Baba Yunus Muhammad
Presidential Libraries exist in a world all of their own. Though, they are as the name implies, research and reference centres, they are not libraries in the usual sense. They are archival centres which bring together in one place the documents and artefacts of a President of a country and his administration and presenting them to the public for study and discussions without regard for political considerations or affiliations. These documents are known as presidential documents and artefacts.
Presidential documents may be defined as any documentary material, or any reasonably divisible portion thereof created or received by the President, his immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function it is to advise and assist the President in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President.
These could be records of the tragedies, the problems, the successes, and the evolution of policies that affect the nation and the world during a particular administration. Presidential libraries also document the most personal and private thoughts and feelings of a President to the most formal foreign or economic policy memorandums on presidential decision-making. The records include the classified memos and files of the National Security and Executive Councils as well as the files documenting domestic issues, and audio-visual files. Presidential gifts that are accepted on behalf of the country and a range of objects that have been received from foreign governments or citizens and foreign citizenry are all housed in a Presidential Library.
Concerned mainly with the presentation and preservation of records and the memories of national and international events, a presidential library is very much a part of, and a reflection of the local environment in which it is located. As such, A Presidential Library offers a unique glimpse into how a country’s history is preserved and presented to both the general and academic publics.
The IBB Presidential Library, located in Minna, the Capital of Niger State, on the grounds of the palatial residence of General Ibrahim Babangida, the man who ruled Nigeria as Military President from 27th of August 1985 to 27th August, 1993, fits well in the city’s culture that mixes the legacy of history with the promise of tomorrow. A first time visitor to the Library would be surprised by the modest facility which houses the collections. Even though the present facility, said to be temporary is small when compared to Presidential libraries in the United States of America, it is no less intriguing.
Established in 1998 as the first presidential library in Africa, the IBB Presidential Library possesses a huge wealth of materials, comprising thousands of presidential gifts and artefacts and hundreds of thousands of textual, electronic, and audio-visual records, which document the inner workings of General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government, the Armed Forces Ruling Council, at its highest policy level that historians will for decades mine as they write and judge the history of the period.
Tracing the history of the Library, Alhaji Muazu Wali, a retired National Librarian, who is currently Director/Archivist of the IBB Presidential Library told this writer that the idea of the Library originated way back in 1991 when the Babangida administration established a committee led by Professor J.M. Amodu, which visited the United States of America to understudy the Presidential Library System of that country.
Upon the recommendation of the Committee a Presidential Libraries Decree was drafted for the establishment of Presidential Libraries for Former Nigerian Presidents. Even though the Decree was never promulgated before General Babangida left office in 1993, the National Library Board of Nigeria in 1996 formally requested access to the Presidential records for their organisation into a Presidential Library. Given the huge resources involved in the establishment of a standard presidential library and the budgetary constraints of the National Library, the project remained a dream pipe until 1998, when the Library was formerly established as the General’s personal and private project.
The promulgation of the Presidential Library Decree would not only have made it obligatory for the Federal Government to establish and fund Presidential Libraries for a every former Nigerian President, but would have enabled the Federal Government through the National Librarian to assume the legal ownership, custody, and responsibility for the presidential records of retiring presidents immediately at the end of their administrations.
Safely and professionally moving and tracking of General Babangida’s presidential documents and artefacts from his private collection in his residence to the Library in an organised format for preservation may sound simple on its face but it has been a complex job that has involved careful planning and coordination with many different agencies and professionals. According to Alh Wali, the process of moving the presidential records and artefacts from the private collection of the former President which commenced 18 years ago is still ongoing, an indication of both the ever increasing volumes of materials involved and complexities of the record types.
Since opening its doors to researchers and members of the public the IBB Presidential Library has welcomed hundreds of visitors, mainly researchers and scholars. Thanks to its strategic location, only a few meters walk from the private residence of the former President, it has always been a rare privilege visiting this library and enjoying the experience and gaining new insight into the life and times of the eighth Nigerian President and his administration.
As a vibrant tribute to General Ibrahim Babangida as he turns 75 next month, the IBB Presidential Library Foundation, a Non-Governmental and non-Partisan Organisation that administers and supports the IBB Presidential Library has added another first by launching an online version of the Library: www.ibbpresidentiallibrary.org. This new online Library possesses hundreds of web pages of presidential resources about the General and his administration. Prior to the launch of the online version of the Library, its collections could only be accessed physically at the Library in Minna.
Now, thanks to technology the collection can be accessed online around the world. The site also posts highly and well researched articles on security, politics, society, business and economy, energy and environment, education, arts, culture, health and medicine written by scholars with a diversity of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences on its Featured Posts section.
The website also features two sub-domains: ‘Digital Archives’ (darchives.ibbpresidentiallibrary.org) and a ‘Presidential Forum’.
The Digital Archives provides access to a collection of searchable digitized historical documents, images and recordings of the General Babangida and his regime. Several archivists are said to be currently working to digitize and make available to the public all of its archival holdings in the fullness of time.
The IBB Presidential Forum (forum.ibbpresidentiallibrary.org) is an exclusive Forum for the benefit of outstanding men and women from a variety of academic disciplines and professional backgrounds who have a clear interest in presidential studies and analysis of public policies, and a commitment to fostering discussions and research on a diverse range of historical, political and economic issues reflecting the legacy of General Ibrahim Babangida and his era as President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Signed-up members receive a password to get access into this exclusive community which includes a discussion blog, articles and so much more.
According to the Foundation, three reasons underlie the launching of this website: First, as a public service, a way of further enriching the various reflections and interpretations of the policies of the military administration of General Ibrahim Babangida. The digitization of the presidential records of the General is essentially to create a national and international platform that allows the public greater access to Nigeria’s political history via a treasure website and the social media or the growing area of mobile applications.
Second, because General Babangida was last in public office about 23 years ago and his most vociferous critics and commentators are either in their late twenties or early thirties and may not have experienced first-hand, the Nigeria he inherited in August 1985, when he became President and the high points of his contributions as a leader. It is dangerous to leave national discourse of a historical nature in the hands of people with inherited prejudices and second-hand wisdom. As young people increasingly rely on the Internet as their primary source for information, the Library’s online version will allow the new generation of Nigerians to learn about the Babangida era as a chapter in Nigerian history. And as they discover the strides that were made towards the nation’s development during that period, they too can be inspired to ask of what they can do for their country.
Third, assessments of his eight year tenure as President of this country between 1985-1993 need to be grounded in fact, not partisan fiction and fashionable impressions. To say that, Babangida is easily the most documented past Nigerian leader, weighing in almost equally in both positive and negative directions would be an over exaggeration. Passionately loved and viciously despised, almost in equal measure, but never comfortable to ignore. Equally over documented is the controversial essence of the man himself, his political method and indeed his overall relationship with the various realities that he has had to deal with in the course of an eventful life.
The fact however, regrettably, remains that only few, very few Nigerians really understand the man himself, the currents of his times and ideas, their relationship to the wider national and international community, and how they were shaped by historical and cultural factors. This initiative will open new areas of learning and discovery through the library’s digital archives and will preserve precious documents on digital media for future generation of researchers and scholars to rely upon to write about the underlying principles and structural forms of the life of General Babangida’s administration, and to generate theoretical formulations in areas of political, social and economic problems.
According to the IBB Presidential Library Foundation, the purpose of the website is neither to rehash Babangida’s numerous reform initiatives, initiatives that others have either built upon, out rightly obliterated, mischievously disfigured or cleverly stolen and renamed or brazenly appropriated or misappropriated nor to enumerate the various landmark achievements of his administration. Without a doubt, no leader is perfect, and General Babangida like any other leader made mistakes. It may probably take countless volumes of books or thousands of webpages to address everything that the former President is perceived to have done wrong.
The strategic significance of the site however is that it provides a critical but scientific and objective analysis of events, issues and problems, which characterised the Babangida regime by putting them in a proper historical and intellectual perspective digitally. In addition, the site provides a first-hand source and reference materials on how Nigeria was governed between 1985 and 1993 – a central portal for manuscripts, memos, files, reports, transcripts, research materials, video and audio recordings of proceedings of high level meetings, etc, and news related to the Presidency of General Babangida and his family.
In the long term, the website hopes to be Africa’s richest online resource for information on the Nigerian presidency and Presidential leadership Studies.
––Baba Yunus Muhammad is President, Africa Islamic Economic Foundation, Tamale, Ghana.