BY LANRE ALFRED
“When brothers fight to the death, a stranger inherits their estate.”
These immortal words of the globally celebrated author, late Chinua Achebe, should be printed in bold letters and placed as a signpost at the Lagos Boat Club entrance. Why? No time is more auspicious than now to sensitise some club members about the imminent danger their activities portend for the esteemed club.
It is because things are no longer at ease at the Lagos Motor Boat Club, Ikoyi, where high profile members have been polarised and are currently throwing pot-shots at one another over issues that arose from its last elections.
Beneath the facade of serenity, harmony, and exclusivity that hovers over the Lagos Motor Boat Club, Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, there is a smouldering fire that is threatening to consume the club, its legacy, and members. A members’ only boat club founded on January 23, 1950, the Lagos Motor Boat Club is recognised as one of Nigeria’s most prestigious clubs. Housed in a white colonial-era building on the bustling Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, and boasting a view of the serene lagoon where the rich and famous yachts are moored, bobbing up and down, the club has members from some of Lagos’ most prominent families. Suffice to say that the membership is exclusive and privileged.
Different membership categories include “reciprocal, honorary, overseas, up-country, corporate, and founder members.”
To be an ordinary member, a statement from the club states, “Any person being the sole owner of a boat shall be eligible for ordinary membership. A sole owner shall include a person who has the exclusive use of a boat owned by his employer or company and who can produce a letter acceptable to the committee confirming this, provided that where the boat is in the ownership of either the employer or the company, the privileges of membership and use of the club shall not extend to the employer, the company or any other employees of the company.”
A ‘committee runs the club,’ members elected in a fair election while a commodore is the club’s titular head. The current commodore is Ladi Ani-Mumuney while his Vice is Jide Balogun. The immediate past commodore is Dr. Dapo Majekodunmi whose reported inability to exert leadership at the appropriate time worsened the club’s prevailing animosity. There is also a board of trustees; members of who are viewed as the club’s patriarchs and its symbols of order, discipline, and authority.
The principal criterion for being admitted into the BoT is to be an ex-commodore, but it is also not automatic. Ladi Ajose-Adeogun, an ex-commodore, aspired to be a Trustee; as did Jide Coker, a duty officer on the existing committee but Dr. Charles Hammond eventually won. Hammond was never a Commodore, another factor that stoked the embers of discord and disharmony.
Origin of the Crisis
A detailed statement by Demola Akinrele, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a senior member of the club, traced the origin of the crisis to 2020, stating.
He explained, “I had discussions with Femi Fowora, Folabi Balogun, and Ladi Ajose Adeogun – all former commodores – to suggest improvements on the operations of the club. The discussions included the upcoming 2020 elections of new officers, various aspects of club activities, and the infusion of fresh faces to energise the committee of the club. Views were varied, but the debate was robust and positive.
“I expressed a view that Mr. Jide Coker, a duty officer on the existing committee, should be challenged in the elections as I felt he had ideas on certain aspects of the club’s operations which I considered unorthodox. I shared my view with his proposers, the Ogunbanjo brothers, to obviate any sense of hostility or rancour. Subsequently, persuaded him not to offer himself for re-election. He later changed his mind and put himself back on the ballot – as he is entitled to – and the club commenced activities for a robust election.”
Akinrele said the texture and temperature of the election became hotter because of the proposition to Coker, which was misconstrued and, therefore, fuelled sympathy towards him. Things went south when Dapo Oshinusi who contested against Ani-Mummuney for the post of commodore, went to report the state of tension in the club to a Trustee (Prince Francis. O Awogboro) imploring him to intervene to achieve a more congenial electoral atmosphere.
“He identified Ladi Ajose-Adeogun and me as the alleged arrow-heads of the warring factions. The trustee called us, with the Commodore present, to a meeting, disclosed that the invitation was at the instance of Dapo Oshinusi, and asked us to explain the reasons for the escalated temperature in the club. We reiterated the history of the campaign and the name of Jide Coker. He listened, and suggested that Jide Coker be directed by the commodore not to run in the 2020 elections,” Akinrele said.
To the consternation of trustee Awogboro, Dr. Lanre Towry-Coker and Senator Tokunbo Ogunbanjo, both Trustees, went ahead to put Coker’s name on the board, which he proceeded to cross off and appended his signature to it. It did not go down well with his supporters who wrote to the committee and requested that the person that struck out Coker’s name should be disciplined. It would set off a chain of reactions now threatening the very existence of the club.
On the legality of Awogboro’s action to unilaterally strike out a candidate’s name, Akinrele stated, “The Trustee properly intervened under rule 10 because he was invoked by a member to deal with a matter which was affecting the club. Even though it was not a matter initially referred to the committee’s trustee, it was adopted and ratified by the committee through the involvement of the commodore at the meeting leading to the decision and subsequent communication to Mr. Jide Coker of the directive of the trustee. The other is that the trustee’s determination under this order is only advisory and should not extend to curtailing the right of a member to stand for election.”
A few weeks to the club’s annual general meeting held November 5, 2020, Senator Ogunbanjo had written a letter to the committee wherein he reportedly referred to Trustee Awogoboro, an 82-year-old man, as a vandal, because he struck out Coker’s name from the board. During the AGM proper, Ogunbanjo reportedly read out a speech which in the committee’s opinion was considered injurious to the image of the club.
Akinrinle lampooned Ogunbanjo for his indiscretion and queried, “Why would a Trustee of the Polo Club nominate a candidate in defiance of the direction of the Trustee of the Boat Club and thereby provoke a chain of events that ultimately leads to his indefinite suspension?”
Eyimofe Atake (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria) and the club’s trustee, described Ogunbanjo’s speech as indecorous and unbecoming and full of affronts and insults to the trustee. Indeed, things degenerated at the AGM with Atake accusing Ogunbanjo of almost getting physical with him for questioning why he would disrespect trustee Awogboro by referring to him as a vandal.
He recalled, “Toks (Ogunbanjo) did not stop there, he came on the floor of the AGM ostensibly to respond to the commodore’s report, but instead, he went on a wild extravaganza of insulting the trustee. He used several insulting proverbs directed at the trustee first saying it in Yoruba to make the point poignant and upsetting. He translated it to English for non-Yoruba and expatriates to understand.”
Atake also said that one of the things he recalled Ogunbanjo saying was that “if an elder misbehaved, you strip him of his agbada and cap.” Sources said that while reading his speech at the AGM, Atake was heckled and jeered by a group purportedly led by Yinka Akinkungbe and Ajose-Adeogun.
According to confidential sources at the AGM, the trustee also reportedly approached Dr. Majekodunmi as the commodore and pointedly accused him of not protecting him (Trustee) enough from the unleashed barrage of attacks on him.
“That Dapo as Commodore gave the floor at an AGM to an ‘ordinary member’ and his group to use as a means to spit up yellow bile in the face of his trustee will be remembered for a long time to come. History, no doubt, will be hostile to Dr. Dapo Majekodunmi. That he allowed it to happen immediately after his commodore’s report when it was not on the agenda of the meeting, and not at the point of ‘Any Other Business’ shows there was a grand plan that had been hatched before the AGM to disrupt it,” Atake stated.
While a copy of the memo has not been obtained as at the time of filing this report, Atake’s response addressed to Akinkugbe quoted it copiously, as did Akinrele’s.
“Your letter accuses several people of various conduct including Trustee, Prince Francis Awogboro and the club’s committee. I am sure the committee may feel obliged to respond to you as your letter is full of lies on the facts, pertinacious and perverse in its reasoning, and lack of judgment. It was unreservedly ill-advised to write that letter and circulate it to a group of people that do not now include Boat Club members only,”
Atake wrote, promising to look into the defamatory aspects of the letter. He accused Akinkugbe of belonging to a group in the club that is driven from behind-the-scenes by Ladi Ajose-Adeogun because “Ladi has not the guts to rear his head, but he is the elephant in the room.”
Explaining further, Atake said, “He is the obnoxious and sinful genius who steered things from behind leading to the most unfortunate, calamitous, awkward and adverse events that we find ourselves in at the Lagos Motor Boat Club.”
Atake contended that Rule (19) B of the club rules and by-laws state that only ‘founder members’ and ‘ordinary members’ shall be eligible for the office of trustee. Besides, “there is no category of membership anywhere in the rules called ‘ex-commodores’ who, incidentally are no longer officers of the club but are ‘ordinary members’ who by that fact are in the running for the office of trustee like any other member.”
Therefore, he wondered why Ajose-Adeogun believes it is his inalienable, incontrovertible, and indisputable right to have been appointed the next trustee since that office is only open to ex-commodores of which he is the most senior in line.
Atake stated, “His antipathy, repulsion, repugnance, and abhorrence that Dr. Charles Hammond’s name was put forward instead of his, infuriated him with mad anger to the extent that he is prepared to see the institution collapse.
“While men of good ambition aspire for career, professional or business success and toil hard for that purpose, is it not astonishing that one man’s aspiration at all cost is to be a trustee of the Lagos Motor Boat Club on the false premise that it is his inalienable right as the most senior ex-commodore?
“As an ex-commodore, he should have restrained and curtailed your group from behaving in the way they did, but he chose not to, for his selfish, self-seeking, overwhelming, uncontrollable, and prodigious ambition.
“I have been highly disillusioned, disenchanted and upset that a man who has held high office within the club – who overpoweringly aspires to be a trustee of the club will attempt to be a part of the group of persons who would want to rock and destroy the foundation of the Office of Trusteeship of the club.”
Further, Atake accused Akinkugbe of repeatedly admitting that some facts were unknown to him.
He wondered, “If you are not aware of certain facts or they are unknown to you, why make perverse conclusions based on facts that you are not aware of or that are unknown to you?”
He denied Akinkugbe’s claims that he displayed disruptive behaviour when he tried to defend trustee Awogboro. Atake said that video evidence of happenings at the AGM should be made available to lend credence to his position.
He also maintained that he was the one that was almost physically attacked when making his speech when he attempted to define the word ‘vandal’ as contained in Ogunbanjo’s disputatious letter.
Describing Akinkungbe as intelligent and articulate, Akinrele said that in this matter, however, “He has shown a propensity to a misjudgment on situational ethics in my opinion. First, the decision to publish a memo to members in a manner he has done is likely symbolic. He seeks a resolution to the issue without first availing himself of all the facts. His memo is more likely to ignite than defuse, and it would have been wise had he directed his energy on the subject – if serious – to the convening of a private meeting with the relevant parties and the trustee. That would have far more practical value than the memo, which to me is a diatribe that is destitute of beneficial outcomes.”
Akinrele surmised that the crisis has shown that the club still needs the elders in positions of authority. Ogunbanjo must reconcile with the trustee in a meaningful manner and would resolve all related issues.
“The path to resolution is simple, in my opinion, and we must follow it. We are a club of sea-farers, and it is our nature that our passions ignite in the path of our collective voyage. However, that should not derogate from the essential bond that binds us – the bond against a common peril- the sea. It is why we instinctively stop to help any boat in distress on our nautical journeys irrespective of identity. In the same spirit, I, therefore, enjoin us to proceed to a resolution on this issue so that we can reflect on the incident in hindsight as a comedy of errors and not be haunted by it as a tragedy of judgment,” Akinrele concluded.
Uncouth Senator: Ogunbanjo’s Diatribes Against Octogenarian Awogboro
Senator Tokunbo Ogunbanjo, a trustee member, has been variously fingered as the one behind the conflagration that now threatens to raze the club. Ogunbanjo, who represented the Ogun East Senatorial District from 2003 to 2007 in the Senate, has been said to have punctured the club’s sedate atmosphere and caused the tranquillity to vaporise as palpable hostility now looms thickly in the air.
He reportedly queried the authority of Trustee, Francis Awogboro, when the latter struck out the name of Jide Coker. Besides this, he initiated a memo employing diatribes against Trustee Awogboro, an octogenarian, which was leaked to quarters considered external to the club.
In November, at the club’s AGM, Atake accused Ogunbanjo of making a “scurrilous speech that was unquestionably, incontestably and incontrovertibly an affront to the trustee and his authority.”
He further said Ogunbanjo went on a wild extravaganza of insulting Awogboro and heaping several insulting proverbs on him. Atake, who wondered why Ogunbanjo, 64, would be openly rude to the 82-year-old Awogoboro, recalled the former saying that “if an elder misbehaved, you strip him of his agbada and cap.” In an attempt to defend the trustee from Ogunbanjo’s alleged assault, Atake also accused Ogunbanjo of charging at him but was restrained by Demola Akinrele, SAN.
Awogboro did not leave anything to chance as he petitioned the secretary of the club.
He wrote: “I wish to draw your attention to the night of the AGM on November 5, 2020, whereby Senator Tokunbo Ogunbanjo in a speech unprecedented at the AGM insulted and disparaged me and the office of a Trustee in view of members, management, and the staff.
“As a Yoruba man and an elder, to hear a Yoruba man young enough to be my son uttering a proverb that amounts to disrobing me of my dignity and disgracing me publicly. He assaulted the foundation of my person, my culture, and my role in the club as a trustee. I was only restrained by the Almighty God in His wisdom from intemperate action.
“His allegations and comments on the office of the trustee are grave and undermine our club as an institution, as well as bring the affairs of the club to disrepute; I must state that as the custodian of this great club I must defend it and protect it to the best of my ability.
“I presume the meeting was recorded and the details of his speech can therefore be recalled. I hereby respectfully request an immediate investigation of this incident, and that a hearing be conducted by the committee.”
After hearing his side of the story, the club proceeded to suspend Senator Ogunbanjo indefinitely.
The club noted, “On the preponderance of the evidence put before us, we find your conduct at 2020 Annual General Meeting, and complaint by Prince F.O Awogboro has put the club into disrepute and prejudicial to the common purpose of the club. Accordingly, in line with the provisions of rule 8 of our club rules, the committee has decided to suspend you indefinitely from the Lagos Motor Club, with immediate effect.”
For now, polarised club members are on tenterhooks as their otherwise preferred drinks, and other forms of entertainment have become insipid.