The biblical story of the Tower of Babel tells how the people of Babylon decided to challenge God and proclaim their own greatness. They proceeded to attempt building a huge monument that would “reach to the heavens”. They said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
God was not happy with their pride and arrogance and decided to stop the tower by changing their languages so that they could no longer understand each other. The tower they tried to build became known as “Babel”, which means “confusion”.
Yesterday, former president Olusegun Obasanjo commissioned another monument to vanity that he called the “Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library” in Abeokuta, a city overflowing with poverty. It was a gathering of the pampered and the preening that included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, former president Goodluck Jonathan, former Head of State Abdulsalaam Abubakar and other foreign dignitaries. They all lined up to massage Obasanjo’s over-inflated ego.
The library, like the biblical tower, is a massive complex located on a rocky and elevated piece of land of about 450 acres on the outskirts of Abeokuta. It includes a museum, recreation and leisure facilities, and accommodation for up to 1,500 people. Obasanjo gave the BBC’s Martin Patience a guided tour. It is estimated to cost $50m.
He told Patience that no one fought corruption more than his administration. Bob Marley would have described this as: “they build their world in great confusion to force on us the devil’s illusion”. What Obasanjo didn’t say was that he is arguably the most corrupt living Nigerian. His library was allegedly founded on “three philosophical cornerstones: leadership, transparency and agriculture”. However, Obasanjo has not been transparent about the costs of the complex and where the money came from.
What is known is that he launched the project while he was in office on 14 May 2005. He received donations from a truckload of Nigerian billionaires, who had a whiff of corruption always hovering around them, and others who seemed to be or were seeking to benefit from his government’s actions such as privatisation.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) in a statement today showed displeasure in the funding process, urging VP Osinbajo to “urgently propose a bill that would specifically regulate and bring transparency to any future presidential library fundraising process, and make public disclosure of major donations towards the establishment of any such library mandatory.”
The statement added: “It’s unfair to Nigerians for a sitting or former president to raise an unlimited amount of money for a presidential library and not to have the obligation to publish information on the major contributors. Without transparency into donations, a president could potentially take an official action in exchange for or in expectation of a future donation to his or her presidential library and the public would be unaware.”
“Without openness and transparency, potential donors may seek to use library donations as a means to secure special access or political favours to authorities in Abuja.” It concluded with: “Former President Olusegun Obasanjo would serve public interest by making a voluntary disclosure of every single donation, particularly large donations, to his newly launched presidential library. This would contribute to greater openness, something that the presidential library seeks to promote about the work and achievements of Obasanjo while in government.”
But despite Pharisee-like pretensions, Obasanjo had little time for public interest. His regime embarked on an almighty looting spree of public funds and assets, as public institutions and infrastructure crumbled in his eight years in office. Nothing epitomised his failures more than an incident after he had left office when his car got stuck on a bad stretch of road between Lagos and Abeokuta – a federal highway that he never bothered to repair as he hopped around in presidential jets and helicopters.
Obasanjo did little to arrest the slide in public education during his tenure as he had a personal interest in private schooling, having built Bells University of Technology and Bells Schools in Ota in 2004, while still president and responsible for improving public education. His library is meant to provide a place for scholarship, a right he denied millions of Nigerian students and school children who had to endure public schools whose decline was hastened in Obasanjo’s eight years as president.
Despite contributing to the destruction of public education, Obasanjo always fancied himself as some sort scholar, with two books to his credit – “My Watch” and “My Command”. Some critics have claimed that the books were ghost-written for him. Those claims must have gained in credence when Obasanjo could not recognise a quote from one of the books during a BBC interview.
Like with most of his land-grabbing, including his farm in Ota, the owners of the land where the library was built didn’t go away quietly. The land is still subject of litigation at an Abeokuta High Court. It was compulsorily acquired by the Ogun State government from the Ijeun-Lukosi community in 1976, originally for building the state secretariat complex. What was then public land ended up as Obasanjo’s personal property with the help of then state governor Gbenga Daniel, who also became a member of the Board of Trustees of the library.
Another member of the board is American Carl Masters, the CEO of GoodWorks – a company that did a lot of business in the oil industry during Obasanjo’s presidency. Another company owned by Masters and some Obasanjo close relatives also bought a plush mansion in Miami. Masters is suspected to be a front for many of Obasanjo’s fraud. He was also one of the fundraisers for the library, possibly as a go-between for Obasanjo to solicit funds from those that sought his favours. It is also alleged that Obasanjo fell out with then President Goodluck Jonathan because the latter refused to approve 2bn naira ($6m) of public money for the library.
With staggering hypocrisy that would make Pharisees look like amateurs, the first building in Obasanjo’s library complex is the “Chapel of Christ the Glorious King”, where a certain “blind guide” is meant to be a Sunday school teacher in his spare time. The library claims that: “At a more local level the Library will teach children and young adults the essential concepts of leadership and citizenship through the example of a former president. By upholding the critical worth of good governance, the exhibitions should inspire future leaders of Nigeria.”
The first lesson the library teaches, from its humongous cost, splendour and the gathering of the rich and infamous at its launch, is that crime does indeed pay. When a man that defrauded Nigeria to the tune of billions of dollars is allowed to chill out in such a vulgar display of stolen wealth and corruption, instead of rotting in jail, the lesson to future Nigerian rulers is that it pays to steal like Obasanjo.
The second lesson from Obasanjo’s library is in Genesis 11:1-9 – the story of the Tower of Babel. It is that God does not take kindly to those that try to mock Him, ignoring His Word, and playing god with their ostentation from stolen riches, which they flaunt in the faces of the poor children of God that are their victims.