It is to be noted that the Consultants from Recently in far away United States, the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Osogbo, (CBCIU) operating under the auspices of UNESCO launched its arm in the United States in line with CBCIU’s mandate which encourages inter-religious and cultural dialogues, peace, international understanding as well as the promotion and preservation of the rich cultural heritage of the black race.
The event, which held at Washington DC, mared yet another significant milestone in the organization’s efforts at participating effectively in the on-going global moves to promote learning, world peace and international understanding in line with the goals and aspirations of UNESCO. Nigeria and by implication, Osun State which is the host community of the Centre would quite naturally feature prominently at the ceremony billed to attract several dignitaries. Collaborators are CBCIU, Nigerian Embassy in Washington and the Constituency for Africa led by Chief Stanley Straughter who is the Chairman of the Mayors Commission of African and Caribbean Affairs of the City of Philadelphia.
Let me be a little bit personal and sentimental here by making an allusion to the origin of CBCIU. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo an accomplished statesman and patriot with international clout initiated the project. He used his very wide international contacts to give Nigeria the first category 11 facility on Culture in Africa. Former Governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s, administration, backed by the Federal Government of Nigeria promoted and implemented faithfully the agenda for the establishment of CBCIU in Osogbo, Osun State, which is increasingly gaining global recognition as a tourists’ destination. Oyinlola, a cultural enthusiast gave all he could to ensure the delivery of the project in accordance with the standards stipulated by UNESCO.
Prof. Michael Omolewa, the immediate past Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Nigeria to UNESCO moved tirelessly on the corridors of UNESCO to douse the “conflagration” engineered by a few notable Nigerians against the establishment of CBCIU in Osogbo. Nigeria was lucky to have had Omolewa at that critical period. He fell back on his wide contacts within UNESCO to douse negative moves to stop CBCIU from coming to Nigeria. Omolewa had previously served in the exalted position of the President of the General Conference of UNESCO. I recall that our group from Nigeria, which included the current Executive Director of CBCIU, Prof. Wole Ogundele joined Omolewa, a suave diplomat who was highly visible on the corridors of UNESCO in my first direct practical involvement in intense diplomatic maneuvers which involved the lobbying of several envoys of member-states of UNESCO to support Nigeria’s move to house the category 11 facility. Jide Ajibola, Deputy-Director of Culture in the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Abuja and desk officer for UNESCO threw all his energy into the venture. But for very deft moves, the category 11 facility on culture, the first of its type in Africa was almost going to Benin Republic which was also greatly interested in hosting the project.
I speak so authoritatively on CBCIU because former Governor Oyinlola whom I served as Chief Private Secretary/Special Adviser of Policies, Programmes and Plans Implementation for seven and a half years assigned to me, among others, the responsibility of collating the documents for the CBCIU’s feasibility study and defence before a group of UNESCO experts which visited Osogbo twice and also before the General Conference of UNESCO in 2008 and later in March 2009 before the Executive Board in Paris, France. I also had the privilege of performing the same role in conjunction with the then Osun State Secretary to Government, Alhaji Fatai Akinbade when Prince Oyinlola decided to float the Livingspring Free Trade Zone and the Livingspring Minerals Promotions Company on behalf of the Government of Osun State. These were indeed challenging and tasking duties that were delivered and which will remain in the annals of Osun State for eternity. Of course, one is intensely proud that Osun State Government piloted by Oyinlola emerged the only state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria to win mining sites through open bidding sessions painstakingly organized by the Bureau of Public Enterprises. In fact, no other state was successful in any of the bidding sessions conducted.
Let me recall that the promoters of CBCIU decided to go headlong into the project in realization of the importance of culture and tourism as agents of change and development. Oyinlola had in year 2007 created the Osun State Ministry of Culture and Tourism to drive a culture and tourism policy following the successful inscription of the Osun Osogbo grove as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at its meeting in Durban, South Africa in 2005. Its mandate keys into UNESCO’s tourism, culture and development agenda which “is to contribute to the creation of a discerning type of tourism that recognises the principles of cultural diversity, the preservation of fragile, cultural and natural resources, their mobilisation for sustainable development and poverty alleviation, and the expression of socially differentiated cultural identities. This aim is underscored by the founding principles of UNESCO which states expressly that“the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfill in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern” (UNESCO Charter, 1945).
For the records, UNESCO promotes the principles enshrined in the Conventions, Declarations, Charters and Codes adopted by agencies of the United Nations that relate to tourism (for example; the principles of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism elaborated by the World Tourism Organisation in 2001). Effectively such texts provide a referential framework for UNESCO’s work in the field of tourism and culture, providing a wider policy context and shaping the direction of specific actions. For instance, UNESCO’s approach to tourism development is framed by the United Nation’s aim to eradicate poverty as defined by in the Millennium Declaration (UN 2000). Dialogue amongst civilizations is a central pillar of UNESCO’s work, enshrined in its constitution as a means to build “peace in the minds of men”, and is a key focus for its agenda.
The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding hit the ground running in January 2009 following its historic commissioning by Mr. Koitchiro Maatsura, the then Director General of UNESCO. Linkages and collaborations have been formed with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the Philadelphia Museum of African Arts, the Palmares of Brazil, Cuban Ministry of Culture, the Leon Sullivan Foundation, the United States National Conference of Black Mayors, the Gelede House and Parakou University in Benin Republic and several tertiary institutions. Other organizations in Grenada, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean have also been cultivated. At the local level, the Institute of African studies of the University of Ibadan and the Institute of Cultural Studies of Obafemi Awolowo University have been linked with CBCIU. On the governmental level, Olagunsoye Oyinlola was able to sign Memoranda of Understanding with the Governments of Brazil and Cuba.e Hubei Provincial Government of the Peoples Republic of China also signed an Mou with the administration of Oyinlola in various fields including culture.
A Nigerian newspaper had recently quoted the current government in Osun state as claiming that no government before the current one had ever been hosted by a Chinese government. I think they must have been misinformed. It seems to me an inconsequential matter given the fact that the global focus is on running a private sector driven economy. But for the sake of the records and posterity, I would set the records right. I remember very clearly that former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s delegation was accorded a state reception in the Peoples Republic of China by Hubei Provincial Government in 2006 and culture was one of the areas contained in the agreement which evolved from the meetings. Civil servants relevant to the trips undertaken by Oyinlola were always on his delegation to keep the records and offer technical advice. Former Speaker Adejare Bello, a very forthright personality was part of this memorable trip. That meeting was preceded by a visit to Osun State by a Chinese delegation led by the Vice-Governor of Hubei Province which is one of the notable states in China. I was also privileged to have witnessed a state reception held by Chinese President, Hu Jintao for former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s delegation to China in 2006 and that included Olagunsoye Oyinlola. The Nigerian Embassy in Beijing and our Trade Office in Shanghai speak eloquently all of the time about the deep penetrations recorded by the Osun State government under Oyinlola. It would most certainly profit the state if efforts are made to build on these very concrete achievements.
The products of these associations include the hosting of the First Global Conference of Black Nationalities and the Conference on Slavery and Slave Trade held in Osun State from 23-27 August, 2010 under the auspices of UNESCO.The organisation could not go further with the World Summit of Black Mayors which Prince Oyinlola had clinically arranged to hold in December 2010 but could not hold as planned due to the change in the composition of the government of Osun State. It is, however, noteworthy that CBCIU has been able to contribute to the process of opening up Nigeria and by implication Osun State to the international community. And the gains are too numerous to be treated in this piece.
And the Center for Black Culture and International Understanding has constructed a very solid foundation for knowledge-sharing, upholding diversity, dignity, tolerance and pluralism. It is equally committed to the agenda of peaceful and harmonious co-existence, especially in the context of globalization. CBCIU commits itself to a programme of changing prejudices and dialogues among cultures, civilization and religions. Given the fact that there is a significant drop in official development assistance globally, CBCIU has accordingly commenced a drive for support for effective and purposeful action. This is one of the reasons for the launch this week of its United States branch registered under the Laws of the State of Pennsylvania.
Today, CBCIU stands as a memorabilia for the archives of Ulli and Georgina Beier, acclaimed cultural icons who produced what is today known as the ‘Osogbo School of Arts’ from which so many prominent artistes in Nigeria evolved. It is undoubtedly a worthy legacy that even critics of Prince Oyinlola have come to admire. Ulli Beier, it will be recalled committed both UNESCO and the Federal Government of Nigeria to written agreements that all his materials as acquired by CBCIU would be housed in Osogbo. The two bodies also guaranteed the safety and integrity of Ulli Beier’s works which were. collected in Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Australia and Germany, among others. Highly notable is the fact that two legal documents were also signed between the Federal Government of Nigeria and UNESCO which affirm the autonomy of CBCIU. It was consequently registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission as a Non-Governmental Organization legally empowered to draw grants, aids as well as financial and technical assistance, even from the outside world. This is the essence of putting the United States organ in place to further consolidate the activities of CBCIU in North and South America.
UNESCO who visited Osun State for an assessment of plans to host CBCIU in the state had warned of negative and dire consequences should government at any level dabble into the management, running and operations of CBCIU. Apparently, it did that in recognition of UNESCO’s power exercised through an international legal framework for the protection of outstanding cultural and natural heritage sites. Following series of declarations and recommendations elaborated during the 1950s and 1960s, the general conference of UNESCO met in Paris, France in 1972 and adopted the first legally binding Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The aim of this convention was to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of ‘outstanding’ value to humanity.‘Outstanding’ was considered here from historical, artistic, aesthetic, scientific, ethnological or anthropological points of view for ‘cultural heritage’ (Article 1) and from those of aesthetics, science, conservation or natural beauty for ‘natural heritage’ (Article 2).
While initially separating heritage into ‘cultural’ and‘natural’, the World Heritage Committee in 1992 decided to recognise ‘cultural landscapes’ as a new category of site within the Convention’s Operational Guidelines. This was to allow the consideration of the quality of a natural space through the outstanding cultural, historic or artistic value of its human inscription (Fowler, 2003). The premises of CBCIU is a cultural identity which is protected against all forms of violations by relevant statutes of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO.
The idea of having relationships as being launched in the United States on Thursday 22nd September, 2011 is driven by UNESCO’s belief, as spelt out in the body’s Declaration on Cultural Diversity which is designed to translate the paradigm of biodiversity into the context of human society. Article 1 stipulates that, “as a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature”. Within this framework, the idea of a ‘clash of cultures’ or ‘civilisations’Cultural diversity is, therefore, seen as a creative and adaptive process rooted in the plurality of cultural traditions within each society. More importantly, CBCIU has premised its schedule on defending peace in the minds of the people, charting the path for peace, development, tolerance and dialogue. CBCIU has also operated largely in consonance with the objective of facilitating collaboration of other parts of the world with Nigeria for development, within the context of national requirements and international cooperation.
I am not too sure that the Nigerian society fully values in concrete terms the establishment of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding in Osogbo under the auspices of UNESCO. There is apparently a greater need for increased awareness on the usefulness of this organization. Perhaps with greater enlightenment, the importance of this facility as an agent of change and development would be realized. I know too well that the UNESCO agreement which was originally signed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was countersigned by late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. President Goodluck Jonathan also supported and associated with the CBCIU when the Conference of Black Nationalities and the Conference on Slavery and Slave Trade and Its Consequences held in Osun State last year. Osun State government headed by Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola merely promoted the establishment of CBCIU by providing the physical facilities at CBCIU, as it was one of the categorical expectations of UNESCO that no government would interfere in the running of CBCIU and that the structures at the Centre would be in place before its commissioning and formal commencement of operations. That nod was finally formally given during commissioning of CBCIU, Osogbo in January 2009 by Koitchiro Maatsura, represented by UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Africa, Professor Cephos Tidjani.
I remember very vividly the very warm response of Vice-President Namadi Sambo to former Governor Oyinlola’s request for participation in the World Summit of Mayors when we visited the Presidential Villa last year October to formally invite Mr. President and his deputy to the World Summit of Mayors then billed to hold last December. Vice-President Sambo told Oyinlola who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of CBCIU that he was glued to the television set in his office and watched the whole of the opening ceremonies of the two conferences held on 23rdAugust, 2010 during which Chief Obasanjo, apparently happy at the achievements of his “son,” Olagunsoye Oyinlola danced heartily to the music supplied by the Ekemeke Cultural Troupe from Akwa-Ibom State. Osun State will not forget these two events in a hurry.
It is very pertinent to plead here that Nigeria, which became the 58th member state of UNESCO on 14th November 1960, the Nigerian society, particularly the private sector should support this bold initiative of using culture, religions and education to further promote global peace and international understanding. CBCIU cannot perform its functions alone without genuine solidarity and cooperation. The body is providing a platform for a sustainable contribution to the development of the tourism and culture sector to truly project the huge culture and tourism potentials of Nigeria which aims at making the sector a veritable foreign exchange earner. And Osun State stands to gain tremendously, as it is already doing from the activities of CBCIU. This explains the reason for the keen interest shown in CBCIU by the Nigerian embassy in Washington and the Constituency for Africa which are collaborating with the United States arm of CBCIU to launch the organization and contribute to the process of change and the construction of a more rewarding polity.
As America comes out in support of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding in the United States on Thursday September 22, 2011, the occasion would surely set the tone for CBCIU’s formal mutual engagement with the Americas and indeed the outside world. Osun State would come into focus. Expectedly, the ceremony would also spotlight Nigeria courtesy CBCIU. It is hoped that Nigeria and Nigerians would fully support CBCIU which is an integral part of the global village. I feel sure that with the understanding of the fact that the recognition of the fact that the role of CBCIU goes beyond human races (black or white) should inspire all who mean well to shore up support for the organization in order to advance the fortunes humanity. And the effect is bound to trickle down to the host communities of Osun State and Nigeria. I congratulate our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora for taking this bold step to identify with their roots.