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 hover 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 January 23rd, 1950, the Lagos Motor Boat Club is recognised as one of the most prestigious clubs in Nigeria. Housed in a white colonial-era building on the bustling Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, and boasting a view of the serene lagoon where the yachts of the rich and famous 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.
There are different categories of membership ranging from Reciprocal, Honourary and Overseas to Up-Country, Corporate and Founder Members but, 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.”
The club is run by a ‘Committee’, members of who are elected in a proper election while a Commodore is the titular head of the club. 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 prevailing animosity in the club. There is also a Board of Trustees; members of who are viewed as the patriarchs of the club and its symbols of order, discipline and authority. The major criterion for being admitted into the Board of Trustees 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 released by Demola Akinrele, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and senior member of the club, traced the origin of the crisis to circa 2020, stating, “I had discussions with Femi Fowora, Folabi Balogun and Ladi Ajose Adeogun – all former Commodores – with a view to suggesting 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 and subsequent to that, he was persuaded 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 stated that the texture and temperature of the election became hotter because of the proposition to Coker which was misconstrued and, therefore, fuelled sympathy towards him. According to 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 apparently 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. This 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. This 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 Trustee by the committee, 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.”
Few weeks to the AGM of the club which 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 opinion of the Committee was considered prejudicial 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, SAN and Trustee of the club, 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; then he translated it to English for non-Yorubas 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. The Trustee, according to privileged sources at the AGM, also reportedly approached Dr Majekodunmi as the Commodore and pointedly accused him of not protecting him (Trustee) enough from the barrage of attacks unleashed 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 awfully 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.
Whilst Thisday did not see the memo in question, Atake’s response directed to Akinkugbe quoted it copiously, as did Akinrele’s. “Your letter accuses several people of various conduct including Trustee Prince Francis Awogboro and the Committee of the club. 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 also lacking in 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. He is the obnoxious and sinful genius who has 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 bye-laws states that only ‘Founder Members’ and ‘Ordinary Members’ shall be eligible for the office of trustee and “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.”
He, therefore, 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, has 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, incontrollable 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 admitting repeatedly that some facts were unknown to him so, 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 all he tried to do was 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 contrarily, 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 misjudgement on situational ethics in my opinion. First, the decision to publish a memo to members in a manner in which 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 what the crisis has shown is that the club still needs the elders in positions of authority and that it is imperative for Ogunbanjo to reconcile with the Trustee in a meaningful manner and all related issues would be resolved accordingly. “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. This 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.