Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has lived what can only be described as an exemplary life so when word got to me that he commissioned a presidential library in Abeokuta, I knew I had to add it to my list. One thing about the former president is when he embarks on a project, it's always done to world class standards, so we wanted to see if this facility was on par. It is the first presidential library in Africa and its purpose is to preserve documents and materials used during Obasanjo's tenure.
Abeokuta is a quick hop from both Ibadan and Lagos so my friend and I decided to make it a day trip. On our itinerary, two stops, the OOPL and the Ransome-Kuti heritage museum. You can easily take the train but we decided to go by road, a travel time of less than 2 hours.
We arrived at the OOPL complex in the early afternoon, just before the sun reached its peak. It was a warm day, a little humid but the air was crisp. The surrounding vegetation created a nice aesthetic and much needed shade but I would recommend wearing a hat. I wasn't pleased that the information center wasn't more visible, we had driven past it and had to do a bit of walking around to find our bearings.
There is no entrance fee to the grounds, you can just drive in, but you do have to get tickets to tour the different areas at the library. We wanted to tour the main building and that entrance fee and tour was ₦3,000 per adult.
Note: The only disappointing part of this visit is that you are not allowed to photograph the exhibit - a counterproductive policy. If security issues arise based on photographs, then there are bigger problems with the facility, but not allowing guests to take their own pictures defeats the purpose of establishing the center in the first place - which is to make memories. Management should consider revising this policy.
Anyway, our tour started at the arrival pavilion and from here you could see the grand structure sitting majestically across the lake. Our guide was as pleasant as she was knowledgeable, so that set the stage for an exciting tour. We were led to the garage which housed a number of vehicles Obasanjo has used during his lifetime. My favorites being his bicycle, a blue Volkswagen beetle and a Peugeot 505. Other vehicles on display were the white pope G-Wagon, a helicopter and the military vehicles from his time as a soldier. There is also a replica of the satellite he launched into space to improve telecommunication in Nigeria.
The next part of the tour is the theatre, which is decorated with photographs with of OO with so many fascinated people. Personalities like Queen Elizabeth II, Michael Jackson, Gaddafi, Nelson Mandela, just to name a few. It's one thing to have an idea of who the former head of state was but it's another to see photographs of his network. My personal favorite was a hand drawn plan of the structure we were standing in. It was drawn by a descendant of the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. He commissioned the first presidential library in the world, which the OOPL is modeled after.
We watched a short video that showcased his personal welcome and the idea behind establishing the library. The visuals, the message, the delivery, all came together nicely and made for a fantastic and inspiring production. We had already sensed that the experience would be magnificent but this production gave me chills.
The next area is the featured exhibits which details his career as he rose to the highest office in the country, twice. First as a military head of state in 1976 and a democratically elected president in 1999. At this point, we had joined another tour group who were also visiting Abeokuta for the day. We had a great time discussing the wealth of information there was on display as there was everything from personal and official letters to report cards, to different uniforms from schools he attended and much more.
There is a replica of his Yola cell after he and his deputy Shehu Yar'Adua were accused and jailed by General Sani Abacha for the phantom coup of 1995. Yar'Adua would be murdered in prison and OO would be released after Abacha died in 1998. Apparently he spent 3 years, 3 months and 3 days in the cell, so it is nicknamed "Cell 333", and it is remodeled with outstanding detail, down to his medication. There is also a replica of his presidential office that guests can sit in, but you have to wait for the single in-house photographer to take the picture.
He did a lot of traveling especially within Africa. He made great strides in strengthening the African Union so he was gifted all kinds of treasures, and this is the next part of the tour. Artifacts and trinkets from all over the world - an indication of the strong relationships he formed during his lifetime. He was even gifted two live leopards, but because it was illegal in Nigeria to keep big cats, one was skinned and the other was stuffed. Other gifts include shields, antique vases, samurai swords, royal stools, the list is endless.
It is quite an impressive tour although it felt incomplete. History has been unkind to all of us but some people suffered untold horrors. I believe we should talk about these things as a nation, so that we may begin to heal and not let the labor of our heroes past be in vain. So personally, I would like to see more of the lows that came with being in Nigeria's number 1 seat but it's a fantastic and inspiring story nonetheless - the fascinating life of Olusegun Obasanjo.
Other attractions in the facility include the wildlife park, a bamboo grove, a rock of inspiration, a resort, restaurant and a dam. We only had time for the wildlife park which costs N1,000 and I'm glad to say the animals are happy and healthy in this lovely designed zoo.