It is aprpximately twelve years since the Presidential library took off and congratulations.
Thank you. We did the launching and all that.
How has been the quality and the level of patronage since the launch?
People are becoming more and more aware not only of the existence of the library but also what it means. One of the things that I enjoy, rarely people indicating not knowing what Presidential Library is about; is people sending me books, saying “we donate to your library”. But Presidential Library is more than a store of book. If there are books at all, maybe personal books of the president and name are attached to the library. A Presidential Library is the centre of intellectual. Presidential Library for us is a store of the past and meant to capture those things and also to inspire a few people. Now, you don’t get all these in a book library so to say. And then, a Presidential Library must also be active and alive. Now, when you take all these, this particular library, we commissioned it 5th March and so, the awareness, people started to understand what a Presidential Library is all about; but is still very much of work in progress. There is an aspect of the library which has not been fully completed. For instance, you have the Youths Development Centre, which must have a little hostel of its own where you can camp youths for activities. It is in the process of being completed. We have Biomedical Centre, which is going to be one of the components. The aim is that we should be able to train those technologists that can look after very expensive medical equipments: City scam, MRI, Xray, because that is one of the things that is lacking. The mosque is been commissioned near the Imam house; because the Imam has to lead prayer five times a day, he has to be able to lead prayer early in the morning. We have a Senior Citizen Centre; where senior citizens can come and relax themselves and interact. So, we have those things that have been completed: the sports, the guest house; the event centre; the children amusement park, and those are now very active.
Your Excellency, you talked about the youths waiting hostel, which means you are really interested in them knowing the history of Nigeria.
Of course history is very important. Here we say maintain the past, captain the present and we inspire the future. Therefore, if you don’t know where you are coming from you may as well don’t have compass as to where you are going to. History is a clock.
But at some point history was no longer taught in our schools the way it should.
Apparently it is a mistake. Some of us are not adjudicating that this should be corrected in our schools, both in primary, secondary and in university. We have history of Nigeria. It is a mistake that we do not let people know their history.
Yes, Your Excellency, one of the problems we have in the country is lack of succession plan. Some of the businesses that thrived in the past have gone moribund because there was no succession plan. What plan, if I may ask, have you put in place to make this place viable after this period?
Well, first of all, this is not a family business and it is not even a personal business. OPL is a foundation and we have a board that was constituted and we we have two coaches: Christopher Kolade and another friend of ours, Ambassador Camostus. And then we have distinguished Nigerians, men and women. I am not on the board of trustees. The position I hold is what we call ‘chief promoter’. They can sack me tomorrow. But now that we are becoming operational, in additional to the chief promoter, what the board of trustees said to me is that look: we will manage, we will run, but we are not going to start looking for money. You will be the one to look for money. That is my job as chief promoter. Now that it is operational, I take up the role of Ayo Adenuwale who is supposed to be deputy, because of the travel issues, standing in and running things while away and even when I am there. Is just that he is not satisfied with being deputy coordinator, so he called himself deputy chief coordinator. So, I am coordinator he is deputy chief coordinator, which means his position is even higher than mine. But on a serious note, one of the things that is wrong with business in our land is that succession plan is made personal when the owner or the proprietor of the business is ill, and when he died. Only yesterday they were telling me about one particular business like that; and they asked one of their directors to come and brief me, and he said “we were directors, we didn’t know as much as we should know about this business when the owner was alive. Now that the owner is dead we couldn’t go anywhere”. I think that is a pity. We have made sure that the main library, what we call “base building” cannot by itself maintain itself. So, that is why we have got all the ancillaries or subsidiary, or whatever you want to call it, like the guest house, event centre, children amusement park; like the cinema, the youth development. We hope to make enough money to keep the complex going.
Is there any plan to list the OPL on the stock exchange?
No. It is not a business. It cannot be listed on the stock exchange. It is a non for profit organization. I know you are business minded. Maybe if you come to talk to me about my farms. That is purely business. We will talk about that. But OPL is a non for profit organisation and question of listing it on the stock exchange does not arise.
The great project you talk about it is not about books. It is a kind of museum. Are you worried about the state of the National Museum?
We are worried about that and I believe that one of the things we can do is to see for us, what we can do about the National Museum. I think there should be symbiotic relationship. In terms of training, in terms of what we are doing that they can copy, in terms of even sharing what they have, so that in these days of digitization and all that there are many things that we can share, so that preservation is ensured.
We know that this is not about books. But we also know that the youths of this country are not interested in even using the library to their own advantage. What do you thing is the missing link Sir?
That is why in here, we have to think of the present and the future. By the time you walk round our museum and our archive, there is enough interactive electronic things, games and place that will keep the interest of youths alive and keep then engaged. There is also what they listen to and all that. Yes, it has to be made lively and relevant to the youths.
Your Excellency, may I go beyond this and ask one question?
You know we have been hammering on diversification, particularly going into agric, do you think we have made progress as its regards diversification from oil to agric?
I believe we have in the past. Only we have not been consistent and we have not sustained it. And we should continue to do it. We have to. Now, let me just give you two examples: when I took over as president in 1999, I check by the year 2000, our cocoa production was 150, 000 metric tonnes. Then we decided to go into cocoa and revive it. But the time I left in 2007, our cocoa production has gone to 400, 000 metric tonnes. When we took over our cassava production was 30 million metric tonnes. By the time we left, we were 50 million metric tonnes. And by then, we were saying “add cassava and flour into bread” and all that. Now, if we have done that consistently; so we can. And with time we have no choice.
OBJ spoke with Zebulon Agomuo