…lashes out at incompetent, greedy political leaders for making a mess of Nigeria
By Anote Ajeluorou
ERIATA Oribhabor, Aj. Dagga Tolar, Funke Awodiya, and this writer paid a scheduled visit to the museum cum zoo home of Africa’s largest private art collector, Prince Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon in mainland Lagos. Mission was for Oribhabor to give a report card of Poetourism (an offshoot of Poets in Nigeria – PIN for which he’s president) event for which the art collector is a patron, with a view to courting more support from his Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF), a major vehicle for promoting Nigerian art and artists. His art philanthropy saw to the establishment of an impressive museum at Pan-Atlantic University, Ajah, Lagos, where PIN’s Poetourism event took place on June 4, 2022.
Right from the car park, a marble sculptor of a man in a sitting position with a hat welcomes you to the massive but intricately styled, iron-wrought gate that soon ushers you into the park-like botanical garden with various art works in marble, iron, and bronze adorn every space available. Not forgetting also the array of exotic birds (some local, come imported) of various hues and plumage whose twittering is welcoming music to the ears. The man behind it all said he fell in love with animals, as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan, when he once stumbled into the university zoo. Among his collection of animals is an ancient-looking tortoise in its own shed enjoying the sunshine.
Shyllon’s outdoor reception area is an interesting study of a crowded art gallery. There are ancient (artefacts) and modern art that ranges from wood carvings that date back to pre-history, pieces possibly rescued from shrines that had fallen into bad times from the usual zealousness of some to be more Catholic than the Pope, as has become the lot of many who converted to foreign religions at the expense of their ancestral ones. The modern pieces are just as fascinating and show Shyllon’s taste interest in the promotion and preservation of Nigerian art practices.
Shyllon is a man with a vast knowledge in a lot of fields, and he does not shy away from expounding on these ideas when the opportunity arises. To those too religious for their own good and who believe he surrounds himself with pieces of fetishes in the art he collects, he deems them ignorant of what religion is, saying there’s nothing fetish in works of art to be feared, as they are no objects of worship as wrongly ascribed. He said Africans have always worshipped the almighty God since time immemorial and who is variously known or called in different tongues like Olodumare in Yoruba, Chukwu in Igbo, Oghene in Isoko/Urhobo, Osenobua in Esan, etc, but that He is approached through minor representatives by these various peoples and the artefacts are just creative pieces to understanding the creative force of the almighty.
He also stated that Africa had no religion, as we know it today, prior to the coming of the white man, adding that the Indians were first to have organised religion with their Hindu thousands of years before Christ.
The engineer, who also has a law firm with over two thousand books he will soon donate to a private university the way he gifted a museum stocked with art works to Pan-Atlantic University, expounded on the singular mantra he said has guided him all his life, and which he believes is a universal truism and path to success.
“My personal mantra is: Live for others, laugh with others and love others,” he told his 4-man audience. “My mantra has guided me all my life. From the age of 35, by the grace of God almighty, I have made people, because I have lived for others.”
He specifically commended Oribhabor for his diligence in sacrificing his time and resources to groom young people, and urged him not to relent, saying giving of oneself without expecting anything in return is far more rewarding than receiving. He said sacrificial giving is what Nigerian leaders lack, adding that it is sheer hypocrisy for such leaders to expect patriotism from citizens who have received nothing from their leadership service that is self-centred.
“I must commend you. You’re giving what’s missing in Nigeria. You’re giving intellectuality; you’re sacrificing your time. I know what it costs to survive in this very difficult clime, and you’re able to give back to society that does not deserve any element of patriotism. Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike for four months. Have you ever imagined in your time that universities will be shut for four months? If you’re an orphan or staying with a labourer to survive, can you imagine how much wastage Nigeria has caused these young people? And yet some will say you have to be patriotic. Patriotism does not come from lip-service. The country has to offer citizens basis for them to love their country.”
He recounted how patriotism elsewhere is fueled by the sacrificial rendering of first class services by leaders to their citizens, and how it shows in the self-motivated patriotism citizens in such countries display.
“I’ve had the privilege of travelling by road from New York to San Francisco (in America), over a period of six weeks, and I can tell you that of the over 70 countries that I’ve been to, where patriotism is highest is in America. And I can tell you why. In every home that I saw in those six weeks, there’s always an American flag. That was what struck me. How many of you have a Nigerian flag in your homes? None, most likely.”
ALTHOUGH comfortable in his own right, yet Shyllon is as angry as hapless Nigerian youths on the streets for whom the own country has become a huge disappointment. Hoodlums would not burn down his house if society had taken care of them, he seemed to be musing.
“So you find that the society is wired against its citizens, whether young or old. This country is wired against its citizens. And wired by who? Our incompetent fools who call themselves political leaders; greedy, noncommittal, tribalistic, all the negatives in this world apply to them.”
But Shyllon said it was heart-warming to identify with Oribhabor’s selfless mission of providing a platform to groom young people, and was full of praises for him.
“I’m very grateful for what you’re doing,” he enthused. “I can tell you that I love what you’re doing. I love what you’re doing; I appreciate what you’re doing. Knowledge rules the world, not money. Do you kmow that they’re building a space ship like an aeroplane (Sky Cruise) that can take 5,000 people and stay in space for months and even years, and it will never come down? It will be serviced by aeroplanes and powered by safe nuclear power. And what’s your (country’s) contribution to knowledge? Cows! Terrorists, and your country refuses to brand them terrorists. If you travel by railroad, diesel will finish on the way and you become meat for terrorists.
“I want to thank you very much, and I want to tell you I’m committed in whatever way I can. I want to thank you, Eriata Oribhabor, for your commitment. I share your passion of doing what you know how to do.”
Thereafter and to honour the man widely recognised as the pillar of the arts in Nigeria, Aj Dagga Tolar read a piece titled ‘Search of the Self XVII’ from his poetry collection Search of the Self, Awodiya also read ‘Show me empathy’ from her collection The Farmer’s Daughter (Poems on the Borderline), which enjoins people to show empathy and not sympathy to those suffering from sickle cell anaemia disorder while Oribhabor caped it off with a pidgin poem ‘If travel na food.’ Aj Dagga Tolar and Funke Awodiya presented copies of their books to the art patron. Shyllon then gave incisive critique of the three poems like any informed literary critic would ordinarily do to the admiration of his audience, with the ducks in the garden zoo seemingly giving quacks of approval to the late afternoon of fine artistic engagement.