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.
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.
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.
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.
Don’t Rule Out Possibility Of Military Coups In Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Others – Panelists Warn
Want Medicines, Food Blockage In Niger Lifted
African governments have been warned of the possibility of being upset by military coups similar to the ones that have taken place in some countries on the continent.
The warning came from some panelists at a session of the Toyin Falola Interviews entitled “Coups in Africa: Geo-Politics, Legitimacies, and Resource Management” which was held on Sunday.
At the virtual session which was organised by Prof. Toyin Falola, the panelists spoke on the problems of governance in Africa and how to stop military coups from occurring in African countries that are not already being ruled by military coupists.
The panelists included King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo.
They warned that it is an illusion to think that the recent military coups in Niger, Mali, Gabon, Burkina Faso and Guinea will be the last ones in Africa.
The panelists raised the alarm that as long as the practices of democracy in Africa are plagued by Western influences and corruption that results in the impoverishment of the citizens, the military will always find excuses to make incursions into governance.
They also warned that countries where their leaders arbitrarily change their constitutions so that they can have third or fourth terms instead of two terms are prone to military takeovers.
The panelists also expressed the need to exercise caution in unleashing sanctions on Niger Republic because of the military coup.
They urged that regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS) , the African Union (AU) and political leaders in Africa should have a common template for defining coups.
According to them, there are military coups just as there are civilian coups. Thus, to them, if military coups are sanctioned, civilian coups which are fomented through the rigging of electoral processes should also be sanctioned.
They urged that ECOWAS, AU and political leaders in Africa should have a better way of sanctioning military coupists and their governments. They urged that the blockage of medicines and food in Niger Republic should be lifted since it is the masses and vulnerable people who are the worst hit by such a sanction.
Coups In Africa: Historical Antecedents, Root Causes, And The Systemic Way Out
By Toyin Falola
Military coup — and its sister-act, usurpation — have existed for centuries. Seventeenth-century England had its fair share of attempted and successful military coups. Eighteenth-century France suffered military coups. Even the eighteenth-century Oyo Empire, despite the ingenious move of having the war generals — Are — lived in a city far away from Oyo-Ile to avoid usurpations, still suffered deposition and military coups at the hands of Basorun Gaa. Between the 19th and 20th centuries, several countries of the world faced at least one attempted or successful military coup, from Asia to Europe to Africa. However, military coups have either fully become non-existent or significantly subsided worldwide, except in Africa, where there has been a fresh batch of military takeovers.
Truly, military coups have historically served several purposes. First, they have been an integral part of the growth and evolution of several countries of the world. Humans, by design, are curious experimenters. Therefore, it is only expected that several countries would have attempted military coups and the subsequent military rule that resulted from such coups as an alternative to the type of government they were practicing.
At its basest form, the motivating factor for military coups is a simple attempt to try something new, to see if there is a better alternative to how the country is being run. For this, military coups have served as the beginning of a learning curve for several countries, many of which have adjusted to find a system that works for them and will help them thrive — China finding solace in a communist dictatorship, the United Kingdom has opted for a constitutional monarchy, and for France, it is a semi-presidential government. These countries have gone through the proverbial fire of military disruptions and rules to become what they are today.
Furthermore, military coups result from a failing or failed system of government. Historically, military coups happen in countries experiencing turbulence — whether the turbulence results from a leader clenching on to power at the country’s detriment or widespread corruption running aground. We have also seen cases of coups due to the high-handedness and excesses of those in power. For every country that has experienced a coup, there is a backstory of oppression, corruption, dictatorship, stagnancy, and the suffering of citizens.
Africa is not the only place in the world where coups have happened. But Africa is currently home to the highest number of countries with recent military coups and takeovers. When the rest of the world aims for advancement and development, Africa is battling recurrent news of military coups and takeovers. There is something fundamentally wrong on the continent. While it is not out of place to blame the role colonization — and its resultant mambo-jumbling of people of differing races, cultures, and approaches — played in the disruption of the continent, it is important to note that Africa is not the only home of former colonies. India has never for once experienced a military coup. That is not to say India is perfect, but India is growing, evolving and learning.
Military coups have registered themselves as the transitional bridge in African politics. The poor leadership, country-wrecking corruption, mass abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, constitution, and citizens contribute massively to the military’s self-justification of military coups in these African countries. Ironically, the military that has often positioned itself as the restorer of law and order and the savior of the people is also notorious for committing the same or far worse offenses and abuse of power during their regimes. In West Africa, countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Togo experienced their first military coup less than 10 years after their independence. That speaks more to a fundamental problem or mentality that transcends political failure.
In Africa — especially with the recent military coups — there is more to it than military intervention. These coups and usurpation of power are beginning to look like the countries’ way of taking a stance devoid of the perceived cowardice of the deposed democratic leaders. There is a pattern to the military coups that have happened recently in Africa, as they have mostly been in countries that are former colonies of France.
Although it is being said that the days of colonization are far behind, there are indications of not-so-subtle neocolonialism by France within its former colonies, often aided by the French-state-backed elected leaders of those former colonies. In exchange for the pleasures of the French soil — akin to the resultant effect of the notorious model of assimilation and association — the leaders of these Francophone African states curry for the grace and favor of the French state, at the detriment of their countries and citizens.
There is also the hefty price for independence tied to the ridiculous agreements the French state has reached with its former colonies, including the enormous amount remitted to France annually for the use of the Francs CFA, the widespread exploitation of Nigeriens through mining done by French-state-backed Orano’s Somair, and the over-dependence of resources-rich Francophone African states on France are some reasons for these patterned military takeovers that have happened recently.
There is no denying that when the people are pushed to the wall, they would be left with no choice but to push back. This has been the case in Gabon, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. At this point, there is the need for introspection: are the African states that never experienced a coup better off? What systems of government do those states practice? Do they have a history of colonization? Are they multi-ethnic countries? How big are they by population? When we juxtapose the troubled countries with the ones that never had any coup using these metrics, we will then begin to see a clear path toward understanding the biggest root causes of military coups in Africa and whether they have been beneficial, and perhaps understanding the best way out.
Since the recent coups, there have been grand attempts by regional blocs like ECOWAS to resolve the issue, including opting to use a strong tone and attempting to strong-arm the putschists in Niger into returning power to the usurped president of the country. However, if historical antecedents are anything to go by, strong-arming the putschists is not the way to go, and opting for a full-blown-war or military operation can only result in a victory with two downsides: the emergence of rebels in the state or civilians becoming the victims in a case where the military intervention blows out of proportion. In both cases, the result does not spell good for the average citizen of the countries where the governments have been overthrown. What then needs to be addressed?
There is a need to address the root causes of these military coups, rechristened as interventions in African states. There is a need for holistic approaches that will result in proactive measures to mitigate the issues and usher Africa into a new era of evolution and growth that will banish military coups and regimes as relics of history.
At the Toyin Falola Interviews, our next panel session will focus on coups in Africa, drawing on the expertise of analysts invited from African states. King/Prof. Fuankem Achankeng, Col. (Rtd) Festus Aboagye, Dr. Omotola Ilesanmi, Prof. Vladimir Antwi-Danso, and Prof. Biodun Ogundayo will be sharing insights and expanding on the root causes of coups in Africa, how the coups tie back to geopolitics, the legitimacies of these coups, and resource management at a time like this. Furthermore, there will be a focus on discussing the true and systemic way out of the myriad of coup-inciting problems within countries on the African continent. Join us on Sunday, September 24, as our panelists discuss this time-sensitive and vital topic.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Mauritius and Seychelles Time (UTC/GMT+4): 8 PM
East Africa Time (UTC/GMT+3): 7 PM
Central Africa Time (UTC/GMT+2): 6 PM
West Africa Time (UTC/GMT+1): 5 PM
Greenwich Mean Time (UTC/GMT): 4 PM
Cape Verde Time (UTC-1): 3 PM
Austin, Texas (CST): 11 AM
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How To Stop Military Coups In Africa – Bolaji Akinyemi
A former External Affairs Minister , Prof.Bolaji Akinyemi , has proffered an antidote to the rising spate of military coups in Africa.
Prof. Akinyemi who was a minister in the government of former Military President Ibrahim Babangida spoke against the background of a military coup that has removed a democratic government in Niger Republic.
Military coups which were a regular occurrence in Africa in the decades after independence have become resurgent recently.
The takeover in Niger, led by soldiers belonging to the presidential guard, is just the latest in a string of coups that have taken place in recent years.
There were two in Burkina Faso in 2022 as well as failed coup attempts in Guinea Bissau, The Gambia and the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe.
In 2021, there were six coup attempts in Africa, four of them successful.
Akinyemi said during a session of the Prof.Toyin Falola Interviews on Sunday that there should be a charter on democracy that would be binding on members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He said that such a charter should be endorsed by the African Union and even the United Nations.
Akinyemi said that such a charter had become necessary because democracies are not only truncated in Africa by military coups. According to him, democracies are also truncated through civilian coups. This entails elected presidents changing their nations’ constitutions in order to get more tenures beyond the terms as stipulated in their constitutions.
He explained that ECOWAS leaders are opposed to the military coup in Niger as a way of protecting their own democracies.
But he condemned a development that he referred to as the ethnicisation of foreign policy. He referred to the opposition by a region of Nigeria to the plan of President Bola Tinubu to deploy the military in Niger in order to return to democracy. He said such ethnic and religious considerations in deciding foreign policies were non-existent in the past. He said this was why he supported the then Nigerian government’s decisions as regards military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The interviewers who included Prof. Jide Osuntokun, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Ambassador Godknows Igali, Ambassador Jaiyeola Joseph Lewu and Prof.Richard Joseph asked Prof.Akinyemi questions about his family background, the university system, his career and national and international developments.
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