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Day world leaders, Nigerians converged in Abeokuta for Obasanjo

By Samson Ezea, who was there, reports
11 March 2017   |   4:05 am
Last weekend in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun, the gateway state was an unusual one. It was a friendly Saturday and Sunday with a clement weather.

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode (2nd right); his Ogun State counterpart, Sen. Ibikunle Amosun (right); former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (2nd left) and former Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), Mr. Koffi Annan (left) during the grand opening of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library at Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta last Saturday

Last weekend in Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun, the gateway state was an unusual one. It was a friendly Saturday and Sunday with a clement weather. There was unprecedented beehive of activities, heavy vehicle and human movements. Especially on the two major roads that lead into the capital from two different directions, namely, The Presidential Boulevard and The MKO Abiola Way.

It was not the birthday celebration of Ogun state governor, Ibikunle Amosun or home coming of the Acting president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who hails from the state. It was all for a man who had scored so many firsts in his life and has continued to do so unhindered, even as an octogenarian.

This was no other person than former president of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who marked his 80th birthday and have his dream project, Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, first of its kind in Africa commissioned.

Although, the event was a week-long one, it came to an end last weekend with the crème de la crème from within and outside the country in attendance.

As early as 8.00am, guests and invitees have started arriving at the library complex. Among the early birds were prominent Nigerians, politicians, former and incumbent presidents of some African countries and others. Some of them lodged at Green Legacy Resort, which is within the library complex. For guests coming from outside, you must wear a tag provided by the orgainsing committee, before you could be allowed access into the complex.

Before 9.00am, the expansive parking space in the complex was fully occupied. Guests were asked to go and park at the MKO Abiola Stadium, from where they were conveyed to the venue in an air-conditioned bus.

The library complex and other buildings within its premises, which sits on 32 hectares is strategically located at the intersection of two major roads that lead into the city of Abeokuta from two different directions, namely The Presidential Boulevard and The MKO Abiola Way, is a sight to behold.

The complex which had adjoining buildings to include a hotel, museum, church, mosque, gallery, amusement park, amphitheatre, bamboo groove bar, Squash court, a stream, senior citizen centre, youth rock, cultural village, parking lot and others, is a community of its own.

Guests took their time to move around the complex, with uniformed and plain-cloth security personnel and organisers of the event standing at strategic locations for assistance.

The chief promoter of the library, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo arrived the venue early. Decked in traditional Yoruba attire with a cap to match, Obasanjo moved round the complex, exchanging greetings and joking with some guests.

Seeing the factional chairman of the crisis-ridden, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator Ali-Modu Sheriff, Obasanjo asked him: “What are you doing here? Sheriff answered, ‘I am here in my capacity as chairman of the biggest party in Africa. There was wild laugh among the guests.

With the arrival of the Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, the event commenced at about 12:00 pm with the official opening of the library complex by President of Liberia and chairperson of the occasion, Mrs. Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, former president, Goodluck Jonathan, Chairman, Board, Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Dr. Christopher Kolade and others.

After this, guests including serving and former ministers, governors, captains of industry struggled to gain entry into the complex to be part of the guided tour of the library, which was led by Obasanjo.

After the tour, Obasanjo and other prominent guests started arriving the library’s 1000 capacity conference hall, where the master of the ceremony and former executive secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC) Prof. Peter Okebukola was already handy on the podium. On the seats were names of the expected occupants tagged by organisers of the event. Okebukola appealed to those who have no seat or business being there to find seats anywhere within the library complex.

With the conclusion of national anthem and protocols observed, Obasanjo took the stage to deliver his welcome address, but not without pausing intermittently to crack jokes. In his address, the former president disclosed how he conceived the idea of the project in 1998, how it commenced 12 years ago and those who made it possible financially and otherwise.

Those he specifically thanked for their efforts included members of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) namely, Co-chairman, Ambassador Christopher Kolade, Co-chairman, Hon. Carlton Masters.

Other members include Ahmed Joda, Dr. Onaolapo Soleye, Prof Akin L Mabogunje, Chief Olatunde Abudu, Chief Obafemi Olopade, Prof. Joy Ogwu, Mrs Nike Akande, Prof. Peter Okebukola, General Martin Agwai (rtd) Chief Bayo Ojo, and Dr. Eke Agbai.

Also not left out was the management team of the OOPL led by the deputy chief coordinator, Ayodele Aderinwale and others. While recognising the former Secretary of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Obasanjo jokingly said that Anyaoku was his in-law who has not finished paying him for his wife.

He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to former military Head of the State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) who was present at the event. He described him as a man who did his ‘worst’ by not only releasing him from prison, but also granted him a presidential pardon that made him eligible to contest the 1999 presidential election to the shame of his political opponents, who had wanted to bring him down.

When Obasanjo asked former and serving governors and ministers to stand up for recognition at different time, the likes of former governor of Jigawa and Kano states, Alhaji Sule Lamido and Rabiu Kwakwanso stood up twice as former ministers and former governors. Obasanjo quickly asked: “Lamido and Kwankwaso na wa for you people, you still want to carry double honours here? You people have to choose one. Everybody in the hall laughed.”

In continuation of his recognition to some personalities, Obasanjo asked if former Ogun State governor, Segun Osoba was around. When the people said yes and Osoba stood up, Obasanjo cleared his throat, waited for some minutes, keeping everybody in quiet suspense.

Obasanjo said: “Segun I want to thank you immensely for allocating this piece of land for this project with my small concessionary fee. But your successor said that I did not pay enough, but that is a story for another day. The incumbent governor has shown total commitment to this project, by rebuilding the complex fence and gatehouse.

“For those who opposed this project, either out of ignorance or mischief, I forgive you all, because with God all things are possible.”

The ex-president said: “One thing I learnt early in life is that no matter how you plan, something must surely go wrong along the line. We planned this event well, but we did not factor in the overwhelming population we have here today. I must apologise to the former president of Benin Republic, Thomas Boni Yayi, whom I pushed down when I was struggling to enter the library after the commissioning.”

Obasanjo said the complex and its adjoining outlets have employed more than 500 workers.

“While conceiving this project, we also considered the means of sustaining it. We created other revenue generating avenues within it. We have employed almost 500 workers”

The Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo in his speech said: “Obasanjo gave me an elbow when I told him that I could not see very well his score in one of his academic report cards while we were on tour of the library. I later discovered that he scored 91 in that course.

“Obasanjo is a strong believer in one detribalised Nigeria. He is a world statesman. This could be confirmed with the presence of world leaders here today.”

To Sirleaf, the chairperson of the event and President of Liberia, commissioning of the library was an act of faith.

“A nation must be reading three things-the past, the present and the future. That was what this project represented. When history and technology met, it becomes life. Obasanjo is a great man, who has always done great things for humanity.”

From the Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun to Prof. Akin Mabogunje, speaker after speaker, it was all praises for Obasanjo, his vision and exploits. At about 3.00pm, he and his dignitaries proceeded to commission the Baytus Salam mosque.

At the 2000 capacity Marquee event centre, guests were entertained with the best of drinks, music and food. It was there that former president, Goodluck Jonathan described Obasanjo as a man of vision.

“This library will serve humanity. I thank the promoter and his dedicated team that made this dream a reality.” Also in the same vein, President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Koroma, former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda, former secretary-general of United Nations, Kofi Annan, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and other prominent personalities spoke glowingly about the man, Obasanjo

Despite the hectic nature of the Saturday event, many had expected that Obasanjo would be tired. But to the surprise of many, he woke up very early on Sunday morning and commenced his birthday celebration with a Squash competition.

After the competition, which lasted from 7.00am to 9.00am, Obasanjo took his guests, especially those who were not there on Saturday to a guided tour of the library between 9.00am to 11.30am.

From there, Obasanjo, his guests and family members proceeded for his birthday thanksgiving church service at Chapel of Christ the Glorious King church situated around the library complex.

The officiating priest, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and national president of Nigerian Baptist Convention, Mr. Supo Ayokunle described him as a many of many firsts. He explained how Obasanjo as Head of State in 1976, encouraged the formation of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and later built a magnificent edifice called Ecumenical Centre in Abuja.

Delivering the homily titled “God’s faithfulness to man,” retired Prelate of Methodist Church of Nigeria, Prelate Sunday Mbang described Obasanjo as the best president Nigeria had ever had. He charged leaders to be of good behaviour and ensure that they use public office to touch life positively.

In his prayer, General overseer, Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Worldwide, Pastor Enoch Adeboye prayed for unity and peace and asked God to protect and provide for the celebrant and Nigerians at large.

At the end of the service, guests were ushered into the Marquee event centre, situated opposite the church for refreshment. On hand at the event centre to entertain the people was former renowned Yoruba juju music maestro, now gospel artist, Ebenezer Obe.

Dignitaries at the event include, former president of Ghana, John Kuffor, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Chief Femi Otedola, Otunba Fasawe, Senator Nnenadi Usman, Ebite Ukiwe, Publisher, The Guardian Newspapers Limited, Lady Maiden, Executive Director, The Guardian Newspapers Limited, Mr Toke Alex-Ibru, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Senator Andy Uba among others.