4 October 2017

Nigeria: Obasanjo Presidential Library - Expanding Nigeria's Knowledge-Base

Funmi Ogundare, who recently visited the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta writes that apart from a place for sight-seeing and recreation, it has become a repository of knowledge and reference point for scholars to carry out academic research on governance, politics, leadership, human security and other aspects of life

A library is seen as a collection of sources of information and similar resources made accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. It also provides physical and digital access to materials.

The Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) complex located in the heart of Abeokuta, Ogun State serves this purpose and more. To a first time visitor, the library offers a unique way to see Nigeria and reflects the choices made by the former president from its location to its total contents.

Established in 2015, the project was conceived as a centre designed to preserve the past, capture the present, inspire the future and promote tourism. It encompasses the library, museum and other tourist attractions such as zoological gardens, the Adire and Africa Fabric Centre, as well as several advocacy centres.

Remodelled after the United States presidential library system, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library is primarily a historic, touristic, recreational and academic centre regarded as a national archive and place for the preservation of genuine presidential papers, documents, materials and other historic items associated with the office of former President Obasanjo.

During a tour of the complex, THISDAY was taken through the building that accommodates some presidential artefacts such as Obasanjo's first car, a well-kept Volkswagen Beetle, an official jeep, helicopter and a miniature warship.

Walking through the building, Keke Ota is sure to strike a first time visitor with nostalgia. The bicycle is a replica of what Obasanjo used to navigate his Ota farm when he left government in 1979, while he used the Volkswagen beetle to travel round the country during the war periods.

According to one of the tour guides, "discussions about the Nigeria civil war took place in the car. He also had discussions with the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka while in it."

Of utmost importance among the relics is the Nissan Patrol Jeep; this according to the tour guide "occupies a special place in Baba Obasanjo's life. The vehicle conveyed him and his late wife Stella to the State Security Service (SSS) office when he was implicated in the phantom coup of 1995. The vehicle also brought him back after three years, three months and three days in prison. The car was also used to campaign before he became civilian president in 1999."

A bridge which another tour guide described as 'Bridge of Unity' links the main building with the others; it is equally significant because of Obasanjo's pedigree as a military engineer.

However, as one steps inside the main building with two wings (A and B), the canonical voice of Obasanjo welcomes guests.

In wing A, one would find relics around his humble beginning, military career and imprisonment. The first section is Nigeria before 1960. A video plays a documentary, where Obasanjo is the narrator. The documentary captures what happened before 1960. There is Nigeria from 1960 section. The political history of the country is also captured.

A section is devoted to the former president's first steps. It is a pictorial representation of stages in Obasanjo's life: childhood, school days and military career.

Another important section in the wing is devoted to the Nigerian child. It is an interactive section and children are allowed to take pictures of their career dream. These pictures are transferred to a screen where they are processed. The aim of the section and the pictures, according to the tour guide is for the children to be inspired to attain their dreams.

"Children can re-enact important moments on sets replicating the Obasanjo Aso Rock Villa. Exhibits centred on the life of Stella Obasanjo and learn about her sense of dressing. Quite a number of schools have visited," he said

He added that the library would be stocked with books and educational material from all over the world to aid proper research.

The Deputy Chief Coordinator, Mr. Ayodele Akinrinwale told THISDAY that the presidential library can avail researchers of important resources that may enable them arrive at accurate and objective analysis of their subjects.

"The OOPL complex is a combination of so many things; the museum and archive section both provide wonderful opportunities for research for scholars and tourists that want to visit the exhibition, for those who want to learn or undertake research on governance and politics leadership, human security, aspects of life and living will also have that kind of opportunity; all types of researchers both academic and non-academic."

Asked what makes the library stand out as an institution of learning, he said, "this is the first type of institution in West Africa, Nigeria. It is a trail blazer and incomparable. It is the first time that we are preserving our history in a modern museum which is probably the most modern in Nigeria today.

The light at the exhibition area is controlled, a lot of research was undertaken before it could be designed the way it was. The library is interactive, the connection is designed in such a way that there is a particular temperature at which all the artefacts are kept. It is a modern museum in the whole of Africa today."

Akinrinwale said it is open to people from all walks of life and different visitors make different demands on the facility within the complex.

"There are those who are here for sight-seeing, the entire complex is designed as a continuous learning environment. It is designed in such a way that from the moment you come in through the gate, there are so many sources of information that may not ordinarily be readily available and that might interest you, but those are interested in seeing other things such as trees, floral we have that and you can see it. But we have several demonstration projects within the library complex. We have a windmill; we are working on hydro-power plant and also installing some solar panels.

"We also have the recycling plant, Islamic study centre and the mosque, youth development centre, archaeological site and collection of animals in the wildlife park, so it is a continuous learning environment from the moment you come in until you leave, there are too many things to learn.

"We have been having visitors who are researchers in the academic and people who are enthusiastic about particular subject matter or issues, looking for policy paper or documents that they need to use."

On what the country and schools can do to help preserve Nigerian culture and history, the deputy coordinator said: "There are already established ways of preserving our history and culture, the society is not just evolving. There are time-tested ways and practices of doing it from time immemorial either through your socialisation process or other means.

"Teaching and learning about our history is not the only way we preserve our culture. Our great grandfathers were oral, they were not literate so to speak, but our culture was preserved through the socialisation process."

On the bookshop, he said "it specialises in history, literature and philosophy. Research students can also order printouts of PDF documents from the extensive digital archives that are continually being updated by the archives unit of the presidential library."

Asked if he shares the view that there is decline in the reading culture, Akinrinwale said, I don't know if there is any scientific or empirical study, there are lots of assumptions by a lot of people and most people who make these assertions hardly averred that there is any empirical study. It is just a comparative analysis about the reading culture over some periods. The young people today have multiple sources of information and knowledge; they convert this information to knowledge and are better informed than the older and previous generations. Most of these digital devices that they carry have their books in them. It must not necessarily be in the traditional format. There are so many ways of learning and reading today.

The role of learning and education in museums cannot be overemphasised, as the acting Managing Director, OOPL Ventures, Mr. Vitalis Ortese described it as a sector which offers a huge and still relatively untapped resources, which can support inspiration and offer an invaluable, original and thrilling learning resource, which can make a difference in young people's lives.

He described the career of former President Obasanjo as unique, saying that the museum is divided into two main sections showing his humble beginnings, military career and imprisonment; and politician, statesman and mediator.

"These sections are further presented as three thematic areas. Each area is presented in five exhibit elements; a story telling cone, a table case, a touch screen, a portrait case and Baba's minute. This is a multimedia experience for all."

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