Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library and Re-conceptualisation of Human Security: The Fiesta Approach


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) held its Second Intellectual Fiesta on Monday, September 16, 2019 on the ‘Emerging Developments in Europe and North America: Lessons for Human Security in Africa.’ It was organised by the Centre for Human Security and Dialogue (CHSD) in collaboration with the Institute for African Culture and International Understanding (IACIU) and the Africa Progress Group Secretariat (APGS). The CHSD, IACIU and the APGS are supportive academic pillars of the OOPL.

The intellectual Fiesta took place in the Board Room of the OOPL under the chairmanship of the First African President of the International Geographical Union and the First Professor of Geography in Nigeria, Professor Akinlawon Ladipo Mabogunje, who is also the Chairman of the CHSD. The environmental conditionings of the fiesta are interesting in various dimensions. The first point of interest is that the OOPL is a community of seasoned diplomatists, functionaries, workers with international relations background and particularly with good knowledge and protocolar experience.

And true enough, the environment reflects a diplomatic setting with a dose of natural outlook. Rocks, Macadamised roads, buildings with aesthetic touch, feel of oxygenated air, particularly under trees with shade, and perhaps more significantly, the Legacy Hotel which houses guests of all kinds, etc, are the hallmarks of the OOPL. Without scintilla of gainsaying, the OOPL is befitting and reflective of a very good and far-sighted leader.

Activities in the OOPL cannot but attract visitors to the town. Tourism enhances economic growth and development. Better relationships are also promoted, especially with the warmth that has come to characterise the organisation and reception of guests to the OOPL. In this regard, the attraction of tourists is largely explained by two main factors: conception of a presidential library and the existence of the CHSD and the IACIU.

On conception, the notion of a presidential library is not simply a place for reading. It simply refers to both a library, a museum, an archive, where information about the president in whose honour the library is established can be got. Information from speeches, documents, audiovisual materials, etc, and relating to the president, his tenure, lifestyle, administration, policies, are kept in a presidential library for public consultation.

In the United States, for example, there are thirteen presidential libraries. The first one is Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. established and opened to the public in 1941 in Hyde Park, New York. There is the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, established on an187-acre park at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. Those of Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson are located in Independence, Missouri; Abilene, Kansas; and Columbia Point in Boston, respectively. In this regard, while President Kennedy’s library is built on a 10-acre park, that is, one acre more than that of President Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda in California, that of Lyndon Johnson is built on a 30-acre site.

In appreciating what a presidential library looks like, it is said that Gerald R. Ford has his library in Ann Arbor, Michigan and plays host to 25 million pages of memos, documents, letters, meeting notes, reports, 500,000 audiovisual items. When compared with those of Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley in California, President Reagan has fifty million pages of presidential documents, more than sixty million photographs, a half-million feet of motion picture films, etc. This is the picture we can also paint of Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, William J. Clinton in Little Rock in Arkansas, George H.W. Bush on the campus of Texas A and M University in College Station, Texas and George W. Library in Dallas. What is particularly noteworthy about the presidential libraries is that, even though the libraries might have been privately established or owned, they are all put under the supervision of the National Archives Presidential Libraries and Museums in the United States. The foregoing should explain the importance of the OOPL in Nigeria.

As regards the existence of the supportive organs, it should be noted that the OOPL is not an ordinary presidential library, set up to simply promote or document the presidential activities of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. It is a plurigovernmental centre in terms of activities, plurilateral in scope of governmental involvement, and pluridimensional in research focus and objectives.

Put differently, the genesis of the OOPL is traceable to 1998 when the Office of Presidential Libraries (Libraries, Research and Documentation) was set up ‘to acknowledge the contributions of, at any one time, the occupier of Nigeria’s most important political office. More important, the OOPL ‘was established to demonstrate and deepen democracy.’ This is to suggest that the OOPL is designed to be an instrument of democratic development, by enhancing transparency and accountability and ensuring that policy choices are better understood.’

The extraordinary aspect of the OOPL is the hosting of the APG which brings people who are seeking progress for Africa. The APG was carved out of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), which was set up in 2007 and chaired by Kofi Annan of Ghana. One major rationale for its set up was ‘to focus attention on the commitments made to Africa by the international community in the wake of the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit meeting and The Commission for Africa Report…’

It is on this basis that the Africa Progress Panel ‘built coalitions to leverage and broker knowledge and convene decision-makers to create a change in Africa.’ And consistent with the need for a change for the better in Africa, the African Progress Panel was restructured into the APG and hosted at the OOPL at the CHSD in Abeokuta with His Excellency, Olusegun Obasanjo and Peter Eigen of Humboldt-Viardina Governance Platform, Germany and Founder of the Advisory Council of Transparency International, as co-chair of the APG.

In terms of mandate, the APG is to follow up the implementation of all the recommendations of already published APP reports; implement strategic goals capable of making Africa work; advocate equitable and sustainable development for Africa; build coalitions and convene decision-based policies that can drive the transformation of the continent.’ And perhaps most importantly, the OOPL has it that ‘the main thrust in the coming years for APG is to pursue an agenda with all African governments, the private sector, international development partners and other stakeholders in ensuring that every African, now and for generations to come, lives in a world in which he or she has a fair chance of leading a healthy, happy, prosperous and fulfilling life.’

It is within the context of this agenda that the holding of the Second Intellectual Fiesta of the OOPL should be explained, understood and appreciated

The second point of interest is not only the theme of the fiesta, which is much thought-provoking, but also the likelihood of the OOPL becoming in the foreseeable future a special school of thought on human development in international relations. For instance, it is particularly making tooth and nail efforts to address threats of all kinds to human security. If we espy the three pillars of the OOPL, it can be seen that the CHSD, from its name, has the focus of encouraging dialogue on human security. The IACIU focuses on the promotion of African culture and international understanding, while the APGS is talking about Africa’s progress. Methodologically, therefore, it can be argued that, with dialogue, there will be international understanding, and with this internationaal understanding, the ultimate end cannot but progress. The operational words or pillars on which the OOPL is based are dialogue, understanding and progress.

As such, there can be no disputing the fact that the OOPL is an empirical manifestation of ‘Africa as Cornerstone of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy,’ which Nigeria promoted in the period from 1960 to 1976, and ‘Africa as Centrepiece of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy,’ as from 1976, following the acceptance of the Professor Adebayo Adedeji Committee’s report by the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo.

A third point of interest, apart from the welcoming and introductive addresses by the coordinating Director, Professor Peter A. Okebukola, the remarks of Professor Akin Mabogunje, and those of the Special Guest of Honour, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, the fiesta played host to qualitative conversations by seasoned academics. They included Professor Alejandro J. Gallard, the Goizueta Distinguished Chair and Director, Georgia Center for Educational Renewal, United States; Dr. Shem J. Ochuodho, the Global Chairperson of the Kenya Diaspora Alliance, Nairobi, Kenya; Professor Eghosa E. Osaghae, the Claude Ake Visiting Chair, Uppsala University; Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden; Professor Funmi Olonisakin, the Vice President and Vice Principal (International) of King’s College, London, as well as Professor Tunji Olaopa, the Executive Vice President of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy, Ibadan and Professor of Public Administration at the Lead City University, Ibadan. The issues raised and the general reactions to their papers have, without jot of doubts, expanded the frontiers of knowledge of the subject by raising new questions for further academic research.

It is in this context that the rationale for the establishment of the CHSD is also important. The vision of the CHSD is to improve human security in Africa, advocating, educating, inspiring and acting upon issues, concerns and challenges that impact on human security in Africa. The CHSD is designed to be academic by seeking to provide a forum for policy dialogue on human security in Africa, offer training at the certificate, diploma and degree levels in order to produce change agents for improving human security in Africa, as well as conduct research, workshops and conferences on all aspects of human security. The holding of the Second intellectual fiesta is a manifestation of the CHSD objective.
But what are the development issues in Europe and North America? Why call the meeting an ‘intellectual fiesta’ and not a colloquium, or a workshop, conference or seminar, congress, convention, etc?

Fiesta: Human Security Redefined
Fiesta, ordinarily speaking, refers to a feast day or holiday. It is therefore a noun. When it is qualified by ‘intellectual,’ to imply an intellectual holiday, then we should be talking about a day set aside to rest for deep reflections. The day is supposed to be restful, but with hard thinking. As explained by Professor Akin Mabogunje, and as much collaborated by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the choice of ‘fiesta,’ as opposed to the use of the conventional seminars, workshops, colloquia, etc, has the purpose of showing originality in design, in research techniques and methodology, as well as discouraging consumer intellectualism that does not add value to existing knowledge and problem-solving strategies. In other words, the OOPL is trying to evolve a special school of thought on human security in Africa.
Professor Mabogunje has it that, for the OOPL system, human security has a comprehensive character. It is about the safety and survival of the human, or to borrow the words of Olusegun Obasanjo, ‘this animal called man.’ It is the survival of the man in all facets of life and their ramifications. This necessarily redefines the pillars of human security as generally known in international relations.

Conventionally, human security is internationally defined to have seven components: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal or physical security, community security and political security. But when human security is investigated within the framework of an intellectual fiesta in the mania of the OOPL, that is, in a relaxed, and carefully designed thought-provoking mood, the newness of reflection, cannot but be underscored.
This necessarily raised the definition of Professor Funmi Olonisakin whose research finding in her college in the United Kingdom has shown that most of the people interviewed sees human security in terms of either living well or living long in life. What are the ingredients of living well? Are they about eating good food? Are they about dictatorship-driven insecurity?

The intervention of Chief Obasanjo is quite germane at this juncture with the many questions he raised. He asked how do we live well as distinct from living long? How can any person claim to live well if he or she is prevented from making a choice? What are the parameters of wellness?

Without any shadow of doubt, one can live long without living well. Living well necessarily implies perfection of life, contentment of life and ease of living and survival. This is the implication of the redefinition of human security from the perspective of the OOPL school of thought. True enough, this is a hard dream, but who says life cannot still be made another el dorado for the people of Africa in light of the critical issues begging for international attention?

Critical Issues Arising

Many emerging developments in Europe and North America were identified variously by participants and paper presenters. From the perspectives of the OOPL secretariat, the emerging developments in Europe and North America include the school district secessions accelerating school segregation as an emerging development under education security.

Others are the alternate power source in Minneapolis, created through large urban solar panel installation and reduction in the United States of the content of toxic chemical in gasoline under environmental sustainability; embarking on standard good processing practice to prevent food wastage under food and nutritional security; the running of public medical services at clinics and hospitals by the Local Governments in Finland and their funding by taxation to the tune of 78%, 20% by patients through access charges and 2% by others, under health security; the European Union Youth Strategy for the years 2019-2027 under the Youth Development and Employment security; the European Union Horizon 2020 and the German launching of more robotic heads at the World Summit on Industrial Automation; as well as the conducting by the European Union, of six military missions and operations on land and sea, etc.

Professor Tunji Olaopa drew attention to the deteriorating world order, noting the rise of China in global geo-politics, eroding balance of power in Asia, docility in countering Russia’s power projection beyond its borders and the spreading tentacles of international terrorism. He explicated the rise of China to global dominance, observing that ‘US current policies to push back against China’s growing influence, instead of seeking sustained dialogue with Beijing, has raised many worries.’

He rightly pointed out President Donald Trump’s long-term strategic and foreign policy miscalculation, especially in the area of climate change. While the whole world is showing more concerns for climate change, Professor Olaopa reminded of what Donald Trump believed: ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.’ If this Donald Trumpian hypothesis were to be tenable, how then do we explain the unprecedented under-ocean warming in Iceland and the Antartica that is currently threatening the whole world?

In the same vein, Professor Bola Akinterinwa looked, grosso modo, at emerging developments in Europe and North America from the perspective of the New World Order in the making. He observed that the world is currently witnessing the making of another World Order, which the United States is strenuously trying to define and impose on the world by manu militari, but which is being resisted by the new centres of global power.

The resistance has created another emerging development of an order and counter order, amounting to uncontrollable encounters and disorders. If truth be told, multilateralism is being seriously threatened by nationalism and unilateralism of action. We should, indeed, be talking about a New World Disorder on the strength of United States foreign policy attitudinal disposition to the world, especially in light of Donald Trump’s policy of ‘America First’, ‘Make America Great Again,’ and ‘Keep America Great.’ This policy necessarily subjects the conduct and management of the national interests of all other countries of the world to the whims and caprices of the United States, a policy that has been seriously threatening global peace and security. This cannot but be the mother of all emerging developments in the conduct and management of global affairs.

Professor Alejandro Gallard identified five overlapping emerging developments in the United States as follows: education, immigration, technology and trade, lack of political leadership, and healthcare. He observed that ‘there is a complex set of contextual mitigating factors that position all national policy decisions and growth efforts… Contextual mitigating factors are an infinite and complex set of socio-cultural, socio-economic, socio-historical and socio-political contexts, which are fluid and dynamic, simultaneously community, education, family, gender, identity, and other factors into the lives of a nation, its policy makers and its citizenry.

Professor Gallard also argued that a nation cannot and will not develop itself to its full potential if it does not have human capital and ensure the four functions of education: a nation and its needs, a growing private sector and its needs, a community and its needs, and a family and its needs.

And perhaps more interestingly, he asked:’ what good is it for a nation to be in a position to put trillions of dollars in the treasury, such as with African trade/pact, if there is a lack of the human capital or resources that are necessary for country-specific investments in infrastructure, health, and welfare?’ In his view, ‘one cannot deny it would create great opportunities for some, but certainly not for all. This is not an issue of equal distribution of resources.’ Many questions but few answers. Research has a beginning but its end is never certain because it is always a journey into the unknown.

This is why, without any jot of gainsaying, the OOPL second intellectual fiesta clearly reflected efforts to think out of the box, as well as originality of efforts, for which Professor Peter Okebukola and his working team, were specially commended.