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Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon

By Toyin Falola

On such occasions that I have had the opportunity to visit Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon, where he took me and my company of people on a tour of his residences or museum — whichever one it was that we were visiting on each occasion — I always left marveling at the depth and vastness of our host in African arts and artists. To listen to him speak is to understand that, for him, collecting art goes beyond a personal hobby or a sport. It is a culture, a way of life whose profoundness forms a foundation for happiness and fulfillment for Prince Shyllon. You have to listen to him talk about his acquisitions and discoveries to understand the depth of his love for and appreciation of arts — and its varied forms, from sculpture to paintings to drawings.

In pre-colonial Yoruba history, the Egba, from where the Prince comes from, had several categories of leaders, each with designated duties and responsibilities. There were the Oba, the Parakoyi, the Ogboni, the warriors, and the tax people. Of all these people, the Ogboni had the blessed responsibility of upholding and preserving the cultural and traditional heritages of the city state. Theirs was a sacredly ordained society of elite people that not only contributed to bringing law, order, and justice to the people but also ensured that the empire did not — at any point in time — stray away from its cultural and traditional roots.

READ  ALSO: Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art: The Beauties That Represent Our Enigmatic Continent

To understand the vitality of the work the Ogboni did, we must first consider the interconnectedness of culture, society, traditional heritages, and development. A truly civilized society has and can uphold and preserve its long history of cultural heritage and traditions.

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder If there were no conscious efforts to preserve these by the Ogboni, there would have been weakened transmission of value and cultural assets from one generation to another, a phenomenon that would have adversely affected the evolution, development, and even continued existence of the people. For, if a people are disconnected from their history, they are likewise lost from their identity, and to not have an identity is to not know your society’s place in the world; it is to not know what your ancestors before you had achieved and how that influences how you live in the present day and what purpose to aspire to.

Although the evolution of ethnic societies within the geopolitical entity now called Nigeria has led to a gross erosion of traditional structures, societies and responsibilities, there is no denying that there exist individuals who have taken it upon themselves to commit personal resources for the greater good. Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon is the quintessential example of such people. He stands distinctly in the category of people who have been preserving and promoting Nigerian and African arts of various forms through commissioning, collecting, and introducing several initiatives.

While we may not have the traditional Ogboni society today to preserve, uphold, and promote the beautiful artistic creations that old and contemporary Nigerians and Africans have worked on or are still working on, we can revel in the peace of mind and assurance that comes with having the likes of Prince Yemisi Shyllon around, people who have adopted a generous approach to the work they do in the world of art and culture. Prince Shyllon has collected and done impactful work that transcends generations.

READ ALSO: Elevating Africa: The Collections In the Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Art

Shall we talk about his support for art and art creators? Or do we speak of how he commits resources into sourcing and identifying real talent and commissioning such talents to give them the foundation and exposure they need to take upon the world? Many an artist got their first big break when Prince Shyllon commissioned them to work on a project. That is the promoter aspect of the tri-dimensional impact this man and his life and work for and in African art and culture have had.

Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon: A Preserver, Promoter, And Pathfinder

There are also the numerous initiatives he has launched, the continued expansion of his collection and the resources he puts into maintaining his museums. Beyond that, Prince Shyllon commits time to serve on the boards of serval art-focused initiatives and organizations. If anything, we all know that time is the most important asset to humans, and to dedicate so much time to serve without expectations of remunerations on such boards is yet another testament to the depth of his lifelong commitment to the promotion of Africa through art and culture.

There is a category of people with the financial wherewithal to give, support, and help, and do so for the recognition and appreciation they would receive from such endeavors. I do not in any way criticize these people — the resources are theirs, and they are entitled to the non-monetary gains they expect from committing their resources to whatever endeavor they commit them to. However, when one considers that for Prince Shyllon, the driving force in doing all he does for art, culture, Nigeria, and Africa is not an expectation for recognition, the vastness of his contributions and impact will leave one in awe. There have been recognitions, no doubt — recently, Pan Atlantic University conferred on him an honorary doctorate to appreciate his work and contributions to art. However, if you have had a close engagement with Prince Shyllon or have read about his contributions, you can tell that the driving force for this spectacular man is not in any way the recognition that may — and in this case, has — come. On January 15, 2023, Prince Dr. Yemisi Shyllon will be the first guest on the 2023 series of the Toyin Falola Interviews.

The decision to invite Prince Shyllon lies primarily on the need to document the insights and perceptions, experiences, views, and comments of people like him on African arts and culture. He has been in the field and committed his life and resources to identifying, promoting, preserving, and upholding African art and artists. There has to be a new generation of promoters and upholders that will tap into the generous vision of people like Prince Shyllon. And to prepare that new generation, there is the need to document the work and comments of the present generation.

The questions we will ask on Sunday the 15th, and the answers Prince Dr. Shyllon will serve as vital information to help sustain the promotion and preservation of one of the vital things that make us African — our art and craft; representations of our beliefs and perceptions as different peoples of a united continent.
Please join us:
Sunday, January 15, 2023
5:00 PM Nigeria
4:00 PM GMT
10:00 AM Austin CST

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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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Interview With Beautiful Nubia



Beautiful Nubia

Please join us for a conversation with the renowned Nigerian Songwriter, Music Composer, and Band Leader, Olusegun Akinlolu (Beautiful Nubia).

Sunday, March 19, 2023

5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 11:00 AM Austin CST

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Toyin Falola Interviews Holds Conversation With Kunle Afolayan



A  renowned Nigerian Actor, Producer, and Director, Kunle Afolayan will on Sunday, March 5, 2023 have an interview with the Toyin Falola Interviews at 5:00 PM Nigeria // 4:00 PM GMT // 10:00 AM Austin CST.


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



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:




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