A Misgoverned Governor – By Prof. Wole Soyinka

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…”
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August 27, 2008 11:40 pm

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 facesaving 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 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:

“PROPOSAL FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AN INSTITUTE FOR AFRICAN CULTURE AND INTERNATIONAL UNDERSTAND­ING AT THE OLUSEGUN OBASANJO LIBRARY IN ABEOKUTA, OGUN STATE NIGERIA, AS A CATEGORY 2 CENTRE UNDER THE AUSPICES OF UNESCO”

Lo and behold, the ULLI AND GEORGINA BEIER CENTRE FOR BLACK CULTURE AND INTERNATIONAL 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, had 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 Babalola Borishade, Minister of Culture, on behalf of the Nigerian Government, and dated l0th May, 2007, the honorable 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 korofo 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 Oyiniola? 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, Jet no one be deceived.

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

• Culled from TheNEWS

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