethnic groups are expected to fully embrace their cultures and cultural practices are not doing so. The average person in Lagos or Port Harcourt is far removed from the realities of cultural festivals in their regions.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

This disassociation from a culture based on the false equivalence of culture to religion also makes many desist from actively recognizing and adopting cultural values that would have served as a portal to mitigating societal vices. The concepts of contentment, virtue, communalism, charity, goodness, and kindness, among others, are embedded in the cultural values of ethnic groups across the country — from the Yoruba to the Igbo to the Hausa to the Tiv. However, these values are being lost to the absence of cultural cohesion among the people, a calamity that can be directly linked to the intentional decision of the people to desist from cultural affiliations and participation.

This fundamental problem also affects the government’s approach to culture since the government is inherently made up of Nigerians, who most likely share the views and biases of the other Nigerians, largely considering art as religion. Furthermore, this problem extends its effects into how the people react to the government’s treatment of and lack of attention to the art and culture arm of the said ministry. If the people are not motivated enough to actively demand a revamp of the culture, art, and tourism industries and if there are no advocacies for this revamp, the government can as well turn a seemingly blind eye to the work that needs to be done.

In Nigeria, two elements of culture — art and music — have been part of the biggest image makers for the country in the international space, even amidst the name-spoiling effects of corruption, internet fraud, and illegal migration that have largely affected the country’s image negatively. Nigerian music — especially Afrobeat — has received widespread acclaim and recognition in the international space. Nigerian artists — literary, visual, creative, and performing — are also doing exploits in poetry, prose, and artwork, bringing fame and glory to the country. If properly invested into and if adequately leveraged, these forms of art in Nigeria can serve as an avenue to boost the country’s economy, international exposure and recognition, and also create a worldwide ecosystem that rewards the country for its culture and art.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Monument

It will take a reorientation of the Nigerian people on what culture is, its varying aspects, and the potential that cultural elements hold when properly leveraged for the country to arrive at a profitable system. It goes beyond merely representing a plan to make art the country’s new oil. That only echoes what Professor Jegede said about art and culture being nothing but a means of publicity and propaganda in the country. A reorientation like this is what the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas does, investing time, money, and resources into teaching several elements of the Yoruba culture to Yoruba people in the diaspora, many of whom would not have had any access to their cultural roots and identity without an institution like this.

There is a developing argument, though without data at the moment, that the average consistent attendee of the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas would, in the end, may have a deeper knowledge of Yoruba proverbs, maxims, art, dance, and festivals — in sum, culture — than an average Yoruba person living in Nigeria. As this new argument goes, the only advantage a Yoruba person living in Nigeria could have over the average person learning from the Center in Texas is the fluency of pronunciation and language use, which is largely due to the frequency of usage of the language in Nigeria, as compared to the United States — a Yoruba person in Nigeria would have more access to Yoruba people, which would aid communication and language fluency.

However, considering that there has been a serious deviation from cultural roots and an erosion of the younger generation’s knowledge of customs, proverbs, idioms and maxims, traditional dances and other core elements of the Yoruba culture, the average Nigerian Yoruba, it is now being feared, would not match up to the knowledge of the learner in the diaspora. This phenomenon is not exclusive to learners at the Yoruba Cultural Center in Dallas alone. Foreign learners of the language and culture of Yoruba at the University of Ibadan Yoruba Language Center will also best many indigenous Yoruba people in using idioms and knowledge of the culture.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Lagos Garden

This is because the indigenous people are largely deviating from learning about their culture and the deep levels of the language beyond the surface, everyday usage on the streets of Lagos or in palm-wine stalls in Ondo. Limiting a people’s culture to their religion and language is dangerous, yet this is one of Nigeria’s biggest problems. So much so that people believe they have enough knowledge of their culture when they can speak their ethnic group’s language. There is a need for an intervention from the government on this. However, the problem goes beyond the government and requires the people’s readiness. A case in point is a long-time government intervention for cultural integration — the National Youth Service Corps. Today, this scheme has been bastardized, and year in, year out, the country is witnessing a mass redeployment of corps members who are not willing to live among Nigerians of other cultures and ethnic groups for just a year. This speaks so much about how culture is viewed among Nigerians and some reasons why the country is where it currently is in terms of cohesion and national unity.

Cultural institutions in Nigeria serve the purpose of existence rather than having specific essence. This is further manifested in how these institutions are run. The administrators of the cultural institutions in the country do not see their role beyond their tasks; there is no underlying zeal for the promotion and propagation of culture and art. Therefore, they discharge their duties when needed but never go out of their way to attract people to their institutions. In this age of the internet frenzy and social media buzz, how many of our cultural institutions in Nigeria have an online footprint? How many of them are making efforts to reach young Nigerians? How many are pushing to stay visible and relevant?

READ ALSO: You don blow!

The task ahead for us Nigerians — the people and the government — is to see culture as an all-encompassing cloak on our existence and identity as a people and make efforts to save that cloak from tearing beyond repair. We will get closer to redeeming this country when we have given attention to saving and salvaging the Nigerian culture and bringing a unified Nigerian culture to the fore.

Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

Abeokuta

(This is the third and final part of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts, see:
YouTube https://youtube.com/watch?v=QFMbXx6aRE4;
Facebook https://fb.watch/i458cu7phB/)

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

 

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Victor Ekpuk In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola
It was Les Brown, an American politician, who said, “life takes on meaning when you become motivated, set goals, and charge after them in an unstoppable manner.” In this sentence of fewer than 20 words, Brown summarizes the trajectory of ambition and the key ingredients that make an ambition worthwhile and successful. In his conversation with Victor Ekpuk at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, Prince Yemisi Shyllon reinforced Brown’s quote in his own words, and perhaps without ever having come across Brown’s quote of the same similarity. Prince Shyllon attributed his venture into the collection of art and investment in art and culture to a trajectory that stemmed from his search to create a distinct personal identity. In this piece, I reflect more broadly on his answers to the questions posed by Ekpuk.

Before actively collecting art and crafts for several years, Prince Shyllon enjoyed successful career stints at an executive level in multinational companies, with government institutions and boards, as an investor, and as a board member for companies. These, without the other aspects of his life he eventually took upon himself, are enough to make a name for oneself anywhere in the world. However, the prince chose to aspire to something greater than just making a name for himself; thus, the processes for bringing his legacy to life were set in motion. Starting with a search for an innate and unique identity, Prince Shyllon’s interest in the arts and humanities, which he had let go earlier in life for his deep-founded interest in calculations and mathematics, resurfaced. So, like the theory of growth and development — where nature and nurture are said to be equal contributors — Prince Yemisi Shyllon’s resurfaced natural talent soon fed on the elements he interacted with and his experiences during the earliest post-education stage of his life. What started as an interest became a passion, and he began actively collecting art and seeking out contemporary artists.

READ ALSO: Professor Peju Olayiwola In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

As Brown said, life begins to take on meaning when you charge after your goals in an unstoppable manner. This can be likened to what Prince Shyllon’s passion for art translated into an obsession founded on goals to promote and preserve African art and culture, patronize contemporary and young Nigerian artists and bring them to the limelight, and create an ecosystem that will give African arts a respected place in the world, one that has extended in different forms, including residency programs for critics, scholars, artists, and art investors looking to study African and Nigerian arts — this, effectively becoming now larger than life or a single existence, is his legacy.

Legacy is a concept that stems from one person but is larger than its progenitor. Prince Shyllon’s unique identity is what has birthed his legacy. He mentioned something which holds: the bulk of the people who know him today — and I boldly claim a percentage starting from 90 — know him, not for his exploits in the other fields of endeavour he succeeded in, but as an art collector and promoter. The bulk of the recognition and awards he received connected to his deeds in art and culture. For generations to come, his name will surely be listed among the past executives of some of the multinationals he worked for; however, the bulk of the listings of his name and the popular association of his name in decades and centuries to come will be for art collection, culture, and art promotion. For Prince Yemisi Shyllon, art is not only a vehicle for conveying cultural values and beliefs, as you would see in the average African society; art has become culture itself. Culture is a sum of the way of life of a people, and its components are personal cultures — the ways of life of individual persons that come together as the atomic parts of the overarching societal culture. Prince Yemisi Shyllon’s life is fully defined by art. Lodged within his culture are enviable world views, robust associations, and a holistic approach to living.

Art is considered a part of an elitist culture, where it takes those on the upper strata of the societal hierarchy to appreciate and collect art in its varied forms, but Prince Shyllon’s views, as shared during the interview, served as a solid demystification of some beliefs — shall we call them misconceptions — about art. Art can be appreciated and enjoyed by all. However, it takes a deep level of self-awareness — which will, in turn, spark a high level of awareness of one’s society and the environment — to appreciate art. When one has attained a deep level of self-awareness, such a person can remove self or ego from being the centre of focus, a mindset that will result in an all-new awareness and profound appreciation of the ubiquitous existence of art.

Aside from being a way of life and a source of joy, art has also served as a berth for a robust investment portfolio for Prince Shyllon. Investment is an aspect of art culture; when one is as passionate about art as Prince Shyllon, that passion takes varying forms of deployment, one of which is to task the self with sourcing and investing in artworks and artists. Investing in art means being deeply passionate about art and understanding its uses for humans and in human societies. These are prerequisites for taking on a life of investment in anything — whether it be a cryptocurrency and other forms of blockchain technology, art, jewellery, real estate, or stocks and bonds.

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Of truth, art remains one of the best ways to diversify one’s investment portfolio. However, it all must start from a genuine interest in art; for you cannot successfully invest in something you do not understand, do not appreciate, or place value on. Prince Shyllon is the collector of the earliest works of several contemporary Nigerian and African artists. He believes that singular move, which has served the artists as the stepping stone to the limelight, has also brought him immense personal benefits, being profitable investments that will yield multiple folds of their initial worth.

Art is a venture that has multiplying effects on society. Aside from being a lucrative and stable source of investment for individuals, art is a way to bring exposure to society and facilitate such society’s attraction of external investors. Beyond that, a society that fully embraces and is actively into art and art output is a society where the members will be gainfully and productively engaged. Due to its enduring and long-lasting nature, art is a vehicle through which legacies and societal histories can be retained and transmitted. Furthermore, a societal embrace of art is a marker for development, self-introspection, and a high level of willingness and commitment to growth and transformation.

When the people of a society intentionally venture into art expression, preservation, and promotion, it means such people have first recognized the importance of their culture, values, existence, and identity. And a society that has attained such levels of recognition is waiting to skyrocket through growth. Examples of such exist in Japan, where anime and manga are two forms of art that power the exposure and development of Japanese art and culture to the world. These art forms have been powering the exposure, adoption, and acceptance of Japanese culture and contributing to the development of the Japanese economy, especially as there are indirect contributions from anime and manga to other industries like food and clothing merchandise. On the other hand is France, a country whose focus on art and investment in art and art museums has served as a lucrative avenue to boost national revenue — seeing as tourism, valued at 211 billion in 2019 — is the main contributor and driver of the French economy.

Nigeria is a country that is struggling to have an overarching sense of identity that citizens can aspire to, so much, so that ethnic identities supersede the Nigerian identity — thus leading to the factions, disgruntling, and lack of cohesion that bedevil the Nigerian spatial entity.

As pointers to other ethnic groups, the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Efik, Tiv, and Urhobo consciousness and identity are stronger than what currently serve as the vehicles of national consciousness and identity in the country. However, one way of combating the issue is for the country to unify through art. Nigeria has the potential to solve its identity crisis if there are concerted national efforts to express the Nigerian identity through art and promote such identity, especially in a way that shows it also relates to the several ethnic groups. This way, the Yoruba, with their strong sense of Yoruba consciousness, identity, and culture, can see the reflection of their identity and art in the overarching national art expressions.

READ ALSO: Prince Yemisi Shyllon: Different Slides Of Success

This endeavour will cut across the nooks and crannies of the country and involve government bodies and agencies, private stakeholders, and researchers. It is a move that has to go beyond the documented policymaking lacking implementation — as is often the case in our country. It should not be another means to take pay cuts and self-indulging shares of resources that have come to be termed as the national cake. It is a national project that has to go beyond constructing and abandoning cultural centres in 3 or 4 cities in the country. It might just be the needed starting point for the country.

This is yet another dimension of thought that the interview has opened up, lending credence to the vitality of what we do in interviewing Nigerian, African, and Pan-African personalities.
(This is Part Two of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts:
YouTube

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Facebook https://fb.watch/i458cu7phB/)

 

Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.

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