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
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.
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!
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.
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indeed a Cultural Center seeking to showcase the historical content of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.
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”.
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
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Building overlooked by a designated fountain lake
reflect facets of National history
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.
fascinated me most however, is the Cultural Village.
|Typical yard in a royal palace?
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.
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.
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
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.
for Sunday Worships
for African Culture and International Understanding
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!