My case against Obasanjo Library –Soyinka

Prof. Wole Soyinka
Text of a media briefing by Prof. Wole Soyinka in Abeokuta, Ogun State on Thursday, August 14, 2008

On Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidential Library (OOPL)

WHEN I heard of Olusegun Obasanjo’s Presidential Library (OOPL) and that it was going to be a repository, it didn’t make sense to me. First of all, OOPL has nothing to do with culture. The main thing that they are after is
to get recognition of OOPL as a UNESCO Category 2 Institute, so as to be entitled to receive funds from Nigerian government as subsidy, as well as soliciting funds for cultural affairs from private sectors, international organization and so on.

In other words, from the very beginning, the motives were not straightforward; especially about the acquisition of Ulli and Georgina archives. The motives were distorted and deceptive from the very beginning.

In the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the transfer of the archives of Ulli and Georgina Beier to a newly created Ulli and Georgina Beier Center for Black Culture and International Understanding under the auspices of UNESCO, you will notice that in the title of the paper, there was no mention whatsoever of OOPL. This is the MOU signed between Prof. Babalola Borishade, then the Minister of Culture and Tourism representing the Federal Government of Nigeria and Ulli and Georgina Beier. In the process of that MOU however, one or two interesting paragraphs were inserted, and which gives us the origin of the whole story — which is to show that everything else from the very beginning was programmed towards this end.

Source: The Guardian
Subsequently, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, then President, instructed Prof. Michael Omolewa, our representative at UNESCO and one other person, to negotiate with the Beiers for the transfer of their archives and incorporate it into OOPL.

That to me is an abuse of office. It is a clear case of abuse of office, to order the transfer of material to be paid for from public funds to someone’s personal library. I don’t care whether it is called Presidential Library or not. This is an abuse of office. Until the eve of his departure, he ordered public servants, which Omolewa was one, to start the process of transferring the archives to be paid for from public funds to his personal library. Now, everything else that you read, or have heard, is all rigmarole. They are all manipulations, distortions to ensure that these archives bought with public funds end with OOPL.

The understanding with Georgina and Ulli Beier was that their archives should be housed in a special centre to be created in Osogbo and called Ulli and Georgina Beier Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding. It is all in this document. They said one thing to Ulli Beier, then smuggled in OOPL in presenting their case for recognition to UNESCO.

The solution, which I have communicated privately to the government of Nigeria, as well as in private messages to (Osun State Governor Olagunsoye) Oyinlola is that, the paper before UNESCO should be withdrawn and re-presented properly, correctly and legally without any involvement with Olusegun Obasanjo.

I want to make this absolutely clear that the Ulli Beiers’ archives are coming to Nigeria. Ulli Bier, in fact, expressly said he wanted the archives to return to Nigeria, Osogbo especially. I have all the communications and we will go to court with all of these. Ulli Beier said he wanted the archives to be stationed in Osun and overseen by the Board, which must include representatives of Osun State University, Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Ibadan — the three places with which he was closely associated and where he gathered all these archives. He did not even mention Ogun State University (now Olabisi Onabanjo University). This is what is logical and what is sensible. This is the history of archives all over the world.

I advise this government so that there is not a very nasty, unpleasant war internationally. These people (Obasanjo associates) have re-grouped; they have done their work underground, underhand through the backdoor, backyard, twisted and confused everybody. This would have been fait accompli at UNESCO’s General Assembly in April, but we managed to stop it. But it is being re-presented as a petition for the recognition of the Olusegun Obasanjo Library. And the basis for this is the Ulli and Georgina Beier archives.

There is no other qualification of (OOPL) to even be considered by UNESCO for one second; so they are regrouping to re-present their case to the next UNESCO General Assembly. They are lobbying like mad with fat, fat, fat envelopes of goodies; but we don’t have any goodies; but we also do our lobbying where necessary. And the only way to avoid any nasty confrontation with UNESCO is for the government to withdraw this document and represent it in an honest, logical and proper cultural manner.

These people are very dishonest and very devious. They are giving the impression we don’t want the archives in Nigeria and that is b—sh—t; we want it here. But we don’t want it in Obasanjo’s Library because it doesn’t belong there.

Let it end on that note, and that this thing has been a ploy from the very beginning in the dying days of Obasanjo’s regime, to illegally and improperly acquire archives paid for from public funds and this is a gross abuse of office which, in itself, is criminal and if there is any justice left in this nation, some people should be in the criminal dock over this whole affair.

On UNESCO’s position on the matter

ANY organization, any government, any institution has the right, if it has the funds, to acquire archives. Archives are historical and cultural materials and so, Ogun State government, for example, can decide to acquire the archives of Fela Sowande (musician), which they should, as a matter of fact.

There is nothing improper therefore that the Osun State government bought the Ulli Beiers’ archives. It is just that after the government acquired such archives, an individual who, for example, has built a shed somewhere now uses his political office to acquire the archives and insists that it must be housed in his parlour. The Governor of Osun State has no right to donate it to an individual.

As to whether UNESCO is not seeing what I am seeing, UNESCO relies on its public servants, employees, advisers and so on and so forth. And if you have inside UNESCO, a hyperactive individual who is going “Kube Kube Kube” all over the place, lobbying, throwing parties, receptions for his colleagues and giving them a certain twisted side of the story; it is that story that will come to UNESCO. So, what we are doing now is giving UNESCO the other side of the story. UNESCO is a huge organization. It is over-bureaucratized and it is amazing how easy it is for deceptive seed to be sown there and yield fruit.

Why he couldn’t stop Obasanjo

Don’t exaggerate my international status. I am just one of many people. Obasanjo himself has been a member of a Commission on UNESCO for a certain time. He has been Head of State for some years, so he also has his own connections too. For instance, he has one faithful servant called Andoriyo, who is his personal friend and who is right inside UNESCO.

Don’t exaggerate the international network of Prof. Wole Soyinka; knowledge sometimes comes purely by accident.

Many people don’t even know the full details of what is really going on. Some people can go there and support the Olusegun Obasanjo library, who are not interested in the library beyond the comment. I have said how it came about, this disgusting extorter’s jamboree, where public sectors and even government sectors were lining up like sheep to the slaughter to contribute, pure extortion.

Beyond that, I am not interested in Obasanjo’s library. So, I don’t know whether they are talking about Obasanjo’s library as a repository for the Ulli Beiers’ archives or they are talking of OOPL in its own already tainted sphere. So, I really can’t comment on that.

On the comparison of OOPL by Dr. Christopher Kolade to that of former American Presidents

Did the States in America contribute to George Bush’s library from public coffers? Did corporate bodies, which had vested interests in the Bush government, contribute? Were they lining up to contribute? Go and look at the list, the Governors who donated to the OOPL library, did they donate out of their pockets; out of their private funds or they contributed on your behalf and mine?

When government donates public funds, they must be able to justify it. But in this instance, you had millions of naira being contributed by state governments, parastatals and that was what was indecent about it. All corporations that contributed must be able to declare that they have no vested interests.

Nobody is saying that Obasanjo should not seek funds. But what must be determined is where these private bodies sourced their donations from. What link do they have? What contracts were on-going when these donations were made? They (Kolade and his team) are trying to confuse issues.

His Opposition

I wrote a formal letter to the Director-General of UNESCO, including an article which I wrote which said an attempt was being made to turn UNESCO into a laundry machine for failed rulers. There is nothing anybody can say here; the documentation is ample. I wrote again to Ulli Beier asking him certain questions, like; did you at anytime sell your archives to Olusegun Obasanjo for his Library? Did you at any time agree that the Ulli and Georgina Beier Foundation should become a subsidiary of OOPL.

He said, on the contrary, he had made it clear that he did not wish that his archives should be part of the OOPL. In other words, there has been a misrepresentation to the Nigerian public and by implication, UNESCO.

There is nothing in OOPL, culturally speaking. It is an empty matchbox. Culturally speaking, I am not saying he does not have certain political documentation, statesmanship documentation and historical documentation. I have not said that for a moment. Cultural speaking, OOPL is an empty matchbox.

When it was being presented to the public, there was nothing about cultural proposition there. It was all supposed to be the first ever African Presidential Library, in tune with other Presidential libraries everywhere. It is rather like Richard Nixon Presidential Library.

Attempting to acquire Museums and contemporary Arts and subsumed it into a Presidential Library is unheard of and that is why my colleagues and I are against it. I am speaking on behalf of some people who will appear. I am going to resist these fraudulent and distorted activities all the way by challenging it in court within Nigeria, because it has got to a stage that President Yar’Adua has to be involved.

We are testing the validity of the MOU, which he signed when he was not yet President, which is in black and white.

Source: The Guardian


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