Wole Soyinka, Oyinlola tussle over Osogbo UNESCO Centre’s leadership

Olagunsoye OyinlolaA solution may not be in sight over the leadership tussle rocking the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), Osogbo, Osun State, a category II facility under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

In the last few weeks, statements and instructions concerning the centre and its programmes have been emanating from two Boards: One headed by the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; and other led by a former Osun State Governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola.

Soyinka, who was appointed Chairman, CBCIU Board by Osun State Governor Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in August 2012 told The Guardian at the weekend that even when the court case instituted to determine who among the two groups has the right to oversee the affairs of the centre is dispensed with, “there is also ethical issue that must be resolved.”

Before Soyinka’s appointment, Oyinlola was holding the fort as the Board Chairman since January 2009 when the centre was commissioned by the UNESCO as the category 11 facility on culture promotion and preservation. The global body had, on October 2008, endorsed Nigeria’s proposal to host the facility regarded as first of its kind in the sub-Sahara Africa.

What sparked the latest controversy was the announcement made by the ‘Oyinlola Board’ to host the second Global Conference of Black Nationalities with the theme: Globalisation and its Effects: Charting a true course for the Development of the Black Race in Bahia, Brazil in November this year. But the Soyinka group issued a Caveat Emptor warning the public to disregard the conference as only ‘Soyinka Board’ has the authority to organise such event within and outside the country in the name of CBCIU.

The statement believed to have been signed by Dr. Wale Adeniran, executive director, CBCIU, reads: “It has come to the attention of the Governing Board of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), a category 2 UNESCO Centre located behind the state secretariat at Abere Osogbo, under the Chairmanship of Emeritus Professor Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate and UNESCO Ambassador, that a group of people led by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and purporting to be acting in the name of CBCIU are planning a conference to be held in Bahia, Brazil, in November 2015 in collaboration with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.

“It is hereby notified for the information of the general public in Nigeria as well as the international community that only the governing board under the Chairmanship of Emeritus Professor Wole Soyinka is authorised to act or organise any event or activity locally and abroad in the name of CBCIU.

“This is the Governing Board that is established in compliance with the Osun State Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (Amendment) Law, 2012, enacted by Osun State House of Assembly on 31st day of July, 2012. Therefore, any other group purporting to act, organise, or negotiate in the name of CBCIU should be regarded as pretenders and charlatans. The general public and international community public is hereby advised to desist from having any dealings with this illegal group under Prince Oyinlola and to discontinue forthwith all transaction(s) entered into by any other such group prior to this notice.”

Responding, the Oyinlola group through what it tagged “Resolution of the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Osogbo, at its meeting held on Wednesday, August 19, 2015” said:

“The Board of Trustees of CBCIU commends its Chairman, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola and the Governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola for their patriotism and renewed efforts to work together to assist CBCIU to fulfill its mandate that includes promoting peaceful and harmonious coexistence, international understanding and other mandates of UNESCO, as conferred on CBCIU.

“The Board notes with disbelief, the activities of some unscrupulous people who are bent on precipitating crises and spreading falsehood, by issuing forged, unsigned statements, publishing and circulating same mischievously, with intent to damage reputations and the credibility of CBCIU.

“The Board notes with due respect, that given the reputation and global status of Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka who was named in the publication, he would, never be involved in or be associated with such dirty antics, or tolerate indecent actions that are beyond the bounds of decency and civility. The board believes that Prof. Soyinka, who is deeply respected by CBCIU BoT would also never disrespect or condone disregard of court pronouncements. It, therefore, advises people with evil intentions attempting to drag the name of Prof. Soyinka into this shameful act to desist from acts associating the eminent professor’s name with their irresponsible conducts.

“The CBCIU board, therefore, noted sadly, that the author of the libelous and unwarranted publication, one Dr. O. Wale Adeniran, who also illegally paraded himself as Executive Director of CBCIU, could have engaged in issuing such a reckless, irresponsible and indecorous unsigned statement, on a forged letterhead (a criminal conduct) only to tarnish the image of reputable people, and also mislead the global community, due to an insatiable appetite for mischief and perpetration of illegalities. The ruling of the Federal High Court, Osogbo and the Judgment of the Court of Appeal, Akure Judicial Division on the legal status of the Board of Trustees are clear and affirmative enough.

“CBCIU board of trustees, therefore assures its numerous partners and institutions with similar objectives, that CBCIU board, as presently constituted, under the chairmanship of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, is the only legally constituted body that is recognised by the Corporate Affairs Commission, Abuja, Nigeria, which is the only body that is responsible for the registration of corporate entities in Nigeria.

“CBCIU board also advises the said Dr. O. Wale Adeniran (if he or she exists) to desist from such criminal actions in his or her own interest. The Board enjoins the international community, including UNESCO, and all invited guests and participants, to shun all illegal publications on CBCIU, and that the conference will hold as planned in Brazil from 15-18 November, 2015.”

But in an exclusive interview with The Guardian at the weekend, Soyinka punctured all the points raised by the group, insisting: “I am the Chairman of CBCIU Board and Dr. Wale Adeniran is the executive director overseeing the administration of the centre and its activities.

“Not one member since the appointment of the Board in August 2012 has drawn even one sitting allowance. Nobody! No member has ever been paid. I want to emphasise that because in Nigeria, people always think it is about money. But the leadership tussle is about money and we will come to that later. But in terms of the personnel of the Board, in spite of the members as well as programmes that have been done, for instance, the Open Encounter Forum on Religion, the participation and organisation, not one penny has been taken….

“Also, I am not aware that anybody on that board – from myself to the most junior member by age or whatever, is interested in position. One is a professor in Library Studies; one is a self-sustained and famous artist; one has huge gallery, very successful with formidable contacts in Europe and America – Nike Okundaye-; Wale Adeniran is a Professor who is also involved in so many activities – academic, literary and so on. In fact, apart from myself, I do not even know if anybody knows who the ‘authentic members’ of the Board are. Nobody is looking for name… like somebody asked me, ‘don’t you have enough engagements to be bothered about this? I said to him: I am over occupied. I just returned from Brazil. I have been out of this country almost throughout… I am not concerned with money, position… I hope nobody insult me with that kind of thinking…”

On the court pronouncement that was referenced in the statement of the Oyinlola group, the literary icon said: “But it is fascinating how a substantive case is being reduced to ‘which lawyer has a right to address the court.’ That is all I got from this so-called court judgment. ‘Which set of lawyers has the right to address the court? And when that is done, the substantive case of the plaintiff will be taken care of by the process of the court.”

He however disclosed that since the institution of the court case shortly after his appointment as CBCIU Board Chairman, he had sent a letter of resignation to Aregbesola with the proviso that the governor should activate it once the judgment is delivered in favour of Oyinlola.

He went on: “I am not a trained lawyer… so, I have to rely on briefs by the lawyers to whom I always ask, ‘please, what is going on? What is the legal situation? And the legal situation I have been ensured is that ‘Oyinlola Board has been legally dissolved’. That he is no longer the Chairman of the Board; that we should just carry on with what we are doing’. That is my own understanding as a layman. Oyinlola and Aregbesola are ‘Ola’ people… All of them are honourable people. But I made sure Aregbesola has my resignation and that he should activate it anytime the court judgment is in favour of the other group.”

Soyinka acknowledged Oyinlola’s overtures in order to settle the matter, perhaps out of court. But he exploded: “The question as regards Oyinlola’s overture is ‘what has he been doing in the meantime? You say he is reaching out to me? Fine! But as he is reaching out to me, what has he been doing? He should be asked this question. Are such actions are actions of someone who wants to effect a settlement? As I said to you, Oyinlola is free to take this position tomorrow if the court says so! All of us are handicapped that the case is before the court.

“So, the court must make a pronouncement. I can’t intervene in the legal proceeding. No! I can only proceed by what the government lawyers tell me. So, when he wants to reach out to me, over what? And then what is he doing in the meantime? How is he carrying on in the meantime? Do such actions indicate the seriousness of somebody who wants to reach settlement? And the settlement is about what? I do not have anything to settle? I have nothing to offer him! I have nothing to offer anybody because, as I said, when all these other events are over, there is ethical issue that interests me very deeply which I think will interest this nation as well.”

He promised to elaborate on this ethical issue at a press conference he would address today, at the Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos.

Meanwhile, the Oyinlola group claimed that their actions so far received the blessing of Aregbesola, who, according to them, asked them to return to the centre’s edifice behind the State Secretariat in Osogbo. They have also gone ahead to recruit new set of workers for the centre and organised an induction course for the new recruits on July 1, 2015.

Besides, the group has also secured UNESCO’s approval for the forthcoming conference in Brazil. In a letter dated June 12, 2015 and signed by the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, the global body said since the conference is consistent with “UNESCO’s mandate, I am pleased to grant it the Organisation’s patronage, and to authorise the use of the UNESCO’s logo on the event’s publicity materials in accordance with the enclosed General Conditions.”

Addressed to “Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, Chairman, Board of Trustees, CBCIU, Osogbo, the letter reads: “I wish to thank you for your letter of 10 March, 2015 by which you request UNESCO’s official support for the conference entitled: ‘‘Globalisation and its effects: Charting a course for the true development of the Black Race’’ that will take place in the Federative Republic of Brazil in November 2015.

“At the outset, allow me to congratulate you on the efforts made by the CBCIU to promote African cultures and a better understanding among cultures through numerous actions. This conference, in the continuity of the previous one organised in Osogbo in August 2010, undoubtedly will constitute a major contribution to the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). It pursues the same objectives as the General History of Africa and the Slave Route Project, two major UNESCO flagship programmes.”

The local organising committee for the Brazil conference headed by the former Nigeria’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa has therefore, been asked to liaise, for successful collaboration and outing, with Ms Jinchal Clarke at the UNESCO Secretariat in Paris, France as well as Mr. Ali Moussa Iye, Chief of the History and Memory for Dialogue Section within the Division for Heritage of the Culture Sector.

Unless it is resolved urgently, the on-going bickering might derail the conference and other goals that the centre is set-up to accomplish.

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