Wednesday, September 27

The Toyin Falola Interviews – A Conversation With Prince Yemisi Shyllon, Part 1

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For years, I have heard a lot about Prince Yemisi Shyllon and his art collections, especially from Victor Ekpuk, Dele Jegede, Sylvester Ogbechie, Aderonke Adesanya, Kunle Filani, and Chika Okeke-Agulu. I also heard about his plans to consolidate his collections in one location. However, my current revival of interest in his museum is owed to Professor Bola Sotunsa, my Co-convener of the 2021 J. A. Atanda conference, who coordinated the invitation of guests for the opening ceremony on June 21st. She took it upon herself to invite HE Alhaja Salmot Badru, Deputy Governor of Ogun State, Dr. Toyin Taiwo, Honorable Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, HR Oba Abolarin Adedokun, The Orangun of Oke Ila, Oba Michael Mojeed Sonuga, the Olofin of Ilisan-Remo, Oba Adeleke Idowu Basibo, the Alaperu of Iperu, and Eng. Yemisi Shyllon. My role, as the Co-Convener, was to thank all the guests for accepting and to thank Prince Shyllon for also agreeing to Chair the Keynote session. After that, he was gracious to send me the link to the Shyllon Museum located at Pan-Atlantic University. I was stunned. I immediately set out to interview him as part of the Toyin Falola Interviews.

My interest was renewed in the great collector and the museum he donated. It came when a new museum, the Pan-African Heritage World Museum (PAHW) is being built in Ghana. I had written about the ongoing PAHW (, and I am equally excited to write about the Yemisi Shyllon Museum (YSM). To get to the Yemisi Shyllon Museum, we have to start with the man himself.

He is from Abeokuta. Considering the number of important personalities who have emerged from Abeokuta, one is usually left wondering if there is a connection between the Spatio-temporal setting of the city and the phenomenon of greatness. Often, success is linked to people’s dedication to their careers, businesses, and other engagements that produce values. This is necessarily so because input naturally determines a person’s output in life. However, one cannot but be enthused by realizing that the attributed success to a person shares various connections to their ancestral identity. Many individuals who come from their source always record a commendable feat of success in their endeavors. At this point, it does not only become a subject of intellectual consideration, but it also engenders critical engagement. In the relatively recent history of the Yoruba people, Abeokuta as a sociocultural space has contributed and also continues to be an arrowhead of Yoruba evolving civilization and their general image in international politics. The Egba, a subgroup of Abeokuta, produced Sodeke, Lisabi, Wole Soyinka, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Ebenezer Obey-Fabiyi, M. K. O. Abiola, among many other people who have all made overwhelming contributions to the advancement of their collective courses and agenda. The influence of these people, across time, continues to make ways for the Abeokuta community in multiple ways.

The addition of Prince Shyllon to the crops of value-driven, goal-getting, and result-oriented ones already produced in the social group justifies our collective view and appraisal of the geographical setting. Across different demographics, genders, and ages, the general significance of the Abeokuta people, even to contemporary Nigeria’s, and by extension Africa’s, socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions, invites the attention given to them. Apart from being instrumental in establishing an economic system and structures for the Yoruba people since pre-colonial time, they have made substantial contributions to the growth of Nigeria, even in recent history. One would wonder how this is connected to Prince Yemisi; thus, we will establish the connection between him and the greatness that Abeokuta represents in the general scheme of things. Abeokuta’s signature as the sturdy setting that shielded its people from the predatory environment has continued to make itself visible in the lives of its people. The versatility that Prince Shyllon represents, the productivity that he signals, the tenacity ascribable to him are evidence of the physical and spiritual essence of Abeokuta city.

Born on March 26th, 1952, to Sogbulu and Ogunfayo’s family, the Prince found a strong foundation to erect himself a strong personality and the character of a victor. Although experts in the field of psychology have demonstrated that there is still a very strong relationship between the solid’ formative experiences and what they eventually become in the subsequent years, not much has been said about how the ancestral identity, values, and virtues associated with a people have compellingly influenced who and what they can become, or have become. Sogbulu’s and Ogunfayo’s lineage in Abeokuta is generally identified as a group with extraordinary determination to turn things around. They have demonstrated the ability to coordinate themselves even in the face of struggles and challenges that can frustrate people with weak resolves. No doubt, they have developed the necessary attributes and traits for themselves, which may not be said to be genetically transmissible but cannot be denied to have a historical impact on succeeding generations. Perhaps, this is one of the leverages used by those from that lineage, including Prince Shyllon, to achieve a feat so incredible that it makes one gasp for breath. As will be discovered soon, the feats associated with him are a depiction of superhuman qualities.

A degree from the University of Ibadan, another from the University of Lagos, and another remarkable one from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) are substantial reasons to be enthused by the man as these achievements are exemplary of any individual. Many people find it quite challenging to acquire a single degree, especially because the asking price for knowledge acquisition is too high for them. Therefore, having three degrees to one’s name in a sociocultural setting like Nigeria attests to the progressive movement and the determination to keep the system going.

The Prince obtained a certificate in engineering, and this set his pathway on an enviable trajectory. The acquired education from this pursuit provided him with the opportunity to develop his creative ability. Apart from encouraging him to progress in his determination to become a producer of demanded facilities in the contemporary world, it also helped make him valuable enough for his economic transformation, with little help from external parties. Prince Shyllon was lucky to grow up in Nigeria at a time when the dignity of labor was emphasized as a general operating principle. This gradually helped him in his life pursuits because the economic market suitable for individuals like him can become a burden when potentials are not maximized appropriately.

His accomplishments marvel us because after acquiring adequate knowledge to earn a degree in engineering, the Prince decided to pursue a philosophically and ideologically different career. He made impressive landmarks as an engineering graduate. Still, it is more intriguing than someone whose mind had been configured in the engineering field would also succeed as a law student. More importantly, the career path demanded a new “him,” and despite the inherent intellectual demands required to make him a success in that endeavor, he gave it a worthwhile try. He enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Lagos to obtain a degree in the noble profession. Prince Shyllon made a Second-Class Upper-division in Law just as he did in Engineering, reinforcing that he is a determined individual. It cannot be overemphasized that success is non-negotiable for individuals with this level of zeal and orientation in the academic environment.

After graduating as a law student from the University of Lagos, the Prince continued his studies in business at the University of Ife, where he achieved another outstanding success. It was here that his story becomes more interesting. Due to his brilliance and dedication to professional development and excellence, one can imagine how eclectic he would be and how his presence in firms and organizations would command maximum respect. It is common knowledge that during his time as a youth, they had access to the kind of education that provided them with limitless opportunities and fulfilled many of their desire as graduates. This condition naturally gave the Prince an edge, but because he was always hungry for impact and success, pursuing other careers became a tasking but necessary passageway to success. Thus, after leaving the four walls of the schools, he began to make notable impacts almost immediately.

Organizations needed his wide knowledge, firms were waiting for his input and impact, and institutions were hungry for their contributions to promote their brands. Deciding was naturally a thorough exercise, especially when an individual has many things to offer in different areas and capacities and when numerous institutions seek one’s hands. By December 1980, Prince Shyllon completed his MBA degree. By the January of the following year, 1981, he started his career with Tractor & Equipment Nigeria Limited (a caterpillar USA Dealership division of UACN PLC, a Nigerian conglomerate). As a result of his contributions to the firm, the instant turnaround of Prince was pleasurable. As a market research and market development manager, the business transformation that Yemisi Shyllon added to the firm introduced him to many important figures in the company’s rank who celebrated the potential the young man had become. He encouraged him to continue in that upward direction.

Through field works, Prince Shyllon drove many business organizations to Tractor Equipment, which brought great business deals to the company because of their awareness of the mutual growth that would result from their business relationship. On several occasions, businesses and organizations that went into partnership with Tractor & Equipment did so not only because of the company’s capacity but also because they had employees like Prince Shyllon, whose dedication to work was a good reflection of the work ethics of their employers. He rose speedily to the zenith of his career with this organization. Within two years, he was promoted to Marketing Manager, proving that he was exceptionally smart and outstanding among the people working in the company. Good organizations value delivery and impact, and so, Prince Shyllon was given appropriate recognition that corresponded to the exceptional contributions he was making at the company. He remained persistent, focused, and consistent in the giant strides he pulled for the company and, by extension, himself. The more he added values to the system, the higher he went, and he was soon made the Executive Director of the marketing department.

While Prince Shyllon was making significant contributions as the marketing director of Tractor & Equipment, he combined the additional task of the legal adviser to Nigerite Limited, where his professional input impacted the organization in amazing ways. He was not deterred by pressure and responsibility, and the more he got them, the better he became. This is where the story of Abeokuta’s significance in the modeling of people who desire great things becomes connected. Since overwhelming records have followed numerous accomplishments by people from the city, those who have access to those records see these people as sources of inspiration for them to do more.

In the case of the Prince, despite making admirable progress in all of his professional endeavors, he had a greater vision that makes one wonder how he tries to achieve his lofty plans. As an undergraduate, he decided on the pathway he was going to take. Despite the emerging challenges that characterized the studentship experience in Nigeria, he scaled the hurdle, made records, and laid down a foundation upon which he would erect his social image in the long run. During his study at the University of Ibadan, he started collecting artworks and simultaneously investing in the Nigerian stock market. It is practically impossible for someone of this dedication to not eventually record worthwhile success in life, as this honorable man is doing.

Having got used to multitasking, he found relative ease handling similar responsibilities as an adult. This is underscored by the fact that currently, he manages several activities that continue to make economic and social landmarks. Even if he chooses to function as a legal icon now, he has not failed to make milestones in other areas where he has committed his attention and strength. For example, apart from being a legal practitioner, he is also an investor in real estate. He has also established himself as a consultant for people in asset management, business management, and start-ups. Perhaps because he discovered that he was born to be a force to be reckoned with, he started to reestablish himself in another dimension that would eventually contribute to his general image. He created an art museum, the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art. The Foundation has become synonymous with success.

We can imagine the Prince’s impact not only on the country’s socioeconomic system but also on cultural development. Anyone who has a solid foundation in artworks and art collection will understand the importance of cultural preservation. When people begin to demonstrate hazy ideas about particular cultural traditions, they become public memory because they have created a physical monument that would preserve their culture and identity by extension. Omooba Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon Art Foundation (OYASAF) has been acknowledged by many people as one of Nigeria’s outstanding private art museums, evidently because of the wide-ranging artifacts in the museum. The museum is credited to have held 7000 artworks of all genres, and Prince Yemisi also has in stock over 55,000 photographic images of Africa’s fast-declining cultural objects, which means he has created an alternative space for the promotion of the African cultural value in ways that they can be retrieved by interested bodies now and in the future. Prince Shyllon’s significance to the Nigerian society transcends the economic additions that he has made for himself and the society; he has also invented himself in admirable ways in the cultural world.

Although the Prince has advanced himself personally with all the achievements associated with him since he attained maturity, it is magnanimous to link him to deeds of humanitarian services he has rendered to society ever since his emergence as a social and economic figure. His Foundation, career, and all other engagements have been used positively to improve the social conditions of people and develop individuals in ways that they could equally become useful for the collective aspirations of their environment. OYASAF has sponsored scholars, artists, and art curators to help them achieve their career dreams and gather useful data from society to improve the quality of education and knowledge available about Africans. This act of philanthropy propelled him into the public sector, where his presence is associated with anything and everything good. From Port Harcourt to Lagos, Abeokuta to Abuja, and from there to other places in the country, the recognition accorded to the Prince is legendary. He has demonstrated an unequaled humility, despite having made substantial achievements in his career.