Tribute to Yemisi Shyllon, An Art Collector Extraordinaire 


By Babafemi Ojudu

Omoba Yemisi Shyllon may not be known to many Nigerians. He is neither loud nor self advertising. He is a remarkable man who when all the hoopla is gone and the sifting is done he will be counted among those who have affected us positively.

I first met Mr Yemisi Adedoyin Shyllon in 1989. He was then the head of the Marketing Department  of Nigerite, a roofing sheet manufacturing company based in Ikeja.

Our part crossed over a personal matter that affected him a great deal. Shyllon owned a house which he hired to some military personnel. For many years they refused to pay rent.  He sued them in a Lagos high court. He wanted this folks ordered out  of his property since they refused to pay rent. When the date for the hearing of the case approached he visited the  Concord publications where I worked then  in search of a reporter who could help put the matter in the public place and thereby attract the attention of the top echelon of the military.

I took up the assignment. I went to court and I reported the case . As he wished the bosses got to know about it and intervened. He got his property back.

One evening , after I have done my own journalistic bit,  Shyllon surfaced in the office to say thank you. Clutching an envelope he meant to drop that in my palm as people do here. I rejected it telling him I only did my job as a reporter. He was shocked and not quite happy that I turned down his offer. I insisted it was unethical for me to take money from him. He thanked me and left.

We maintained contact. In 1992 following a fundamental and principled disagreement between me , my colleagues on one hand and Bashorun MKO Abiola on  the other I resigned from the publication and so did my colleagues. The matter became a cause celebre.

Shyllon sent for me and commended our decision to stand by principle and said should we  have any project we wanted to go into I should feel free to contact him for his support.

Months later I went to him with a business plan to start The News , a magazine .  Without going through the business plan he whipped out his cheque book and gave N500,000 as his investment in the business. That was big money then , a fifth of the money needed to set up the publication.“ I love you guys, I do not expect any return from this but good luck to you”, he said. True to his words, the reward he got many years down the line was not material but psychic.

There began an association that led us through the Babangida administration and the brutal regime of Sani Abacha. He was there for us discreetly but solidly like Olumo rock in Abeokuta , his town of birth.

Above is only a digression, a long one at that. Today I write to celebrate  Shyllon for his immeasurable contribution to artistic acquisition. In this area he has proved to be a giant who never seek to be noticed but noticed he will. Such endeavors, even if you wish, are not kept under wraps. The world as they say beat a path to the man who has made a better rat trap. Shyllon has just made an elephant trap. His name and accomplishments will soon be on the mouth of every art lover all over the world and generations of this enlightened community will find their way to him years after he has completed his assignment here.

Shyllon is reputed to be the biggest and most qualitative art collector in Nigeria. I may be wrong but I have researched and my effort has not turned in any other. As you step into his residence  in Mainland Lagos, a little after the  gate you are confronted with all manners of works by the masters done with cements and metals. Some confront you as if they were real humans. Enter into the house you could hardly find a space to sit or put your legs. Carvings here, paintings there, they come in all manners of medium.

The toilets, bathroom, dinning space, his bedroom all are strewn with arts worth billions in any currency. It is his life . He breathes art and exude it.

Now I am told those works have found accommodation in a museum where Nigerians and foreigners alike will have access to view and appreciate them. It is called Yemisi Shyllon Museum Of Arts. An architectural delight built at a cost of N3.5 billion , it is located in the premises of Pan Atlantic University in the Lekki area of Lagos.

He is granting 1000 art works to this museum which was designed, built and to be managed by Jess Castellote.

Charlotte Ashamu of the Smithsonian Museum said this of the initiative:

“It’s changing the narrative that I hear often in the United States, and that’s the narrative that Africans can’t pay or don’t have resources to support their own cultural sector. “ “ There are plenty of resources. There is wealth, and it is being invested in the museum and cultural sector,” Ashamu said.

Nigerian and art aficionados everywhere cannot appreciate Shyllon and his family enough for this sacrifice. Those works tells our nation’s story . But for the efforts of this prince of Egbaland these master pieces would have found their way like those of old  to foreign museums . Just as the European expedition forces and colonialists looted our palaces and shrines so would our contemporary masterpieces have found their way there by foreigners who put money on them because they know their worth.

Shyllon invested in our arts and not only kept our artists at work he has equally done what people of imagination do for their generation , help take them to the future.

Shyllon deserves honor for this. If we fail to do it now posterity will reward him in big measure.

Egbon mo beri fun yin.

Ojudu is Special Advisee to President Buhari on Political Matters.