Franklin D. Roosevelt, former President of America, was first to propose the idea of creating a Presidential Library where the Presidential papers, transpirations of significant events and gifts accumulated during his administration could be housed and preserved.
As the world war threatened democracy in Europe, on June 30th, 1941, President Roosevelt dedicated his Presidential Library (American first) at Hyde Park to the benefits of “future generations” who will use the records of his presidency. At the dedication, Roosevelt had this to say:
“To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a nation must believe in three things: It must believe in the past; It must believe in the future; It must believe in the capacity of its own people so as to learn from the past that they can gain judgment in creating their own future.”
Seventy-four years later, a man who was born on IFO Market day, in Ibogun- Olaogun, 78 years ago, of the Owu ancestry of the Yoruba kingdom, a two time head of government in Nigeria, first as military head of State (1976-1979), then as democratic head of government (1999-2007), a co-chair (alongside with Malcolm Fraser, former Australian Prime Minister -1975-1982) of the commonwealth Eminent Persons Group formed in 1985 to negotiate the end of Apartheid policy in South Africa, a strong contender candidate of “The Race to the Thirty-Eight Floor” of the United Nation’s building in New York, a farmer, a man who paid three pence (his six months’ saving as a school boy) to change his early years nickname of “Butuya” meaning plumpness to a preferred one of Ori-Ade (crowned head), President Olusegun Obasanjo, has done exactly what President Roosevelt did by bequeathing to Nigeria and indeed the entire Africa, a complex, costing about $150 million which in President Obasanjo’s word is : “an effort in pioneering and developing a legacy that can stand the test of time, to preserve the past for posterity, capture the present and let it be known today and tomorrow, to inspire the best to make the future great, project our culture and other cultures, to appreciate the beauty of diversity of cultures and to promote local, domestic and international tourism.”
While all well meaning Nigerians and Africans and indeed the world would be heading to Abeokuta to wish this great African leader well with all manners of birthday gestures, typical of Baba, as he is reverently and fondly called, has asked us all, by implication, to hold all our birthday gifts in abeyance and accept first his gift to Africa – Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), the first of its kind in Africa. For those of us who have taken time to seriously study this man, his leadership style and approach, his broad view of Nigeria and passion for her unity, his dedication to the struggle of ending Apartheid in South Africa, his commitment to African peace and security, from Congo to South Sudan to Liberia, Sierra lone, Ivory Coast to Angola, his believe in strategic investment in human capital development through the instrumentality of any and all forms of education, his believe that no section of Nigeria must have a monopoly of power at the highest level of government to the exclusion of other minorities, and his philosophy of speaking out at any time wrongs, injustice and leadership failures are taking place, I have come to the conclusion that any country that does not have an OBASANJO, must try and invent one. To demonstrate further why I hold this man in the highest esteem, with all sense of responsibility and duty, let me share with my readers, some of this statesman’s actions when it is most needed but risky to undertake.
Contrary to the impression most erroneously have of Baba, he is first class brain. Obasanjo was cerebral that only did he go to school on an academic scholarship, he actually took the general certificate of education (GCE) examination from form four at Baptist high school Abeokuta, passed with distinction all his subjects of English language, geography, history, physics, chemistry and mathematics. He demonstrated same outstanding performance at Indian Staff college course in India and the Royal College of Defense studies in United Kingdom preparatory to his military career. That’s why when I hear those who don’t know this man’s background, call him dumb, I empathised with their ignorance of his intelligence both native and academic.
Obasanjo as a voracious and fearless fighter for justice, equity and fairness, in an open letter to Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of United Kingdom, during the time he was co-chair of the Eminent Persons Group on the mission to end Apartheid in South Africa, had this to say: “ ….. I must tell you that many people around the world view your continued opposition to sanction as displaying a misguided tribal loyalty and myopic political vision; …. The economic sanctions you so energetically pursued against Poland, Afghanistan and Argentina were brushed aside in your determination to withhold their application to South Africa. Yet to many of us, there is only one significant difference: the victims in South Africa are Blacks…”.
Notwithstanding Thatcher ended up respecting him for his frankness as demonstrated by her endorsement of Obasanjo for the position of Secretary General of United Nations when Obasanjo sought for that office but lost to Butros Butros Ghali of Egypt in large part because Ghali had closer tie to America, married a Jewish woman was architect of Camp David accord, helped to secure Egypt support for Operation Desert Storm in addition to his speaking French.
When again he was invited to the Arewa House for a Lecture in Kaduna, he had this to say about Abacha, when he was still alive and head of State of Nigeria: “ …. No society that treats public funds and property with utter disregard and cares only for personal accumulation on the principles of “steal and go” can make progress ….. ; where morality is impaired, authority is defective and ineffective….; while General Abacha put to nought with the stroke of the pen the eight years of Babangida’s political chicanery of which Abacha was a part, we have now been told that the program of this administration would last for an indefinite “brief period” which an insider told me could vary from one year to ten years or the end of the life of the chief priest…..”
Therefore, when people misread and misconstrue his present day outspokenness and/or tradition of open letters when serious national issues are at stake, and deliberately and mischievously reach the conclusion that Obasanjo is against any person or administration, I can only ask them to study this man’s antecedents. I am not surprised that many, both home and abroad, who have high regard and appreciation for honour, integrity and veracity continue to invite him to the high table of global leadership where world dialogue and conversations are taking place.
What constitutes the major part of OOPL is the impressive museum, conspicuously located on two exhibition floors, while the Archival and the Information and Resource Centers are located on other floors. The museum showcases the life and times of President Obasanjo from his birth to date. The interesting thing is active structure of the exhibitions with interactive games, visuals and words of the man Obasanjo himself. The exhibitions also showcase Nigeria from amalgamation in 1914 and indeed Africa from independence days. In the section housing the huge conference hall, a bookshop, souvenir shop, has an area devote to first ladies, where information about former first lady Stella Obasanjo are displayed. The Arrival Pavilion is the reception place for the museum and archival floors, connected over a dam with a two lane bridge.
President Obasanjo has repeatedly attributed the recent African leadership failures to accidental emergence and lack of preparations. It’s no wonder therefore that the intellectual brain box of OOPL dwells in the Centre for Human Security. Here you will be confronted with the “rich vista of the meanings and thrusts of the concept of human security”. The centre is involved with issues ranging from environment to security threats posed by globalization and technological advances and the response capabilities of most of the countries within the African region. The Centre vigorously embarks on HIV/AIDS education and enlightenment were one of the earliest whistleblowers to the Ebola crisis. Food insecurity, international terrorism, drug trafficking, money laundering, illegal arms dealings, institutional corruptions etc., are among the areas of intellectual interest for the Centre for Human Security of the OOPL. The centre does not only preoccupy itself with problem analysis, but provides recommendations for action-plan to local, state, national, regional and global levels.
Let me make haste to mention here that OOPL is playing host to a UNESCO Category II Institute for African Culture and International Understanding, and it’s the first UNESCO institute on culture in Africa with a mandate to increase intercultural dialogue and international understanding between Africa and other civilizations. The OOPL being acutely aware of the huge revenue involved in servicing and maintaining such a gigantic venture decided to infuse revenue generating enterprises like the Green Legacy Resort to serve visitors to OOPL for seminars, workshops, conferences; the Adire and African Fabric Centre for skill acquisition and sustenance of the old aged industry. In the same vicinity with the guest house, is the first state of the art auditorium, with inherent facilities like conference hall, theatre, reception hall and cinema; there are adult and children swimming pools, a 1200 capacity marquee banquet, a wellness centre, a lawn tennis court and a first class squash court. The squash court didn’t come as a surprise to those of us who know Baba to be an ardent squash sportsman.
The OOPL has other outdoor recreational facilities like the amphitheatre, the bamboo park, the wildlife park, associated with the children’s Amusement Centre, dam for boating, rowing, fishing and a picnic area. Not left out in what is obtainable at the OOPL, are those who believe in the existence of the Supreme whom Christians call God and Moslems call Allah with a big church and mosque along with their schools, supported with the rock of inspiration with its bush (nature) walking trail, the youth rock. There is a place at OOPL call the Village, with shops, restaurants, offices and local eateries. In anticipation of any medical emergency or accidental mishap, there is the biomedical centre for healthcare and medical attention for staff and visitors.
To friends and critics alike, one can’t but salute the vision in creating this first class architectural edifice where Africa’s first Presidential library is housed. Just to underscore this point, Prof Wole Soyinka, a man I revere, whose literary dexterity cum ingenuity is world acclaimed, attended a function at OOPL, while he was still looking around at the place, information got to President Obasanjo of Prof Soyinka’s presence. Baba in his troublemaking characteristic, asked his aide to give the phone to Professor Soyinka, perhaps to solicit his critique of the place.
Instead, Prof Soyinka was reported to have told Obasanjo that because of the beauty, creative ingenuity and wonderfully well thought out vision captured in OOPL, he, Soyinka, has forgiven Obasanjo for all his real and perceived sins. For Professor Soyinka to candidly render that opinion of Obasanjo’s endeavour eloquently accords credence to my conclusion that President Olusegun Obasanjo is indeed an African Legend. Happy birthday Baba, Nigeria, the region, Africa and indeed the world rejoice with you on this occasion of your birthday. May longevity remain your divine portion.
•Dr. Agbai, Executive Vice-President, Center for Policy and Foreign Engagement USA is involved with OOPL