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Frisky Larr (MA)
Journalist/Interpreter
Author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria! ISBN: 9781456777906.
Bochum, Germany
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The Presidential Library that I saw in Nigeria: What A Goddamn Project!

 

If all goes as planned, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Foundation may become one huge Tourist Attraction for African and Nigerian history in the face of a rapidly growing tendency of modern esthetics. It has the potentials of housing the glaring mix of modernity and preserved structural tradition of the rural folks in a reflection of the reality of our present day all presented in one compact space. While I pray and hope that the man in whose honor the entire project was launched will live to see the final completion of the project, I have no doubt whatsoever that history has a lot in stock to tell and show about the man Olusegun Obasanjo. Future generations may yet see in him, an icon that was derided and scorned in his times but of whom it may be proud if all elements fit in the course of history.


Frisky Larr is author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria! ISBN: 9781456777906.

I have always heard about the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library in media reports. My mind has always gone straight to a library facility for archiving books and academic materials. Like everyone else following information in the news media, the only memory that I readily associate with the project of Obasanjo Library has always been huge spending. A huge sum of money disbursed by individuals donating money for the lavish project! People who reportedly fell over each other trying to outdo themselves in volumes of donation, to gain the favor of then President Olusegun Obasanjo!

 

Media reports claim that a whooping sum of N 6 billion was raised on the day that the project was launched on May 14, 2005. That was six years ago! The estimated cost of completion at the time, was put at N7 billion. The total sum of N4 billion was reportedly pledged on the spot while oil companies operating in Nigeria were said to have donated an additional N2 billion. That was as far as media reports went.

I have always asked myself what that much money was needed for in the construction of a normal library. My imagination has consequently taken me round all facets of wild visualization. I tried to imagine what manner of Presidential Library should be expected to emerge at the crazy cost of N7 billion.

“Just a library for reading and storing books?” I asked myself persistently. In fact, till the present moment, media headlines in connection with the “Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Foundation” (OOPLF) – as the project is officially known – have reflected stories of coercion and intimidation in connection with the donations made for the library project. Governors were said to have been intimidated into pledging money by some unspoken rules of having to fall in line to avoid falling out of favor with the highly assertive President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The project was launched precisely two years ahead of final departure from the Presidential Palace by the President. People of distinction attended from all walks of life and they included the Vice President and several serving Governors. Many were friends then but some fell out of favor somewhere down the long political journey.

Indeed, my views on the monstrous library project that drained the public treasury of tax-payers’ money extorted under the guise of absolute presidential powers, was shaped by media reports. Until the late summer of 2011!

I visited Abeokuta in August 2011 and saw the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library complex for myself. Man! Was that a library? Nothing like it! It is a breathtaking project. I saw a lot that I never heard or read about in media coverage since 2005.

What I saw was not a library. Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library is indeed a Cultural Center seeking to showcase the historical content of Africa at large and Nigeria in particular. Simply put, the complex also contains a library building. It is an ongoing and well advanced project physically built on an area the size of any typical university campus in any Nigerian city. It is a breathtaking venture.

My investigations uncovered that one Mr. Nyaknno Osso has been the driving force behind the project since the year 1988. Contrary to widely held beliefs, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Foundation belongs to Olusegun Obasanjo only in name and not in deed! It is a foundation that enjoys his personal support for the sole reason of the convergence of personal interest. Minders of the project made a duty of driving this point home.

“In 1988, I read a newspaper report that the then Head of State General Olusegun Obasanjo was scouting for a physical site for some Africa Leadership Forum project” Nyaknno Osso remembers. Being a friend and working colleague of Dele Giwa as leading staffs of Newswatch, Osso found the telephone number of Olusegun Obasanjo scribbled on a personal note by Dele Giwa, who – shortly before – had enjoyed the rare privilege of interviewing the Head of State. “That was how I set the ball rolling”.

In fact, Olusegun Obasanjo was not amused at the suggested project of an Obasanjo Library Foundation and simply ignored the idea. It took his incarceration by Sani Abacha and languishing in the abjection of prison life to awaken sober realities in Olusegun Obasanjo.  Nyaknno Osso recounts that “the sudden realization of how his dreams and legacies would have gone with him 6 feet beneath the earth if he had died in prison, made Obasanjo re-assess his stand”. An apparently sober Olusegun Obasanjo, obviously lost in pondering silence became a changed man emerging from imprisonment. He took the initiative and contacted Osso to give him his support for the pursuit of the project. The year was 1998, exactly 10 years after the birth of the original idea.

This spurred Osso into action. Proud of his achievement in the coordination of the project so far, Nyaknno Osso told me happily how he labored to spread his tentacles far and wide to identify possible models for a befitting library foundation to relate the history of Africa with a focus on Olusegun Obasanjo. A daunting task indeed! The Presidential Library concepts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were subsequently closely scrutinized until a decision was reached to create a unique project in Nigeria with a clear African identity. An absolute novelty in the whole of Africa!

Ironically, the plot of land measuring 32 hectares was provided for the project by the former Governor of Ogun State Olusegun Osoba of the opposition “Alliance for Democracy” – AD. The land was paid for and invoiced at an undisclosed sum.

The initial cost projection of N7 billion for the completion of the project as reported by the media in 2005 was a “schematic projection” that was not done by professional costing. Also contrary to media reports in 2005, the launching actually yielded over N7 billion in pledged amounts. Approximately N4.5 billion was truly made available by donors. The core of the project is expected to be ready in mid-2012.

What I saw on the ground in ongoing construction work was a vast area split into three major zones: “the main Museum/Library”, “Recreation/Leisure Services” and “Housing/Support facilities”.

The main library building (a vast and beautiful structure) is to serve as one ultimate edifice of scientific archiving and research where every imaginable piece of academic material should be readily available to students and teachers alike. It is yet undergoing construction.

Main Library Building overlooked by a designated fountain lake Museum to reflect facets of National history

It is backed by a museum of historical materials related to the military and political travails of the former President. It is a project that rekindles memories of the civil war showcasing a military hardware and a Land Rover used by the soldier Obasanjo during the civil war. There are documentations of long-forgotten eras. The days of the official government policy launched in the dying days of the military regime in 1978! Very few will remember "Low Profile". The government subjected itself to a cost-saving venture of avoiding flamboyance in public appearances. No Mercedes Benz and no other form of luxury vehicles. Government Officials sufficed with Peugeot 504 as the highest class of luxury. The museum presents the last Peugeot 504 used by the then Head of State Olusegun Obasanjo.

What fascinated me most however, is the Cultural Village.

Typical yard in a royal palace?

A vast section of the complex launched on August 25, 2011 seeks to reproduce several typical African village huts roofed in palm fronds and constructed in mud walls on solid land. There is also the replica of a riverine hut made of woods and built on water as is typical of the folks of the Niger Delta. At the center of this construct is the typical palace-type yard of the royal monarchy.

A riverine water-based structure Typical African huts of different geographical regions

Buildings are positioned to tell the story of an African heritage in a vast landscape flanked by a flashy fuel selling outlet in the form of an NNPC mega-station, modern buildings and residential houses.

As if in a deliberate attempt to provide a sharp contrast, the main library building is positioned behind a conspicuous lake that is designed for fitting with fountain facilities in esthetic water splash! Then comes an auditorium some distance away from the library building that would remind students of any typical European or American University of a huge lecture hall. Seminars, Workshops, Exhibitions and other Social events are the target of utility in the Auditorium. It is positioned in front of designated guest houses to facilitate some ease in the accommodation of guests of all colors.

Auditorium in front of Guest Houses

In fact, an Obasanjo element would have been conspicuously missing without a religious institution. A church is not left out. Indeed, the complete project is expected to provide Guest houses with over 145 rooms, a Cyber café, Publishing resources, Souvenir/gift shops, the Auditorium, Museum, Amphitheatre, Restaurant, Park/garden, Artificial lake, stream and waterfall, Zoo, Gym and keep-fit centre for recreation in addition to the Cultural Village. This is complemented by another long street within the complex, of an “Institute for African Culture and International Understanding" certified by UNESCO as a category 2 Institute.

Nyaknno Osso recalls that “Abeokuta was chosen as location in keeping with the models in the USA that we emulated”. Every past American leader who has followed the tradition of a Presidential Library project has always chosen the city of his birth as the ultimate location. Unfortunately however, inflation has so far meant the ballooning of costs, which in turn, constitutes a factor of uncertainty for the overall date of completion. The company RAA – a globally acclaimed designer – responsible for the design of Bill Clinton’s foundation that was commissioned in 2004, is however, overtly optimistic that the main library building will be ready by mid-2012. The entire complex is expected to be run with good 3.5 megawatts of power supply.

Church building for Sunday Worships Institute for African Culture and International Understanding

The project managed by a Board of Trustees is explicitly fathomed to be a non-profit organization with the revenue-yielding units targeting self-financing in the face of a projected recurrent expenditure threatening some scary dimensions. Co-Chairmen of the Board of Trustees are Ambassador Christopher Kolade and the American citizen Carlton Masters. Former Governor of Ogun State Gbenga Daniel, who is also a named member of the 9-man Board has long ceased to be active in the works of the Board.

Indeed, impressions gathered after my visit to the Obasanjo Library complex has strengthened in me the age-old conviction, never to base my conclusions on burning public issues on media reports alone. Whenever on-the spot impressions are possible, it should always be patronized. It takes a personal inspection and appraisal to understand the rationale of the horrendous sum of money that this unique project has gulped and is yet to gulp.

If all goes as planned, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Foundation may become one huge Tourist Attraction for African and Nigerian history in the face of a rapidly growing tendency of modern esthetics. It has the potentials of housing the glaring mix of modernity and preserved structural tradition of the rural folks in a reflection of the reality of our present day all presented in one compact space. While I pray and hope that the man in whose honor the entire project was launched will live to see the final completion of the project, I have no doubt whatsoever that history has a lot in stock to tell and show about the man Olusegun Obasanjo. Future generations may yet see in him, an icon that was derided and scorned in his times but of whom it may be proud if all elements fit in the course of history.

Frisky Larr is author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria! ISBN: 9781456777906.

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