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Richard Joseph On Governance In Africa



Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon



Conversation With Professor Richard Joseph (3)

 Richard Joseph On Governance In Africa

Richard Joseph


Toyin Falola

Africa is not moving forward fast enough, at least in terms of the progress we can associate with other continents. Technological breakthrough is becoming very difficult to achieve as the continent continues some entrenched practices. Meanwhile, the revolution in technology is pivotal for economic transformation, where wealth distribution plays an important role in people’s lives. Africa’s failure to advance in these new technologies or aspects of global development has undermined the continent’s transformative capabilities and attracted more woes to the people than can logically be imagined. Technological limitations have made Africa a primary victim of all manner of dangers that are either naturally enhanced or artificially orchestrated. From economy to health, education to politics, the suffocating miasma of technological weakness contributes to the deterioration.

To understand the gravity of the importance of technology to human advancement in recent history, we need to identify areas of human engagement and consider how the lack of technological transformation is perennially causing the agony of underdevelopment for the African people. In politics, where decisions that influence people’s quality of life are made, Africa’s refusal to embrace contemporary technological revolution or provoke a suitable one has continued to cause the system to hibernate, with a scary potential to crash when preventive measures are not immediately taken. For example, the decision to choose a leader who will truly represent the people’s interests is usually marred by the fact that some people do not even understand how the Internet works.

READ ALSO: Richard A. Joseph: One Of A Kind And The Rarest Breed Of Political Scientists

Richard Joseph speaks to the need for leadership. Elections are conducted with absolute disregard for the opinions of the majority. Good governance, which visionary individuals would have spearheaded, is sabotaged by the inability or reluctance to decide on the best candidate. Development at the level of governance is impeded, apparently because some groups are eternally committed to their selfish ambitions and want to use the state to pursue their egotistical agenda.

But we need a development-oriented mindset. We cannot ignore agriculture and the rural areas. Farming is an old business with relevance because it remains a common thing on which people depend. However, farming, as conceived in the past centuries, is quite different from how it is today. During the years of yore, biological capability determined human productivity in farming. In other words, the number of individuals concentrated on farming determined the quantity of production and the economic outcome of the engagement. But such a system is not suited to contemporary times. Technology is needed to be a successful and impactful farmer. Technological instruments are used to embark on massive land cultivation, eventually determining the size of outcomes. This means that the investment in technology is limited, caused by bad leadership and governance system that do not care much about the progress of their nations.

It is disheartening that a country like Nigeria cannot build good public hospitals for its citizens. Medical tourism to foreign countries depletes the foreign reserves of many African countries. Sadly, there is hardly any country in Africa whose most-exalted political figures do not take their rounds in patronizing medical institutions in other continents. The conscious investment in healthcare that these foreign nations make by embracing technology is not something African countries are doing. Governance in Africa has become a conduit for personal aggrandizement; thus, many African countries do not invest heavily in health care.

The above exposition is necessary to understand that the stagnation of governance in Africa is deepened by the refusal to produce ideas or make use of the better ones. Still, Richard Joseph sees greatness in Africa. Why or how did the past Africans achieve what they did? If there is any contention about their achievements, let us immediately measure the human development strategy. Many African leaders of the past understood what it meant to be virtuous, and the moral obligation to extend that virtue to others was collectively embraced. Leadership was seen as an opportunity to serve, and in situations where the results were not forthcoming, the society believed that something was not right with the governance system. History documents some African kings who committed suicide because their leadership did not bring the desired outcomes to their people.

Governance in Africa is corrosive because the continent seems to lack value-adding people in government who can envision an idea and then resolve to achieve it. There is the looting of the public resources without any iota of shame, and massive disruptions of political systems for personal reasons without any modicum of decency. Even when the resources for technological discoveries were almost found on the continent, the recent generation of Africans has not been able to do many tangibles with it, reinforcing that, in the current trajectory of events, something is wrong with those who govern us.

Meanwhile, with the right set of people in governance, Africa will leap forward. Humanitarian philosophy, which allows people to build strong moral characters, has been in existence for thousands of years, and we cannot in good conscience ascribe that to recent African leaders. Leadership is needed, argued Richard Joseph: leaders who can translate visions to results.

READ ALSO: Nigeria And The Multiplication Of Chaos

Misgovernance has continued, and the bad results are everywhere to see. Where systems exist, they are heavily manipulated by the same people, thus promoting mediocrity above vision. Misgovernance causes those elected to protect the people to spend the monies allocated for that purpose on material things and for their own families and cronies. Therefore, they cover their leadership or democratic emptiness with cosmetic programs and projects to mislead their unassuming followers. The present African leaders are mortgaging the continent’s future, and they do not even attract the people’s wrath for it. According to Professor Richard Joseph, while governance is fundamental to enhancing generational success for the people, they also have instructive roles to play. Over the years, African leaders have repeatedly demonstrated that they are staunch enemies of due process and purposeful leadership, and challenging them would involve catching them in the act and imposing the maximum punishment.

The key to accessing transformative development in every sphere of human endeavor is now in the hands of the generation whose quality of life has been infested with problems. They face the ugly situations caused by the carelessness, visionlessness, and laziness of the preceding generations who failed to plant seeds when the ecological conditions were fertile. They, however, do not need to succumb to fate; otherwise, the problem would be more compounded for the coming generations, and that would be imaginatively disastrous. They wield power, and they have the energy. They are expected to ask questions because without good governance in place, they cannot have the opportunity to challenge their contemporaries in other parts of the world. After all, they have seen the wide difference between having visionary individuals in governance and coping with the bad ones. They can see this because they have a wide network of friends across different parts of the world from whom they gather information about the places where they are, and this means that they must begin to ask important questions and hold many of their politicians accountable. They need to ask them what the plan is so that they can rescue a future for their children and children’s children.

This is important because all concerned individuals require participation that does not discriminate against race, gender, ethnicity, or religious views, as well as geographical and philosophical boundaries. People should make a deliberate demand so that all these would be sequentially done. The youths must fight, not by destructing monuments or resorting to physical violence, but by democratically engaging those in positions of power so that they can be recruited to the wagon and therefore make significant contributions that will salvage their future from their precarious situation. Also, women must rise up because their involvement in governance is crucial to stability and development. When they are not included, a critical aspect of the social resources is not engaged, which might be potentially dangerous for the country. There is a need to invest in education for those who will eventually be tasked to translate their knowledge into concrete results.

Additionally, more women need to be involved in politics and positions of authority. The exclusion is glaring, with negative outcomes. There is an increasing conversation on women’s roles, provided they are allowed to be represented in politics. Women constitute a larger proportion of the population. According to Professor Joseph, power is something you wrestle for and win, even when the odds are stacked against you. It would be inappropriate to believe that the people who have benefited from a dysfunctional system would suddenly let go of their influence.

While we have emphasized the purpose of inclusion and reiterated why youths must rise and demand fundamental changes, it would be unfair to say they have not made efforts. In reality, they attempt various measures to seek changes since they understand the strong connections between their future and the governance system. Youths in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Nigeria, and other countries have organized and protested, advocating for fundamental changes and agitating for inclusion. Cases of suppression are equally many.

Now it gets cockier, especially with the resulting development from this ugly condition. The youths are made of different resolves, and only a few of them have the thick skin to withstand all manner of maltreatment and misgovernance. Although at the same time, not all of them have the resources to make the moves that would transform their lives. However, it cannot be denied that they are dissatisfied, and their annoyance and anger are being forced into a jar that can potentially explode at any time. When the government clamps down on them, many of them seek opportunities in other countries, resulting in out-migration to other continents, especially to Europe and the United States. While cross-border movements and migration are as old as humanity, there is no contention that sporadic movements of people over a particular period away from their homes to areas where they potentially would face backlogs of racial and political extradition is an ominous signal. More than it can be explained, it signals that people are perhaps escaping from a particular condition.

This questions the political philosophy in use in Africa, and this is where it is closely linked to governance, as earlier identified. There are also arguments and opinions that Africa’s democratic inheritance does not work well, and this has made different stakeholders, including academics, begin to call for a new system of thinking that can immediately produce the results Africa needs. While many of the discussions have always resulted in the outright rejection of military alternatives, owing to their totalitarian and high-handed possibilities, there is also the campaign for something more suitable that would help the continent in the enforcement of laws and order so that normalcy would return to the continent. This is important in order to attract developers and development to the continent. Investors run away when there is no security or safety for them.

Drastic measures are urgently needed in Africa, no matter how one looks at things. The ones brimming with ideas and energies are frustrated by the strategy of migration, and those who cannot leave are bludgeoned to silence. According to Professor Richard Joseph, one of the solutions to the problems is to provide education of the sort that promotes passion, vision and critical thinking. It appears that, while those at the helm of affairs are educated, it is not enough to reflect on the future that would not include them. They are educated only to the level that they regurgitate ideas, regardless of how irreconcilable they are when they are in the position of leadership. This would not be an accurate definition of education that our guest had in mind. Military personnel also need a form of education. Leaders should receive impactful education and provide security to the state, including the protection of all human lives within the boundaries of their countries. They must understand the complexities of human relationships and the expectations of the people they govern.

This is the second report on the interview with Professor Richard Joseph on March 27, 2022. His views have traveled wide, reported in several newspapers. For the transcript, see YouTube; Facebook

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



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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Dele Jegede In Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon



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


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


(This is the third and final part of the interview report with Prince Yemisi Shyllon conducted on January 15, 2023. For the transcripts, see:

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



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.

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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:




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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