Tuesday, September 30, 2008

UNESCO and Obasanjo's Library

For more than a year now, news have been circulating about the effort to establish a UNESCO-backed "Institute for African Culture and International Understanding" (IACIU) along with its sister "Center for Black Culture and International Understanding" (CBCIU). The first is to be hosted by the Obasanjo Presidential Library in Abeokuta, while the second will be sited in Osogbo, the capital city of Osun state. Ordinarily, I would sing praises to both the Nigerian government and UNESCO for pushing this project to the fore of what no doubt is a competitive process. After all, the possibilities of two well-funded, staffed, and maintained sites for research, study, documentation and exchange on matters relating to Black/African culture and international understanding (whatever the latter means) is a good thing, especially given the decrepit state of existing institutions of learning and research in post-oil boom Nigeria. With the proposed institutions in place, I can imagine scholars from all corners of the planet flying into Nigeria to participate in the programs of the UNESCO-funded center and institute, and there is no overstating the positive impact this sort of intellectual traffic can have on the work of scholars in Nigeria who never get the chance to travel overseas to fellowship with their colleagues "out there."

Moreover, the prospects of the CBCIU whose signal role will be as repository of the Archives of Ulli and Georgina Beier--two individuals who arguably were unsurpassed in their influence on mid-20th century African culture, literature and art--is tremendous no less because the Beier's archive, which I have seen, is unprecedented. It fulfills the Beiers' longstanding wish to return these holdings to Nigeria from where most of the material came, rather than have it lodged in overseas institutions with limited access to Nigerian and African scholars. And it is not a bad idea to have a first rate archive with proper facilities in Nigeria; that would be a rare change in the scheme of things.

But, I am totally opposed to the coupling of these two proposed, very much needed UNESCO initiatives to the sordid, ridiculous affair otherwise called Obasanjo Presidential Library. To begin with, Obasanjo scandalously established the so-called library while in office, and as countless reports have indicated, much of the funds raised for the white elephant were either purloined from the state coffers or coerced from private individuals and organizations beholden to that regime. Thus, it is fairly clear that this "library" is nothing more than a monument to the corruption of Obasanjo's regime.

Second, it is an insult to link any respectable institution with a cultural mandate to the name of Obasanjo who, as president, displayed unusual contempt for the arts. Who does not remember his admonition to arts and humanities students in Nigerian universities to go do something more worthwhile with their lives, ostensibly because he failed to see how their future careers in these fields could contribute anything positive to Nigeria's progress?

Third, why should UNESCO want to establish this IACIU in a "LIBRARY" rather than in an institution with a wider mandate, such as a university? Moreover, why tag this international project to something dedicated to the controversial work and memory of an individual? Especially given that this individual (OBJ) is definitely not MLK or Mandela!

As it is, the Nigerian and Osun State governments have shown unflinching support for the UNESCO initiative, and the question is why the federal government could not upgrade one of the existing institutions, such as the Center for Black Arts and Cultures (CBAAC) and then combine its mandate with that of the proposed IACIU. Don't tell me that the Nigerian government could not build an adequate structure to host the combined institutions! Or, if the business of merging the two institutions is too bureaucratically complicated, then I cannot imagine how difficult it would have been for the state--through its Ministry of Culture--to establish the IACIU/CBCIU as a parastatal, in the league of the National Gallery of Art, the CBAAC, etc.

The bottomline is this. Much as I can see the gains of having two UNESCO-sponsored institutions on African/Black arts and cultures in Nigeria, the greater concern is that both the IACIU and CBCIU increasingly look like trojans, in other words alluring propositions meant to validate a terribly unfortunate, corrupt endeavor called the Obasanjo's Library. For that reason, I am completely opposed to the UNESCO initiative. And, if it is a question of Obasanjo library or no UNESCO support, then to hell with both! Quite simply if this project goes ahead with Obasanjo Library at its center, it will be clear that the United Nations organization has made an unfortunate judgment in the matter of Obasanjo’s legacy in Nigeria. By establishing the IACIU in the library UNESCO tells us that it has judged the owner of the library worthy of this kind of honor. From the way that that government conducted itself—-whether we think of the official mass killings in Odi and Zaki Biam, the impunity with which the regime defied the laws of the land, and most unforgettably the disdain for democratic processes and institutions that led to the massively rigged elections of 2007—-it is a wrong position.


ainesse said...

it has been a pleasant surprise to encounter your blog whilst in the process of researching "mezzotint" and then encountering your own artwork. I then looked you up and came upon this blog..........which has been an interesting and certainly indepth read of the inner workings and politics of the artworld in Africa if not internationally. Much of it seems pretty sickening to be honest but in the end its the artworks themselves that count. I did not see that much of it on your site but then you might find the situation to be reversed if you were to visit mine and say that there was not enough analysis.

Its not something that we encounter enough of i.e., the opportunity to interact with you artists of Africa.

Do you happen to do any printmaking at all?

best wishes


Edinburgh, Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Your comments speaks candidly and boldly to the current challenges of African leadership that is dwindling in THINKING. For Nigeria especially more as a result of sooooo much wealth. does wealth kill reasoning and vision?
As we set aside Vision 2010 because it is a "private" and embrace a public Vision 2020, i see no difference. Both have two zeros. how can we think of lofty visions when we cannot be clean,when simple maintain ace and respect for the sanctity of achieves and intangible treasures are all taken for granted? Jerry Buhari. Red barn Studio Lindsborg kansas 12Oct-8Nov 2008