Lagos Motor Boat Club: The Unending Saga

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At the heart of the crisis that has engulfed the Lagos Motor Boat Club are the suspension of Jide Coker who was vying to be a trustee of the club; the unilateral deletion of his name by one of the oldest members, Trustee Francis Awogboro; the suspension of Senator Tokunbo Ogunbanjo and the contentious roles of frontline members like Yinka Akinkugbe, Ladi Ajose-Adeogun, Demola Akinrele, Eyimofe Atake, and a host of others. In this article, LANRE ALFRED examines the grievances, involvement, or otherwise of each figure, and the way forward.

CONTINUED FROM LAST WEEK

More facts have emerged on the actual causes of the crisis engulfing the elitist Lagos Motor Boat Club, at the heart of which is the suspension of Jide Coker, a committee member, from contesting in the last election to be a Trustee. Members of the board of trustees who are called trustees are viewed as the club’s patriarchs and its symbols of order, discipline, and authority.

In a letter to the secretary of the club dated January 11, and titled, State of Affairs in the Club, Ladi Ajose-Adeogun, an ex-commodore, who showed interest in being a Trustee, lampooned Demola Akinrele, SAN’s letter titled ‘Comedy of Errors’, stating that rather than respond constructively as should be expected of a long-standing member and a past Commodore to boot, “(He) chose to use his article to assassinate the characters of several members including myself.”

He added that he had decided not to join issues with Akinrele as it would not be productive but requested that “the Committee call him to order and have him tender his apologies whilst withdrawing his comments/allegations against me.”

The Heart of the Matter
Tracing the origin of the crisis, Ajose-Adeogun recalled that he, alongside Akinrele, Dr. Dapo Majekodunmi, an ex commodore, Femi Fowora, and Folabi Balogun had a meeting at the residence of Trustee Francis Awogboro. It was there that he claimed that Akinrele tabled the matter of Coker and expressed his wish that he should not be allowed to contest because he (Akinrele) considered Coker ‘transactional’ in his role as a committee member.

Ajose-Adeogun stated, “I disagreed and said no-one can lawfully prevent a financial member from contesting and that the solution should be to present an alternative candidate to run against him and let the members decide by ballot. Trustee Awogboro agreed with Mr. Akinrele and was so vehement in his position that he said he would tear down the board if he found Mr. Coker’s name on it!

“Disturbed by the Trustee’s position, I sought (an) audience with him two days later to revisit his stance on this issue. I managed to convince him to let the parties sort out their differences themselves and that his role should be that of mediator if reconciliation could not be achieved.”

Ajose-Adeogun added that four days later (i.e the day after the nomination board was put up), he was informed that the Trustee had, indeed, struck out the names of Coker and appended his signature to it. “This was surprising not least because he had given an assurance that he would not do that. I also believed that such an action could be misconstrued,” he said.

According to him, everything that has happened thereafter is a consequence of that action and that not addressing it frontally would not make peace reign in the club, adding, “It is important to note that every member has an equal stake in the affairs of the club and no one should believe they have a special right of entitlement.”

Akinkugbe’s Intervention
In a memo, ‘Lagos Motor Boat Club – The Issues at Hand: My Intervention,’ Yinka Akinkungbe, an ex committee member, dispelled the notion that his intervention had anything to do with individuals in the club because “it is a club of friends and although this has now been brought into question by recent events; for me, it is simply about the rules that govern the club.”

He threw up a myriad of posers one of which is that: “If a club member has been nominated to run in a club election by bona fide eligible members and his name has been registered for that purpose on the election board, does any other Ordinary Member, Trustee or member of Management have the right to strike his name from the board without any further inquiry?”

He went added, “In the event that any Ordinary Member, Trustee or Member of management strikes out the name of an intending participant in a club election from the board publicly provided for that purpose, has the person whose name has been struck out committed an oence under club rules?”

Not done, Akinkungbe said, “Have the individuals who nominated him committed an oence? If not, has the person who has struck his name from the election board committed an oence?” In his opinion, the questions go to the heart of the rights and responsibilities of ordinary members of the club, trustees, and management and are so grave that not addressing them has severely damaged the club and nothing can repair the damage until the questions are answered.
“Any attempt to sweep these issues under the carpet would make the carpet so lumpy no one would walk comfortably on it in the future,” he declared.

Akinkungbe described Coker as an ordinary member of the club who, in a club election in 2019, was elected to serve on the committee of the club.

He pointed out, “His performance in that role and attendance to meetings and the responsibilities of his oce were diligently carried out. He was not, in any case, found wanting and no disciplinary measures were taken against him.”
Consequently, he fingered a group he said was spearheaded by former Commodores Akinrele, Balogun, and Fowora for concluding that Coker was not worthy of the oce. As former Commodores, Akinkungbe said that they carry a great responsibility and their views are important.

He absolved himself of any role in the anti-Coker campaign saying, “I am not a party to their discussions so I am not aware and have not been able to discover why their personal animosity to Jide Coker resulted in their quiet conversations with Trustee Prince Francis Awogboro, which in turn resulted in a verbal instruction to the Commodore, Dapo Majekodunmi, that Jide Coker should be told not to run in the election. If indeed the trustee was not the one who issued this instruction, it would make the events that followed even more bizarre. What we can be sure of is that club members decided to nominate Jide Coker amongst others and put his name on the board.”

Akinkungbe added, “What followed is that our revered Trustee Awogboro on discovering that Jide Coker had been nominated; travelled to the club and proceeded to strike out Jide Coker’s name as well as the names of Dr. Lanre Towry Coker and Senator Toks Ogunbanjo, Jide Coker’s proposer and seconder and he also appended his signature to the striking out to ensure it carried the authority of his position as Trustee. What prompted his annoyance is unknown to me but he was specific in his actions and did not extend it to any other nominee.”

Thereafter, Coker was summoned by the committee for daring to contest despite having been warned not to and subsequently expelled.

Akinkungbe said before his expulsion, Coker had never been summoned for any offence, and he did not nominate himself. Two members who had every right to do so, Dr. Lanre Towry Coker, a long-standing member of the club, and Senator Tokunbo Ogunbanjo, a former secretary of the club, nominated him. The two of them were questioned by the club for defying Trustee Awogboro’s directive. It was at the AGM of the club that things escalated.
Akinkungbe stated that Ogunbanjo’s statement at the AGM, which was “delivered in silence to the club was met by a loud and unfortunate riposte by Atake.”

Ogunbanjo’s statement was reported to have disparaged Awogboro and Akinkungbe recalled that the former apologised there and later via a formal letter. But the old man, clearly dissatisfied with Senator Ogunbanjo’s apology, wrote a petition to the Committee, insisting that he had been oended and that Ogunbanjo should be held to account.
Subsequently, Akinkungbe said, “The committee summoned Senator Ogunbanjo and chose to suspend him indefinitely (a strange punishment unknown to any club that I know of) apparently dissatisfied with his explanation of his actions at the AGM. This was despite the fact that the Committee should, in revisiting that incident, have taken into account the disruptive behaviour of Atake SAN far in excess of any statement made by Senator Ogunbanjo.”

He went on to accuse Atake of acting in a manner that threatened to disrupt proceedings at the AGM. Many would recall that Atake, in a lengthy memo to Akinkungbe had criminated his intervention, via a letter, as being “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 further accused him of belonging to a group in the club that is driven from behind-the-scenes by Ajose-Adeogun because “Ladi has not the guts to rear his head, but he is the elephant in the room. 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.”

Interestingly, Ajose-Adeogun did not dignify Atake with a response in his letter. But Akinkungbe would not let Atake off without a strong rebuke, saying that his ‘show of shame’ is available on a video recording of the AGM and perhaps should have resulted in disciplinary measures against him and possible expulsion given the measures the committee had taken in previous incidents. “One presumes they took these steps in defence of the Trustee (Awogboro) and acting on his petition regardless of any part the Trustee’s actions played in precipitating this event,” he added.

Ogunbanjo Responds
Responding to the petition against him by the club via a December 1st, 2020, letter, Senator Ogunbanjo stated that at no time in his speech did he insult or disparage the office of the trustee or the petitioner (Awogboro).

“Nowhere in my speech were there allegations other than my ‘mention’ of a petition presented by myself and Dr. Towry-Coker and I referred to rule 42b which states that ‘no member shall cross out any name or deface the nomination board. Again, I proceeded to read a letter from the Secretary of the Club (and which same is on record) which stated ‘…..nomination was crossed out by Trustee Prince Awogboro.’ Surely, this cannot even with the wildest imagination be said to be ‘undermining the club and bring it into disrepute’ if I quote a letter from the secretary to me personally.

Ogunbanjo said that though he expected responses from the commodore to whom he directed his entire statements, it was Atake that proceeded to use words which he claimed that he never uttered like a thug, vandal, hooligan, etc.

“In fact, it would be safe to say he, indeed, exacerbated the situation, where he acted as if he were counsel to the Trustee. I never brought up the issue of our petition, Mr. Atake asked me to read it out! Using that, he proceeded to twist the words and allude abuse on my part.”
He noted that at the close of the meeting, he apologised to the trustee immediately and wrote to him as a follow up to his initial apology as a mark of his respect for him.

The Way Forward
Akinkugbe confessed that he does not know how the crisis will pan out eventually, but, “I am sure that until we reverse the first illegal action to stop Jide Coker from running in a club election and arm what the rules state, ‘that any member of two years standing can run in a club election’; we cannot progress happily. What happens after a necessary reversal, whether reinstatement of membership for Jide Coker and lifting the strange indefinite suspension of Senator Ogunbanjo without blemishes is for the club to decide.

“The trustee, after doing the right thing, might suer some embarrassment for misunderstanding and misuse of his authority and causing club members trepidation, great pain, and anguish; (it is) a small price to pay for the club and the members to recover some equilibrium. It is, however, unlikely to result in camaraderie at the bar for a long time unless someone rings the bell when it’s all over.”

To find a resolution to these matters, Ajose-Adeogun suggested the formation of a reconciliation committee comprising parties not immediately related to any of the issues and who would be able to assess the situation critically and dispassionately and proffer long-lasting solutions, thereby, returning the LMBC to the congenial and friendly environment that members had long enjoyed and cherished.

On his part, Senator Ogunbajo reminded the committee and all members that he values his rights as a member of the club as enshrined in the club’s rules and by-laws and which he said he affirmed on joining in 1987.

“I aver that that document is what guides us and guards us in the same manner as all Memorandum and Articles, Constitutions and guiding documents (which of course are all subject to constant improvements). They are the ultimate source of authority which I enjoin us all to uphold,” he stated.