Opinion (10/3/17) – Lessons from Obasanjo Presidential Library, by Ayo Oyoze Baje
For a man who, as Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo rightly noted has had an intriguing life trajectory, intricately interwoven with Nigeria’s recent history, especially since political independence in 1960, establishing a Presidential Library is as symbolically imperative as it is a memento to history. Indeed, having had the rare fortune of piloting the complex affairs of Africa’s most populous nation, first as a military Head of State in 1976 and back again for an eight-year stretch in democratic garb from 1999, Obasanjo’s vast and varied political experience should be preserved for posterity.
Still standing ‘tall’ as the first African military Head of State to willingly hand over the baton of political power to a democratically elected government, as led by President Shehu Shagari in1979, Nigerians and indeed global scholars have a lot to glean from his inspiring life history. Besides, he also remains as the first Nigerian civilian president to transmit power in a seamless manner to another civilian president, Umar Musa Yar ‘ Ardua in 2007(of blessed memory).
Aptly described as meant to “preserve the past, capture the present and to inspire the future”, the sprawling edifice located at Abeokuta, which was declared open on March 4, 2017 by Osinbajo has opened up new vistas for tourism to thrive . That is not only in Abeokuta, which Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the governor of Ogun State described as the capital of Nigeria’s education but the country at large. It would also serve as a national archive for the preservation of documents and materials used by the President during his tenure.
The library was incorporated in November 2002 as a Non-profit organization while the commissioning was part of Chief Obasanjo’s 80th birthday. The facility is equipped with a museum, zoological gardens, amphitheatre, as well as advocacy centres. Some of these are the Institute of African Culture and International Understanding and Centre for Human Security and Green Energy Demonstration. On the three basic principles underlying his dream of a presidential library that took root back in 1998, he has this to say:
“One, we must incorporate revenue generating unit to ensure substantial fund are generated to support what donations we may continue to receive. Two, there must be enough facilities to serve the need of the community and to impart positively on the community in a way it must be a community project from the point of view. Three, it must be active and dynamic, not inactive, but also instructive and inspiring. It must also be a centre for knowledge, information and values to a large extent.”
This noble idea falls in tandem with that of the first of its kind in the world as established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States of America back in 1939. That was when he proposed to leave his papers to the public in a building donated by him on his Hyde Park estate.
One of the lessons here is that we must learn to keep records and accurately too. For instance, but for the records kept by Leonardo Da’ Vinci, the Italian genius of an artist and engineer, the world could have been denied the concept of a flying machine as at the time it finally materialized in 1903 by the Wright Brothers.
It was a similar experience for Sir Gregor Mendel, the Austrian monk who kept records of his thoughts on the genetics phenomenon which he discovered through experiments in his garden. Little wonder he is fondly referred to as the “father of modern genetics”.
As individuals, communities and country we must be on the safe side of history by keeping records of events as they evolve. One of the tragedies of traditional herbal practice here in Nigeria, if not in Africa is that the efficacy of some so called herbal concoctions were not recorded. A lot has benn lost by this.
Going by Osinbajo’s inspiring speech, there are two advantages of writing history. The first is that one can add a few nice things about oneself. The second is that it is the best sure way of preserving the failures and the successes of the past. While it is true that only few Nigerians have had the good fortune as Obasanjo both in making history and writing it , in our little ways our achievements and the faulty steps taken should be kept for the present and future generations to learn from.
For Liberian President, Ellen Sirleaf, who is the ECOWAS Chairperson and also chaired the momentous occasion, “History will bear the truth of the precedent setting presidential initiative in Africa.” It has sent a signal for retiring presidents to emulate to record and preserve the history of nation building for posterity. That is “for the benefit of today and future generation”.
In essence, such would engender good leadership as no sane serving president would like to be remembered for social chaos, corruption, instability, insecurity and a legacy of non-performance.
We should glean from the life and times of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who as Osinbajo stated has had an incredible service to the Nigerian nation, the continent and the world. “ A nation”, he said must believe in its past, its future and : above all in the capacity of his own people to learn from the past in creating their own future”.
Such a glorious picture would be better predicated on the unfailing principles of unity of purpose, commitment to the ideals of nationhood, patriotism and selfless service to the state rather than the self. The fervent hope therefore, is that incumbent and future leaders should be ready to learn from both the successes of past leaders, to be built upon. And of course, their failures which must not be repeated.
Good enough, the hand of history is most often, open to all, but few are ready to drink from its fountains of limitless knowledge. That explains why we keep going round in cycles of under performance in Africa, in spite of our huge, God-given natural resources.