With golden feast of Osogbo arts movement, life returns to UNESCO centre

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Administrative block of the CBCIU over grown by weeds

When the proverbial two elephants engage in a brawl, the grasses underneath suffer. This proverb illustrates the devastating effect of the leadership tussle that rocked the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU) in Osogbo since August 2012.

A recent visit to the premises of the centre located on top of the hill behind Osun State Secretariat complex at Abere, Osogbo, Osun State, drew tears as weeds have overtaken the entire complex. No human activity except the security guards who were manning the two gates leading to the centre could be seen around. There were traces of long years of abandonment. The administrative block, a three-storey building has lost its’ aesthetic, while most of its facilities and fittings were already falling apart. Indeed, it was a sad turn of event for the centre that had successfully hosted international conferences, including the Colloquium on Slave, Slave Trade and Their Consequences; the First Global Conference of Black Nationalities and the World Conference of Mayors. CBCIU had also represented Nigeria at the Year 2011 Executive Board Session of UNESCO in Paris at which an exhibition of the works of late Chief Taiwo Olaniyi, popularly known as Twin Seven-Seven was staged. The rot and decay were simply unimaginable.

Inaugurated on January 7, 2009 as UNESCO category 2 facility for the promotion of cultural and artistic enterprise of the black world, the centre was envisioned to elevate black culture by focusing on its recovery, preservation, promotion and utilisation of its enduring values for the purposes of holistic development, appreciation and international understanding.

At the inauguration in 2009, the then Osun State Governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola who was also the chairman of the governing board of the centre had told the guests that included the then Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Koichuro Matsuura, that “the people of this state and those who will come after us will support this project and build on the commendable efforts we have made so far in placing this great state on the eco-tourism map of the world.

“On the part of the Board of Governors of this Centre of which I am the chairman in and out of office as Governor of Osun State, I wish to assure the international community, and our promoters and supporters that we shall pursue our agenda with utmost sincerity, dedication, commitment and patriotism…”

Ironically, it is now glaring that those who came after Oyinlola didn’t only withdraw support for the CBCIU, some of the steps taken brought degeneration and decadence on the centre.

However, hope of regeneration has been re-enacted with the return of the former Governor Oyinlola, as the Chairman of CBCIU Board. Briefly, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola replaced Oyinlola with Prof. Wole Soyinka in August 2012. The replacement sparked crisis and became subject of litigation, so, the centre couldn’t function properly. Its fortunes also plummeted leading to the re-election activities of Aregbesola in 2014, which brought the two gladiators under the same political party, and expectedly, talks began underground to resolve the impasse. In July 2015, Prof Soyinka tendered resignation of his appointment with a proviso that Governor Aregbesola should activate it at his convenience.

In October 2015, the governor launched nationwide appeal for Nobel laureate to continue running the centre, yet nothing, including administration was happening at the centre.

But the shape of good time awaiting CBCIU emerged last Tuesday, when royalty, academics and people of goodwill converged to celebrate 50 years of artistic enterprise of Osogbo Arts Movement.Although, the movement clocked 50 in 2014, the chaotic atmosphere surrounding the centre prevented any feast in whatever scale.

However, the two years delay turned out to blessings in disguise. Last Tuesday, CBCIU rolled out the drums for a three-in-one celebration: the 50th anniversary of the Osogbo Arts’ Movement, launch of the Centre’s journal and a DVD of Orisa Dances of Nigeria.Indeed, the seeds of the golden feast were sown in the 60s by the late German linguist and teacher, Ulli Beier and his wife, Georgina through organisation of art workshops for talented young people in and around Osogbo.

Though the German couple had held an earlier workshop in 1963, it was products of the very successful 1964 training – Jimoh Buraimoh, Taiwo Olaniyi (Twins Seven-Seven), Muraina Oyelami and Adebisi Fabunmi – that exploded creatively alongside Rufus Ogundele and Jacob Afolabi from the first training to become foundation members of the Osogbo Arts Movement.

Works of three (Oyelami, Buraimoh and Fabunmi) out of six artists of the 1964 training were on display at the exhibition in Osogbo last Tuesday. The exhibition ends tomorrow and moves to Abuja on Tuesday to be hosted at Thought Pyramid Art Centre, 18 Libreville Street, Wuse ll, Abuja with Mr Jeff Ajueshi, the Artistic Director of the Thought Pyramid Art Centre as curator.

The other three members of the group (Ogundele, Afolabi and Olaniyi) have since passed on.“We planned this exhibition for 2014, which would have meant 50 years since the commencement of the Osogbo Arts School, but due to lack of sponsorship, it had been dragging since then till now when we are able to get sponsors,” Eesa of Iragbiji and one of the celebrators, Chief Muraina Oyelami, explained on why the event was delayed.

Chief Muraina Oyelami (left); Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; and Deputy Governor, Mrs. Titilayo Tomori

Chief Muraina Oyelami (left); Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; and Deputy Governor, Mrs. Titilayo Tomori

He added: “We didn’t want to call it 52 or 53 years; we want to make it a round figure because mathematically, 1964 to 2017 is more than 50. The main reason is to remember how we started and the contributions of people like Ulli and Georgina Beier, Suzanne Wenger and writers like Ezekiel Mphalele, Professor Wole Soyinka, JP Clark, and Christopher Okigbo.”

His long-time collaborator, Chief Buraimoh echoes similar view, disclosing that “the essence of the exhibition is to re-launch the Osogbo Artists. It’s about 52 years ago that we started and we think it’s a golden year that we have to mark though it is coming two years late, but nevertheless, we thank God that we are still living.”

Though last Tuesday’s show at the CBCIU featured just 23 works by three members of the group, Oyelami, Buraimoh and Fabunmi; art aficionados and scholars of the Osogbo Art School have much to look forward to this Tuesday when the exhibition officially themed Years Of Osogbo Art berths at the Thought Pyramid Art Centre, Abuja where it will run for a week.

Welcoming guests including Governor Rauf Aregbesola who was represented by his deputy, Mrs Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, kings, chiefs, academics, arts lovers and students to the three-in-one celebration, ex-Osun State Governor and chair of the CBCIU Board, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, began on a note of gratitude.

“I count it a privilege to welcome all here present to this event, which is designed to promote the rich cultural heritage of the Black race in line with the mandate of our organisation, the CBCIU. Specially and specifically, I salute Chief Olusegun Obasanjo; I want to acknowledge his worthy and patriotic effort that brought the CBCIU to Osogbo, while he was in office as President of Nigeria. Let me also recognise with very immense gratitude, the presence of our chief host, Ogbeni Aregbesola. Let me place on record the gratitude of the Centre to the Governor. This event was not planned to be held here, but by the grace of God and the understanding of the governor, he has made it possible for us to come back to this Centre,” the former governor said.

According to Oyinlola, the day’s event also affirms that CBCIU is up to date in the execution of its agenda of promoting black culture and tradition. The Centre, he further disclosed, is paying attention to the preservation of works of the Osogbo artists and encouraging them to teach the younger generation so that their works will live after them.

The retired army general who also governed Lagos State as military administrator in the late 90s stressed the need to address the erosion of Nigerian cultures by foreign ones, saying it is the collective responsibility of all. He noted that foreign influences are threatening aspects of our culture including languages, greetings, traditional songs, poetry, religion and traditional architecture.

He advised Nigerians to take advantage of advances in writing, technology and documentation to preserve our artworks and culture, so that, incoming generations can improve on them.

Prince Oyinlola also revealed that going forward, the CBCIU would embark on the training of young people and students who will be mentored by the older artists including Chiefs Oyelami and Buraimoh because ‘any rites being practiced to the exclusion of students will not stand, and nobody acknowledges anyone who takes wisdom to heaven.’

Oyinlola, who charged parents to release their children for the trainings that the Centre will commence, disclosed that the CBCIU has acquired the late Duro-Ladipo’s house and archives. “We also welcome ideas and projects that will project Black culture to the rest of the world,” he concluded.

Governor Aregbesola on his part commended the CBCIU for distinguishing itself in the promotion of culture and the Black race since its establishment. The governor, who also touched on the several uniqueness of his state, commended the production of the DVD on Orisa Dances. He enjoined parents to ensure that they teach their children all aspects of Yoruba culture and charged the CBCIU not to rest on its oars.

The occasion was spiced with performances by the Okuku Cultural Troupe, the late Timi Laoye’s son who is also a drummer and some incredibly talented children. There was also a sneak preview of the DVD before the presentation of Volumes 1 and 2 of the CBCIU’s journal containing different scholarly papers.

Kings present at the occasion include the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun; the Aragbiji of Iragbiji, Oba Abdulrasheed Olabomi; the Oba of Ilobu. Ashiru Olayoye Olaniran; the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Ogunwusi who sent a representative and Legushen of Ode-Ule in Ogun State, Oba Adesina Adekoya, the chief presenter.

At the event also were Nigeria’s former Ambassador to UNESCO, Professor Michael Omolewa; Dean, Faculty of Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University, Professor Remi Adeoti; Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria, Akin Adejuwon; Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon among others.

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