BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE
Battle for soul of Nigeria’s premier social club
ALL is not well at Nigeria’s premier social club, the Island Club, Lagos. A deep-seated battle for the control of the lever of power has divided the once famous and united club into at least three camps.
There is the Chief Molade Okoya Thomas-led camp, the Akeem Awe camp and of course some non-aligned members, who are battling to save the club from the basket of litigation the bickering has unleashed on the organisation.
At its prime, Island Club could pass for a conclave of the high and mighty. It served as a fertile ground for people in the establishment, politicians, lawyers, captains of industry, soldiers and other professionals among others, to hobnob, lift their social status and boost their careers.
Notable Nigerians and foreigners, who had passed through the club included Sir Adeyemo Alakija (first chairman), Mr. E.J Alex Taylor, Sir Louis Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Bishop A.W. Howells, V.T. Fox, J.H Davies, D.O Johnson, Sir A.O. Omololu, Dr. R.O. Taylor-Cole, J.F. Winter, H.C.B. Denton, F.H. Bowen, Ernest S. Ikoli, Chief W.H. Biney, Ladipo Odunsi, Chief Arthur Prest, Chief J.K Randle, Sir Kofoworola Abayomi and Percy Savage.
There were also Chief S.O Gbadamosi, Sir Louis Mbanefo, Chief Ladipo Odunsi, Chief Arthur Prest, Chief J.K Randle, Sir Kofoworola Abayomi, Mr. Eric Moore and AJ Leventis, J.S Zarpas, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief TOS Benson, Louis Edet, Chief SLA Akintola, Chief Dennis Osadebey, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, John Shagaya and Orji Uzor Kalu among others.
Founded on Friday, October 29,1943 by 50 Nigerian and foreign gentlemen at the private residence of late Mr. Ladipupo Odunsi, former British Governor-General of Nigeria, Sir Arthur Richard usually went to the club to deliver Christmas messages.
“Whatever he said was law and formed the kernel of the budget of the following year,” Mr. Ben Lawrence, a veteran journalist and an old member of the club, recalled.
It was therefore not surprising that people who mattered in the society used the Island Club to cut their social teeth, according to Chief Fasina Thomas, another veteran pen pusher and first editor of The Punch Newspapers.
“In those good old days, once you reach the managerial level in your career, you join Island Club,” he said.
In the beginning
In a country polarised along racial divides in the 1940s, the founders had ambitious objectives of promoting good fellowship and inter-racial harmony, which they pursued relentlessly. Then, there was no social interaction between the whites and coloured.
There were different institutions – schools, hospitals, clubs, even cricket pitches for Europeans and Africans.
The club made its mark in a spectacular manner when it fought against racial segregation and successfully got the backward policy abrogated.
How? A coloured Briton (of mixed parentage) was sent on an official business to Nigeria from the Colonial Office in London. He was in charge of colonial students’ welfare in UK and was on a fact-finding tour of the country. As expected, an accommodation was reserved for him at Bristols Hotels at Martins Street Lagos with an European name.
However, managers of the hotel were infuriated on sighting him because he was not white. They denied him accommodation and pushed him out of the hotel. The news spread like a harmattan fire around Lagos and some members of the Island Club mobilised and protested against the discriminatory policy by leading a protest march to Bristols Hotel.
The action jolted the colonial Government in Nigeria, West Africa and United Kingdom. Thereafter, the Colonial Governor of Nigeria made a proclamation removing colour barrier from all institutions in Nigeria. Thus, the European hospitals, quarters, etc became de-segregated and their names were changed.
This action among others won the club plaudits and attracted more members, who vowed to sustain these ideals.
What members profess
They say: “We are proud of our heritage, as the peacock (our emblem) and we shall always strive to sustain our good image. Island Club has now developed into an institution in the Social Life of Nigeria.
We the recent generation of members owe it a duty to the Foundation Members living or dead, to bring into more practical reality the ideas for which they laboured and sacrificed their time and resources…”
A mere lip service?
Current events at the club do not indicate that the members are performing the duty of sustaining the good image of the club and bringing to practical reality the ideas of the foundation members. Their conduct seems to raise the question: Has the club outlived its usefulness?
How the crisis started
Every year, according to Rule 20 of the club’s constitution, officers and members of the management committee are to be elected. However, this election was not held in 2010 and the ground was prepared for a succession crisis as monthly meetings were no longer held.
Things happened at a dizzying pace. At one of the management committee meetings, the Chairman, Chief Femi Adeniyi-Williams reportedly walked out as tempers rose.
When he left, other officers were said to have continued the meeting and decided to punish him. An extra-ordinary meeting was called and he was removed along with Thomas Adegbite Adu (honorary treasurer).
But Adeniyi-Williams was said to have insisted that the meeting did not continue after he left and as such his removal was null and void. He was to resign later on November 15, 2010 alongside the treasurer and wrote the Board of Trustees (BOT) instead of the Management Committee.
The Chairman of the BOT, Okoya-Thomas stepped in and appointed a caretaker committee. Some members of the club opposed the raising of a caretaker team.
They got the club to appoint an acting Chairman, Hakeem Awe and thereafter went to court to stop the BOT chairman from ‘running the club.’ Since then the matter has been dragging and has been laced with exchange of brick-bats, accusation and counter-accusations between both camps as parallel election committees were raised.
In suit FHC/L/CS/758/2010 filed at Federal High Court Lagos by Flavius Oladipupo Akerele (assistant general secretary) against Incorporated Trustees of Island Club, Adeniyi-Williams and Oluwole Iyamu (secretary), Justice M.B Idris ruled on October 8, 2010 that with regard to Rules 17, 20 and 29 of the club’s constitution, “the management of the affairs of the Island Club after 12 calender months since last officers of the club were elected and sworn into office in 2009 is vested in the management committee of the Club as a whole (not just in the Chairman) until an Annual General Meeting is held and new ones elected.”
He directed Adeniyi-Williams and Iyamu to summon a meeting of the management committee within 21 working days from the date of the judgement.
Following the judgement, a half yearly general meeting of the club was held on October 29 at which 98 members passed a resolution calling for an Extraordinary general meeting. They also terminated previous arrangements for the 2010/2011 elections and asked the electoral committee to be begin and conclude a fresh election process within 21 days from October 29, 2010.
However, Adeniyi-Williams and Adu via suit FHC/L/CS/1367/10 sought an injunction to stop the extraordinary general meeting.
Noting that the motion was dismissed, Iyamu fixed the extraordinary general meeting for November 12 and later rescheduled it for November 22 where a vote of no confidence was passed on Adeniyi-Williams.
In like manner, the management committee rose from its meeting of December 3, 2010 criticising the actions of Okoya-Thomas.
Speaking on the issues in a telephone chat with Vanguard, Chief Okoya-Thomas said he stepped in to save the club from chaos and wondered why he was being maligned by some members. He asked his critics to wait for court decisions on the raging issues.
His words: “People will say things in this country and they know that what they say is wrong. At my age, I am trying to do the right thing at the Island Club. There is a court decision that a member should not contest election for the next 10 years.
Those going to newspapers are saying that the man must contest. As the BOT chairman I saw chaos in the service of Island Club and with my heritage as chairman of BOT, I felt I should not leave the situation where there are two factions.
I dissolved the committee whose life had expired and some of them resigned before we set up an interim committee, to look at things and hold elections within two months. I don’t want to say anything against them. There are two or three cases in court.
Let’s wait for the court decision. If the court says I am wrong, I will give up. But if the court says I am right, I will continue to do the right thing. The management committee does not exist anymore. There are only a few people causing commotion in that club. The Island club has changed. It can’t be described as a place of the high and mighty now. I am trying to change that.”
But his opponents insist otherwise. According to them, the elected management was now in full control; the acting chairman, Hakeem Awe had been giving orders to club staff, alleging that Molade Okoya Thomas told the police that Hakem Awe had resigned of which the Acting Chairman showed up at the Police Command hours later to put the records straight.
As it is, it might take a while for the dusts of bitterness to settle down and much may depend on what the law courts say.