Saturday, August 23, 2008


What a pity that some individuals, especially in leadership positions, have never learnt to leave well alone! Oyinlola, embattled governor of Osun State on multiple fronts, raced to Sydney, Australia, to seek audience with Ulli Beier, seeking a way out of the unsavory dilemma into which he had been thrust by his former military boss to whom his allegiance remains fixated over and above the claims of truth, culture, decency, and the people of Osun state over whom he was presumably ‘elected’; to preside. His mission: to seek a face-saving formula from the Beiers.

Ever his gracious, Yoruba acculturated self, Ulli Beier consented to receive him but – alone, without his entourage. There – and I do not speculate – he was duly scolded like the errant scion of a royal house he is, called to order, reminded by his elderly host of a long cultural collaboration with his late father. Oyinlola emerged duly chastened, knowing that he had no choice but to revert to the path of honour. However, does he leave well alone? No, he had to present the nation with his own version of that closed-door session, laying the seeds of further distractions and/or new ways to pursue a tenacious agenda. It is not by accident that the FESTAC collection has been mentioned in documents connected to this saga of acquisitive obsession. We had better start screaming right now, even before ‘facts’ become facts, and a national acquisition ends in the bowels of presidential Laundromats.

Now, what are these ‘facts’ that Oyinlola advises his betters to verify before exercising their ‘elder statesman’ interventionist compulsion? It is a demeaning exercise, but I must try public patience with a reiteration of some already stated facts – facts as in factual, without the inverted commas. The following are excerpts from a letter of 4 July 2007 to Mr. Koichiro Matsura, Director-General of UNESCO, by Ambassador Michael Omolewa, the Nigerian Permanent Delegate to UNESCO:

“Permit me to present to you formally my Government’s proposal: the Government of Nigeria has decided that the Institute shall be established on the premises of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, Ogun State……”

Now, turn to page 3 of that letter, under “Explanatory Note” and see the guaranteed contents of this Institute. I quote:

“Ulli and Georgina Beier have signed an agreement with the Government in which they agreed to transfer their archive and collection of some 10,000 items of books, articles, photographs, negatives and albums, films, videos, audio cassettes, record CDs, ephemera about concerts and exhibitions and other cultural items and material pertaining to Nigerian and in particular Yoruba culture…..”

Will Prince Oyinlola kindly tell the nation to which Institute, according to Omolewa’s letter, this collection was to be transferred?

In the immediately preceding paragraph, Ambassador Omolewa actually assures the Director-General that sub-branches of the Obasanjo Library based Institute will be created, the first of which shall be the ‘ULLI AND GEORGINA BEIER CENTRE FOR BLACK CULTURE AND INTERNATIONAL UNDERSTANDING” This was the picture presented to Ulli Beier, only for this laudable recognition to be appropriated by the Olusegun Obasanjo Library, on behalf of which the UNESCO Category II accreditation was to be sought.

It is a tedious, ignoble affair, and I have already laid out the heart of the matter in my earlier article that alerted UNESCO to the danger of it being turned into a Laundromat for Failed Rulers. So let me cut straight though the brambles of deceit, manipulation and confusionist tactics at ambassadorial level. Here is the title of the actual petition that went before the Executive Board - Document 177 Ex/69) of 17 September 2007- for presentation to the General Assembly:


Lo and behold, the ULLI AND GEORGINA BEIER CENTRE FOR BLACK CULTURE AND INTERENATIONAL UNDERSTANDING, on the basis of which the archives were bought, presented to the Director-General for endorsement in July 2007 by the Nigerian Government through her Ambassador Omolewa, has become, by September of the same year, the OLUSEGUN OBASANJO INSTITUTE. Based on what credentials? The ability to swallow, intact, the Ulli and Georgina collection, salted and spiced by public funds. This was the Grand Larceny that would have become a fait accompli in April this year, but for the naturally resented intervention of those who are now advised to get their ‘facts’ straight. The shameless posturing of Oyinlola takes one’s breath away.

More facts? In the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Babaloola Borishade, Minister of Culture, on behalf of the Nigerian Government,and dated 10th May, 2007, the honourable Minister provides the genesis of the conspiracy to appropriate the Beier archives in paragraph 5 (Background). In the Minister’s words:

‘Subsequently President Olusegun Obasanjo requested Professor Borisade, Professor Omolewa, and Hans d’Orville to explore and negotiate with Mr. and Mrs. Beier the terms and arrangements of a transfer of the archive from Sydney in a newly to be created centre in Oshogbo, as part of a new Institute for Black Culture and International Understanding being established under UNESCO s auspices at the Olusegun Obasanjo Library”

Put all those ‘facts’ together, and all they form is a crooked line. As it happens however, a substantive issue has been raised that must be confronted by UNESCO. Now that Oyinlola’s authoritative voice has been raised to assure the nation, and the people of Osun state, that the archives will now go where they were originally designated, what does that make of the earlier aspirant, now thwarted custodian, the Obasanjo Library? In cultural terms, a koroo isana. An empty matchbox, and I consider it my duty to pass on this development, and its implications, formally to UNESCO in my capacity as Goodwill Ambassador, among other hats I occasionally put on my head.

My prolonged collaboration with that institution indicates quite plainly that it endorses actualities, be they of Nature or man’s intelligence – Angkor Wat, Osun Grove, Sintra, Abu Simbel, the Alhambra, active programmes with records to show for their existence, specialised institutions etc. etc. I have yet to learn that ‘yet-to-be-created’ notions, expectations and intentions, even when backed by five-star hotels and promissory notes and government subsidies qualify for UNESCO designations. Functioning is the ultimate criteria, not simply a building, or complex. Those who want to pursue illusions are free to do so. It is when attempts are made to stuff such illusions with the palpable life labour of others as credentials that we are forced to bring the House of Cards crashing down on their heads.

Facts, Prince Oyinlola? There are plenty more, but we’ll reserve them for the effective time and place. My advice to you is that you stick to the guardianship and preservation of those archives when they arrive in Oshogbo – at least, while you’re still governor. For the unfinished part of this tawdry business, the dateline is October/November, UNESCO, Paris. We’ll see you there, with your entourage – or whoever is governor. In the meantime, let the appropriate Ministry – and public - take stock of all the bits and pieces the nation has managed to salvage from FESTAC.

A Press conference, foreign architects in attendance, has already bragged of building a museum in the Library complex. New functions for a Presidential Library are being touted that were not canvassed during the extortionist exercise that launched the five-star hotel and yet-to-be-created Institutes. Experts, scholars and diplomats are already under recruitment. Tracks are being laid to ease the passage of FESTAC archives into the baskets of the Presidential Laundromat, upon whose porous containers the UNESCO recognition as a cultural estate will now be based. Mischief is yet afoot, let no one be deceived.

There are some guests , when they leave the house, you have to count the forks and knives.

(published with kind permission from the author)


Air beneath my feet 7:24 pm  

Such a real pity and very satirical indeed!
If a goat and a wolf share the same cage, the goat may uninstinctively behave like the wolf. But the moment a crisis comes along you will notice that the goat will revert back to its goat-root and begin to behave like a scapegoat.

Jobs in Nigeria 12:15 am  

Wole Soyinka is a good writter, nice piece of work....

Lost at the Other End of the World 8:31 am  

I'm trying but, honestly, cannot react with the indignation that Soyinka probably solicits from this spirited article. His generation is the last of a dying era. Ours is a lost generation for whom education is fast turning an obsolete word.

From primary to tertiary institutions, everything else--from physical abuse to prostitution--occur except sound and progressive education.

I'm happy the archive has been momentarily secured. Still, Oyinlola and his posse are, in reality, only a minute part of the problem.

The obtuseness of the so-called posterity for whom the archive has been chivalrously salvaged is the bigger threat.

Controversial Anon 4:50 pm  

I am sick of Wole Soyinka and his generation. I have had it up to my neck with them and their constant trouble. Collectively, they owe us an apology for the sorry country that they will bequeath to us.

And while everyday I get up in the morning and strive to make this country better for my children, I wish not to hear anymore from their generation, they make me sick. Soyinka, Babangida, Obasanjo, Fawehinmi, Gowon, Ojukwu, etc die, die please die, so we can move on.


Kody 6:13 pm  

Controversial Anon, my sentiments exactly. I wish these people would stop hanging around like potbellied middle aged oafs you see in clubs leering at teenagers. The party is over, you have eaten all you can. Go home for goodness sake.

Waffarian 8:47 pm  

@ controversial anon:

hehehehehhehe, abeg, no kill with me laughter for here. You mean the days of big belles under agbadas are over? ahhhhh, the days of six packs under suits are here....amen!

@lost at the other end of the world:

"The obtuseness of the so-called posterity for whom the archive has been chivalrously salvaged is the bigger threat".

small small with the grammer na, haba! to dey find dictionary dis kain night na work oh.

Lost at the Other End of the World 6:44 am  

@ Waffarian:

Lol! I no fit shout.

@ Kody: I want to say, for the record, that a guy like Soyinka has definitely paid his dues.

That been said, we need young blood. People wey know "wassup." People wey go project their voices above the marketplace of confusion that Nigeria is. Soyinka needs to know that the days of blowing grammar is over.

If care is not taken the generation of Nigerian kids going to schools where nothing is being taught will not remember him and his crew.

Kody 10:57 am  

I just think that without Soyinka et all stepping aside, we cannot make any progress in this country. There is only so long you can stretch the kudos that a Nobel prize brings, and his is definitely slack now in my view.

From young, we are taught to listen to and learn from our elders but to be honest, I and many others have learned nothing from their generation.

Now is the time for less talk and more action. They gave my generation the benefit of education when such a thing still existed in Nigeria. Many of us even got the benefit of studying abroad without losing our identity so its time we all put it to good use.

As dramatic as it may sound, we that are now in our thirties and early fourties are the ones who will make or break Nigeria. The generation after me - my nieces and nephews, many don't speak our languages as their first language and care not a jot about Nigeria....and I include even the ones who have not stepped beyond these shores.

Anonymous,  12:12 pm  

i have no idea what this is about.

Is the Osun governor trying to steal the archive?

is the controversial bit that the library dies not exist yet and thats the trouble.

Soyinka doesn't do plain speaking. I would havbe appreciated a summary of the issues in easy to understand english for those of us not endowed with his giant brain.

Jeremy 12:29 pm  

Well guys, its time for you all to step up to the plate. I don't think its fair to tar all the grey-beards with the same brush. Soyinka should be commended for carrying on in his role as a public intellectual well into retirement age.

The 'out with the old' strategy is however dangerous:

1. Nigeria needs to reconnect with all forms of pre-colonial history, as a way of working out what is useful going forwards. Denying history is precisely the wrong direction to go in.

2. How can you be sure that the new generation is going to be any less clueless, inept and corrupt as the previous? I'm sorry to say I have seen no strong evidence that there is a demographically-based increase in integrity with the younger generations. In fact, the reverse is the case - in a society where the rich for the most part have not earned their wealth, where role models are thin on the ground, its no wonder the young'uns coming up have been socialised into a world without ethics or common values..

Kody 2:01 pm  

1) The fact that we want rid of his generation does not in any way correlate to a desire to deny our history. Of course by learning about the past, we can better shape our future, and the preservation of artifacts from our history is crucial. For that Soyinka does deserve praise.

The point is we no longer need Soyinka and others to tell us what to think and how to rule. We don't relate to him especially because of his inability to speak plain English anyway!! Plus in my view, he has a smarmy (yes, that is the most appropriate word I have to describe him) tone that can be irritating.

2) How can we be sure of what the new generation is capable of when his generation will not just retire and go play golf. Instead they assume the role of godfathers in politics, in intellectual thinking, in business, in life. I don't buy your argument at all. Why do our role models need to be Nigerian? What makes you think we are incapable of recognizing good governance, integrity and good leadership from any source? How will a child learn to walk when the parent keeps standing in his way?

Anonymous,  2:21 pm  

"How will a child learn to walk when the parent keeps standing in his way?"

AK47 to such a parent

Jeremy 2:37 pm  

Role models that are not local remain abstract and ultimately have no traction or rich meaning within the culture.

A lot of Nigerians are fooling themselves right now that having a Black American president is going to change the configuration by somehow showing that the black man can rise that far. Its a bit like thinking Margaret Thatcher changed things for British women. Obama hardly gives a damn about Kenya and certainly doesn't seem to care a hoot about West Africa or Nigeria. His only local relevance is melanomic.

A role model has to be local because it lends credence to the idea that 'I too can follow that path.'

Taking Obama again as our example, his potential power as a role model for Nigerians will always be limited by the fact that young Nigerians cannot become the President of the US as he potentially may do...

MsMak,  3:12 pm  

Please, let us not lose sight of the 'koko' of the matter.

This man is trying to direct our attention to something very important - something our local press is too lazy to investigate and report about, and which we youth are too non-chalant to pay attention to. How one man (!) wants to appropriate for himself ("with style", as Fela would say)what should be our collective inheritance as a nation.

OBJ as a former president left many important things undone, but had the foresight to think about his future legacy while he was still in office. So he coerced people into donating billions of naira to start a presidential library in his name and for his glory. And he wants to add the Beiers' colection to this library. That you, me and others will one day probably have to pay to enter.

Our universities are rotting, we don't have any world-class museums, national theatre is in shambles,and our history in many cases has been re-written or plain erased to favor the whims of these ex-generals. Yet OBJ and Oyinlola would claim they are doing this for the good of "Nigerians". Yeah, sure.

I am not that big a fan of Soyinka's writing but I appreciate his literary achievements, and his efforts in reminding us of our cultural responsibility. I pray THAT library never gets hold of those materials.

Lost at the Other End of the World 3:27 pm  


The hoo haa about staying connected with history is the reason why Nigeria is a gerontocracy.

Dont' worry about the problem of losing our past. Precolonial history you're talking about is pretty much lost. As a European, you of all people should know the wonders of rewriting historys.

Besides, most of us grew up in societies where elders even those sexually, physically, politically, and economically abusing you should be respected.

Trust me I'm in literary research, and I know how so-called "fathers" of Nigerian literature sneer at what guys like like Habila are doing, reluctant to legitimize thier works as valid just because they're young.

I agree with Kody man, and Jeremy, if your're flinching at what's been said about Soyinka, just think about it as the Bloomian Anxiety of Influence.

Jeremy 3:45 pm  

@ Lost at the Other End of the World: No flinching here. Its quite ironic that the author of Death and the King's Horsemen should be asked to fall on his sword along with the Princes...

Meanwhile, the idea that pre-colonial history has been 'lost' can only be thought by someone whose head is too close to literature and to writing..

Pre-colonial Nigeria is everywhere, saturated within this present. One cannot understand how Nigerians behave to any degree without understanding first that the post-colonial moment we are in is a complex of distortions of the pre-colonial. Forms of worship, notions of love, friendship, the way spaces are designed and used etc etc. However, as with all depth-history in any society, the pre-colonial is buried within 'tacit' knowledge - it is a 'communication more ancient than thought' to borrow a phrase from my favourite philosopher, Merleau-Ponty.

To give a parallel example: one cannot understand why there is a monarchy today, and one cannot understand the rituals of governance in the UK, without understanding something of the depth of English history, at least allt the way back to early medieval times. So much of how England (if not the UK) 'works' is a product of layer upon layer of meaning from the Norman conquest onwards...

Without engaging with the tacit, the pre-cognitive, and how it motivates and structures any society, the understanding of that society will be superficial.

Paths back towards understanding the pre-colonial in Nigeria are already underway - witness the Benin expo in Chicago. More of this will come, as for instance, those in the Yoruba diaspora realise in ever increasing numbers that Yoruba culture is too deep and powerful to be cast aside.

And so we come back full circle. The Beier collection must be made available to as many as people (that means its as close to free as possible) exactly where and how the Beiers wanted it to be shown...

Kody 6:27 pm  

I still do not understand this fervour around Barack Obama, I reserve my judgement till (perhaps) he wins and makes a change in international politics that will make our world better. By the way, how do you know Obama doesn't give a damn about Kenya or Africa in general?

I still don't subscribe to the need to look to a local role model. I don't care where the source of inspiration comes from - I know my history, my language, my culture, my people and I need only know what will work if I were to apply it to Nigeria.

I guess we will agree to disagree.

But man, I wonder how Obj, Babangida, and others sleep at night. Where did this obsession with the accumulation of wealth come from? This need to be remembered, worshipped by whatever means necessary with no real regard for the common man? Tony Blair wanted to cling to power for as long as possible-that is obvious, but he had to step down, and so he did.

Our leaders will not go till they take all they can, do all they can to ensure they leave their 'boys' in charge so they can still continue to have an influence, and make sure their name is plastered on every street, church, mosque and now library.

jealous-me 6:36 pm  

naijablog why you dey defend person wey you no 2 sabi?
since when u sabi am? go ask him pickins about am. na oloriburuku man.
dhis man na fucking rogue onijibiti, he go expose the yoruba religion and come make name for oyinbo world. So what? He accepted to be IBB's chairman of the Road safety commission. The man na bloody rogue. He dey use the yoruba thing make name and im no really like yoruba people. Wetin he dey find for america were he dey teach. make he come spend im dollar for naija. fucking rogue. hippocrite. ole. Me I no go school, so what? I no jisoro any gadem morafucker. awon oloshi hiss! HISS. Shio

wait, abi i dey jealous am? wait make i go think

jealous 6:41 pm  

kody, wetin u just talk? say Tony blair step down? step wetin? when obama go dem abuna country, no be tony blair im first go juba for, the man na him dey run the show for obodo uk, no shaking

Lost at the Other End of the World 10:59 pm  

A few notes on your interesting response:

"Pre-colonial Nigeria is everywhere, saturated within this present."

Which Pre-colonial Nigeria? The one transmitted through colonial Britain or the one that my illiterate great-great-grand father left in this diaries and journals? Pre-colonial Nigeria is a palimpsest that everyone, from the portuguese to the british to present day Nigerian historians (and even the darkness-binding pentecostal pastors), has violently inscribed upon. So, just what "true" pre-colonial Nigerian history should we be looking for to lead us out of our troubled condition? My guess is that any usability of our past resides in what we do with it, possibly rewriting and rethinking it.

"So much of how England (if not the UK) 'works' is a product of layer upon layer of meaning from the Norman conquest onwards..."

The Norman Conquest? That's been too modest. Why not take it as far back as the Greeks and the Roman Republics--traditions that the west essentially appropriated for itself. There'll be as much "grounds" for situating both periods as the origins of what makes England 'work." Nothing wrong with that. Just shows that pasts, origins, histories are disposable.

"witness the Benin expo in Chicago."

The displayed artifacts are deathly silent, a painful thought to contemplate. You're right on the money in bringing the exhibition up in relation to precolonial Nigerian history. For the simple reason that our past, like those artifacts, having been violently uprooted from their historical context, does not have much to say and will have to make do with what others, like us, inscribe on it.

I hope I'm not sounding captious. I just think that people should realize that many of us commenting here are "situated" at a specific moment in our nation's history that places us in relation to our past, our national identity, and our future in ways that radically separate us from our forebears.

This might be where the impatience with Soyinka stems from.

FM,  12:34 pm  

Now, i need education.but what kind and who from, i wonder. The comments i have read on Soyinka's doubtlessly patriotic piece suggest something frightening about the future of this nation. We live in a cynical age in which discernmentis being mangled by nitwitism masquerading as generational self discovery. How can any sane, discerning Nigerian delight in the abominable fad of denigrating national icons like SOYINKA? We must recognize that however corrupt and depraved a generation, there would always be isolated bright spots like Soyinka. Further, we have to learn that however tigerish or brilliant this individual bright spot, the rot can never be contained except the fight is sustained by kindred elements.We either choose to sustain the Soyinka-like crusade or eat ourselves away in self disgust and mistaken self belief.

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