So the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library was finallly inaugurated today. Well, nearly 12 years ago, when the idea began, I wrote an oped piece in the NewAge newspaper to condemn it. I here share it again.
Follow-follow presidential library
By Obo Effanga Jr (NewAge Mon. May 23.05)
Someone has just observed to me that the artist’s impression of the proposed N7 billion Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) reminds him of the Basilica of Yamassoukro in Ivory Coast. I cannot agree more. The Yamassoukro structure is imposing, gargantuan, mind-boggling, yet soulless and bereft of the spirit that is supposed to dwell therein. In comparison to the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, which it attempted to mimic if not outshine, the brainchild and personal, private property of the now late President Felix Houphouet-Boigny was built from 1986-1989 and cost an estimated $400 million at a time when that country’s economy was being hammered by falling prices of cocoa, its chief export commodity.
Also known as “Our Lady of Peace” basilica, that white elephant towers over the rural village, brought to limelight by the community’s best-known citizen, Houphouet-Boigny. Yet, it is not only an eyesore but was a provocation to the millions of poor, wretched Ivorians. Today, anger against it must be worse, given the condition of war the country has slipped into, an offshoot of Houphouet-Boigny’s short-sightedness of not thinking that there would be a time the country would have to live without him around as its fatherly figure.
The Yamassoukro madness was in bad taste, not because Ivorians, nay, Africans are not religious enough, but because the cost of the project and the use of the palatial building did not accord with the reality in the land, the priority of the country or take to cognisance the sensibility of the people ditto the OOPL.
Like many other Nigerians, I was profoundly touched, penultimate Saturday, to see how big-hearted our men and women of wealth, as well as the big businesses in the land can be. On that day, the crème de la crème of the society lined up in Abeokuta to identify with the “commendable” venture of raising funds for the proposed Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. The project is expected to cost N7 billion. Ordinarily in this country, fundraisers hardly achieve anything close to the target. But as we saw that Saturday, OOPL’s was simply “different from the rest”, like Ras kimono once sang of his (Kimono) style. Going by media reports, between N4 and N6 billion was raised at the event.
I agree totally with those who are not at ease with what transpired at Abeokuta that Saturday. In the first place, the whole concept of an Obasanjo Presidential Library, no matter how important it may be made to look, sounds to me as a case of “Mr. Follow follow” as sung by Fela many years ago. It was meant to copy from the $160 million Clinton Presidential Library, described by Clinton as “the symbol of a bridge to the 21st century” and by others as “the largest collection of presidential papers and artefacts in U.S. history.” But unlike our OOPL, which is being launched while the president is still in office, Clinton Presidential Library was commissioned only last year, four clear years after Clinton left office.
Apart from the Clinton Presidential Library, the Americans also have 10 other presidential libraries, including the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum which documents George Bush’s public career as congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice-President, and President. Other American presidents who have libraries named after them include Jimmy Carter, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
If, as it seems clear, President Obasanjo wanted to join the league of “owners” of such presidential institutions, he got his facts all wrong. In the jurisdiction he attempts to copy from, those libraries are owned by the state, not the individuals they are named after. There are in all, 11 such presidential libraries in the U.S. But here is the clincher, “This nationwide network of libraries is administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), located in College Park, Maryland. These are not traditional libraries, but rather repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, and other historical materials of U.S. Presidents since Herbert Hoover.” That explains why the public is charged about $7 to enter any of those libraries and museums.
That being so, it is totally unnecessary for an individual to purport to raise funds for the establishment of a presidential library. It is even the more obscene when the fundraising is carried out while the president is in office. It only smacks of sycophancy and extortion of the public to caress the ego of the man in power. It would be irrelevant to say that the fundraising was organised by an independent group or board of trustees and that nobody was compelled to part with money. The truth is that, even if the project is a private initiative, it has all the support and cover of the presidency and a great percentage of the donations received could not have been made, were Obasanjo not the sitting president.
And if anybody should be the wiser in this case, it should be Obasanjo himself who knows how the present praise singers surrounding him, sang the same tune for the late dictator, Sani Abacha, while he held sway as head of state and Obasanjo was put in jail on allegation of plotting to overthrow Abacha. The president should ask himself, if he would have raised 10 percent of what has been raised today, were he not the president. Perhaps this is the time for chief executives to also take the kind of advantages their wives have over time appropriated by using their connections and goodwill in government to trap funds to themselves, i.e., doing private business at public expense.
Does Nigeria really need a presidential library at this time, and if so, is it a top priority? I don’t think so. By establishing a presidential library, it is to be presumed that there are enough functional public libraries covering general interests and disciplines and that the members of the public are adequately sensitized about using them. But that is far from the truth. None of the state governments that donated at least N10 million to OOPL can boast of a functional library with up to date books and facilities. Couldn’t the money they donated to this private venture have been better used to upgrade the facilities in their state libraries?
It is also doubtful whether any of the state governors had the mandate of the citizens they claim to represent, when they decided to part with the collective heritage of those citizens. Such money was certainly not appropriated in the budgets of the respective states. Neither can the fraud-prone Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), a public agency, justify its donation of $1 million. Under what budgetary head would the NPA classify that donation?
This fundraising event has the trappings of the one organised in 2003 by Corporate Nigeria. At that time, some captains of industries, railroaded by Mrs. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, a federal government appointed head of Nigerian Stock Exchange raised funds in support of the campaigns of President Obasanjo, who was then seeking re-election. That political support was in total disregard for the country’s laws on the donation of money by companies to political parties.
Coming at a time his government has begun an unpredictable and not-completely believable war against corruption, the fundraising for the president’s library project casts doubts on the honesty of the administration in the anti-corruption fight. Couldn’t the donations coming from the various captains of industries and major contractors of government be seen as gratification for government patronage either past or anticipated? And like someone said, how much tax do these major donors pay? Very laughably, the OOPL claims to be founded on three philosophical cornerstones of leadership (giggle), transparency (chuckle) and agriculture (sneer). Perhaps the cornerstones and the foundation are indeed founded on the above principles, but what we have seen so far is that the ground on which the cornerstone and foundation is laid is less than edifying. It could only lead to a big moral burden for the president and his cohorts.