Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Obasanjo seeks UNESCO recognition for dubious library

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Obasanjo seeks UNESCO recognition for dubious library

Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo’s quest to remain relevant after quitting Aso Rock has propelled him to seek recognition for his controversial N8.5 billion Presidential Library in Abeokuta as one of the World Heritage Sites of the United Nations Educational, Scientific And Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The inordinate desire of the former president, which observers say smacks of fraudulence, is being surreptitiously pursued by his pointsman, Professor Michael Omolewa, who worked with UNESCO for many years and is still influential in the world body due to the contacts he still has there.

Apart from the Sukur Cultural Landscape which was granted that recognition in 1999 and the Osun-Osogbo Grove in 2005, the only site in Nigeria on the cards for such status is the Idanre Hills in Ondo State.

However, the Ota chicken farmer is deploying all the resources at his disposal, with the assistance of Prof. Omolewa and Prof. Ulli Beier, a German scholar who has adopted Nigeria as his home, to actualise his ambition. Beier works closely with UNESCO as well.

P.M.News gathered that a meeting was held in Osogbo by Omolewa, the Osun State Governor, Ologunsoye Oyinlola, and three other Yoruba PDP leaders to perfect the plan.

Beier is said to be very close to Oyinlola and knew him as child and was also close to Oyinlola’s father when he was the king of Okuku, the home of the Oyinlolas in Osun State.

A strong lobby is also being carried out abroad by Prof. Omolewa’s contacts in UNESCO to facilitate the move.

Obasanjo is said to have hoodwinked Beier to play along by lying that the Presidential Library would be used to store cherished Yoruba artefacts and other cultural heritage.

Beyond seeking relevance through the library if it is eventually granted the status, sources said the $4 million annual grants to World Heritage Sites for their maintenance, also holds attraction.

At least N8.5 billion was reportedly raised at the launch of the library project on 14 May, 2005, which was estimated to cost N7 billion on completion.

Among the donors, most of whom are friends and political associates of Obasanjo, monarchs, state governors and political aides, included Chief Mike Adenuga, Alhaji Aliko Dangote and Chief Sunny Odogwu who donated N250 million, N211.6 million and N200 million respectively.

Others included Chief Arisekola Alao, Olorogun Michael Ibru, Chief Sam Nweke and the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade.

The launch of the Presidential Library which the former president named after himself, was, however, greeted with widespread criticism and outrage from concerned Nigerians who saw the project as a clever way for the sitting president to use his office to feather his nest.

In his reaction, Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka described it as executive extortion which negates his (Obasanjo’s) anti-corruption campaign.

“Mind you, Obasanjo is a transparent man, but what happened in Abeokuta was executive extortion and a contradiction of his anti-corruption campaign.”

Renowned lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi in his reaction, said: “All over the world, you wait until you leave office. In America, the system which we are practising, that is the way it is done. Those in living memory, Nixon after he left office in 1975 as a result of Watergate, set up his library after he left office. You remember Clinton, he was even begging for funds here and there after leaving. It is because Obasanjo knows (and I am saying so most categorically) that if he has to launch that library fund after leaving, he will not see one tenth of those who gave him money. He knows and he has even said so to somebody that ‘if I don’t do it now, once I leave office, I won’t see them again’.”

Gani also went a step further to institute a case at the Federal High Court challenging the propriety of establishing the library by Obasanjo and the award of a license to himself.

The court ruled that Gani had a locus standi to institute the case.

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