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Centre For Black Culture And International Understanding (CBCIU): For Culture? Or Penkelemes?

Soyinka at the briefing in Lagos … on Tuesday PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

Soyinka at the briefing in Lagos … on Tuesday PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

ONE way to summarize the situation of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU) at this moment requires no deep elaboration. It goes thus: There is Law, and there is Ethics. Wherever these two arbiters of public conduct appear to clash, even Ethics must bow to Law. On the other hand, it is useful to remember also that the sinews that bind civilized society together are strengthened when both – Law and Ethics – converge, and are harmonized in a public cause.

To come down to the specifics of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, I require no convincing that this ideal harmonization was manifested when the lawmakers of Osun State enacted, in 2012, an amendment to the original CBCIU law that had been signed into law by Governor Oyinlola on 29th December 2008. That origjnal law, in my view, was profoundly unethical.

The Amendment, by the succeeding House of Assembly, signed into law on the 31st day of July, 2012, was clearly designed to inject an ethical corrective into the original law. I am not qualified to comment on the legal intricacies of the provisions in either, if any – this must be left to “our learned friends” of the legal profession. They have however advised that the July 2012 amendment supersedes the original, and that this Amendment constitutes the current law within under which the CBCIU obtains its validity, until overturned under a new Law enacted by a chamber of equal or superior jurisdiction. For direct public enlightenment, the heading of the Document of Assent goes thus:

STATE OF OSUN, NIGERIA
OSUN STATE CENTRE FOR BLACK CULTURE AND INTERNATIONAL UNDERSTANDING

(AMENDMENT) LAW, 2012

Assented to by the Governor of Osun State on the 31st of July 2012

No court judgment exists that voids a single provision of this law – including the setting up of a new board – or its entirety. It is important that this nation, and the entire world of culture and ethical pursuit understand this. Contrary to whatever has been propagated so assiduously by some parties of interest in various quarters, NO court order exists that prevents the Board that was established under the 2012 Amendment from exercising its rights and responsibilities. NO court order exists that compels the Governor or House of Assembly to reinstate the former Board Chairman of 2008. NO relief has been granted to the ex-governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, that authorizes him to present himself to the nation and the world as the substantive chairman of the CBCIU (or ‘Emeritus Chairman’ – among other titles that he has since accorded himself.) This is the legal position – as the Board remains advised by Osun State government’s legal department. If these experts are proven wrong, then the current board will bow out without one second’s delay, led by its current chairman. It will most gladly hand over all CBCIU effects in its possession and even tender a public apology to the ex-governor, his ‘Board Members’, his campaign team and indeed any other interested parties.

From the corporate, we move to the individual. Here, I wish to outline the section of the Amendment by the Osun House of Assembly that remains of primary interest to me, personally. It is that portion which articulates, in accessible language, that much desired convergence of Law and Ethics which, as earlier proposed, offers society a basis for civilized existence. I quote:
“Section 8 of the Principal Law is hereby amended by substituting thereof the following provisions:

(a) The Board shall consist of the following members:

(i) The Chairman of the Board who shall be the Governor or anyon appointed by him for this purpose…..

For emphasis, I call attention to that section again which states:
“who shall be the governor….”
In contrast, the parallel provision in the original, now ineffectual law, signed by Prince Oyinlola, states – “who shall be Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola”. Oyinlola to Oyinlola, and Oyinlola for ever and ever – Oyinlola!

What the Amendment legislates is that the CBCIU is public property, established and maintained with state funds, funded by the state, housed by the state, instituted by elected representatives of the people. It is not private, hereditary property, not even of the most elevated royalty.

To my ears, this is ethical music.

It should be of interest to reveal that I had a private meeting on this issue with the Director-General of UNESCO, Madam Irina Bokova, when she and I attended an event nearly exactly two years ago in Kazakhstan. I had learnt, not too surprisingly, that the former governor of Osun State, Prince Oyinlola, had made forays into UNESCO headquarters, Paris, to protest his removal from a position he had created for himself while governor – and in perpetuity. Invited to that meeting, once I raised the issue, was Hans d’Orville, one of Madame Bokova’s most senior aides. I asked her how UNESCO proposed to handle what was gearing up to become quite a penkelemes (courtesy Adelabu) for all parties in this unseemly development.

Hans d’Orville confirmed that the Prince had indeed written protest letters to UNESCO and also shown up a number of times in his own person, sometimes with a delegation. Hans d’Orville informed his Director-General and I that he had already responded to Oyinlola’s written appeals, and that, on each personal visit, he repeated exactly what he had written to the prince, namely, that CBCIU was set up under the laws of the host country – that is, of Osun State, Nigeria – thus, UNESCO could not interfere in a situation that would contradict the provisions of such laws.

UNESCO’s Director-General nodded in agreement, saying: “That is exactly my understanding.”

Then she, in turn, wanted to know what was the real story behind the development. I warned her that the issue had a very long history. We were all rather pressed for time, needed to catch flights in different directions. So I proposed that, instead of rehashing the tortuous details, I would pose a hypothetical question to her. I said:

“Let me ask you a simple question. If you decided to leave UNESCO tomorrow, would you use UNESCO funds to set up an entity, any kind of institution, use your position to channel an annual disbursement from UNESCO’s coffers, receive and dispense funds, and make yourself, in your personal capacity, head of that organization – and for life?”

She recoiled in horror. “No-o! That would be highly unethical. Such a thing is not possible”.

I added: “That about sums it up. The incoming governor of Osun State took exactly such a position, embarked on steps to dissolve the board and constitute a new one. The erstwhile, self-appointed Life Chairman has gone to court to contest that position. My advice is that you keep UNESCO away from the ensuing splatter while we clean up our own mess internally – we are quite used to it.”

That was in September 2013. As a member of UNESCO’s High Panel for Peace, I have interacted with Madame Bokova at a number of events since then, as well as with Hans d’Orville before his departure from UNESCO. I was made aware – from numerous sources – that Oyinlola, aided by the former Nigerian representative to UNESCO, Dr. Omolewa, continued to wear out carpets leading to the Africa desk, to numerous offices and national delegations to UNESCO. However, I studiously refrained from raising my concerns with the Director-General or indeed any other serving UNESCO official, right up to this press conference – which shall be copied to UNESCO.

Moreover, the Prince continued to make overtures to Governor Aregbesola, and myself, and to leaders in his new political party, pleading that they intervene so that he could be reinstated on the board in any capacity, however subordinate. I left that plea to the governor entirely – since it remains his prerogative. I did assure him however that I would not stand in the way. I shall reveal here that I went even further – albeit against the grain – but in order to save the nation from international embarrassment through an obsession that I could not yet fully understand – I accommodated Mr. Oyinlola so far as to propose to the governor a Special Board Membership, tasked with responsibility for traditional royal cultures.

Simultaneously however, as was certainly within his fundamental rights, Mr. Oyinlola pursued his legal challenges, having first made off, even till today, with all the files – including every scrap of financial records – of the Centre. While the courts tried to address the conundrum of a life appointee being dispossessed while still very much alive, Mr. Oyinlola chose to pre-empt the courts’ decision. Aided, and even physically accompanied by Nigeria’s former representative to UNESCO, Dr. Omolewa, who was familiar with the interstices of that institution, Oyinlola commenced a campaign, both internally and externally, to disseminate a fraudulent version of the court proceeding. The prince has claimed – and still does! – that the courts had indeed found for him, and that he is back in office as chairman of CBCIU.

Our legal advice is that no basis for such a claim exists! What we do know – and this is clear from the actual court records, not the disseminated, bowdlerized versions, even for the “unlearned” – is that the Court has not even touched the substance of Prince Oyinlola’s appeal for reinstatement! The only effective law, we are firmly advised, remains the July 2012 Law enacted by Osun State House of Assembly.

That leaves us – at least for now – with what primarily interests me, as a citizen dedicated, not only to the Rule of Law – but to the ethics of governance. Without incurring the wrath of the courts for “contempt”, I believe we are entitled to indulge in a transformative debate on the ethics that underlie the provisions of both laws, taken together and in contrast. That debate, the genesis of much of a continent’s post-colonial woes of devastating dimensions, is sometimes described as the “sit-tight syndrome”. It consists of the corrupt privatization of public entities – including nations – with all their assets, even the intangibles! My ever growing conviction that this is a long overdue discourse, limitless in scope and ramifications, to be pursued as a continent-wide undertaking.

• Prof. Soyinka, Chairman, Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU) Osogbo, Osun State delivered this address on September 1, 2015 at Freedom Park, Lagos



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