By Punarimam Fehintola
The state of public libraries in Nigeria is deteriorating daily. From shabby structures, poor funding, ill motivated staff and outdated books to lack of power, the decay scare a majority of researchers away. This report shows how corruption is killing a vital national project.
He was standing outside the state library with a black bag filled with books and study materials hanging loosely over his shoulders. He was uncertain whether to go back inside and continue reading, or head home, and take it up from where he stopped. His black trousers and white shirt were already decorated with patches of sweat and dust, and the hot Makurdi sun was making it worse in the stuffy hall where he had been studying for a little over three hours.
Benjamin Dzurngwe, a graduate of English Language from the University of Jos, is presently a third year undergraduate of Law at the Benue State University. No week goes by without his paying a visit to the Benue State Library in Makurdi to sharpen his intellect on the career he has chosen. However, after each visit, he goes home smelly and dirty due to the terrible state of the reading environment.
“It is not conducive, the only reason why I come here is because I want some space, and I want to concentrate. Since I started coming here for over a year, I have never met light, the fans are not functioning. I study and sweat in this hot weather on each visit here. There are no current books; anyone who steps in here, does so with his or her materials,” Dzurngwe told this reporter in a rather disappointing tone.
Enquiries by Saturday Telegraph shows that the State Library Board has not purchased a book in the last 27 years. Since its inauguration in 1991 by the then Fidelis Makka administration, subsequent governments have continued to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the yearnings of the library as its condition deteriorated from bad to worse.
All that can be seen of the once vibrant two storey building is a dilapidated structure housing obsolete materials on weak shelves and dusty materials left carelessly on extremely dirty tables and chairs left unattended to. The second floor of the library has been totally shut down for years due to the excessive leakage of the roof during the rains, while the reference section has been turned into a dump ground for broken chairs and tables.
A room meant to be the e-library housing 50 computers on the second floor, has remained locked due to unavailability of internet services. The young man in charge of the unit suddenly stopped work over a year ago.
Our reporter found that the state of the library was due to lack of funds from the government for its running and maintenance. One anonymous library official, who spoke to Saturday Telegraph, said the students on industrial training clean and arrange the books. “There is no money to engage the services of cleaners.”
Besides the structural and institutional decay, workers have a poor attitude towards work. Contrary to the civil service rule of eight hours uninterrupted work, the Benue State Library operates between the hours of 8.00 am to 2.00 pm, making it difficult for users to carry out extensive study. Angry over the worsening development, Nathaniel Unongo, a student of Fidel Polytechnic, Gboko, who was studying at the time of visit, wishes that the library experience will get better to enable readers to attain better knowledge.
He said: “It has been a while that I came here but each time I have to, we come in, arrange this place and clean it before we can use it. Just look at how the chairs and tables are kept, they are not properly maintained. This is the problem we have in Nigeria; if you go to other places you will not see such.”
Another library official, who also craved anonymity, said: “The library is a shadow of its glorious past. Before now, people trooped in here in their numbers, but now you only see a few persons here. Government has abandoned the library. We don’t get any allocation whatsoever. When Governor Samuel Ortom came to power, this was the first place he came to and he promised to fix this place but till now, nothing has happened.
“We are not ready to work because we are not being paid salaries. Some of us have not received a dime for the past 10 years. We only pray and hope that the next government that comes to power will pay attention to the library.”
As in states, so it is at federal level
A visit to one public library in Nigeria seems to be a visit to all 316 public libraries, including the National Library of Nigeria (NLN), and its branches across the country. They are characterised by old and dilapidated buildings, lack of electricity, obsolete books, limited users, non-functional e-libraries, inadequate staff, as well as non-functional generators and vehicles.
The NLN receives an annual budgetary allocation of N2 billion yearly to cover the headquarters and its state branches but what they usually get is between 1.5 billion and 1.8 billion. So, the total sum the Federal Government released from 2010 till date, stands at over N11.1 billion for execution of capital projects and over N4 billion for overhead costs to ensure the smooth operations of the national library and branches.
Released funds were for renovation and re-roofing of libraries, purchase of equipment, provision of constant electricity and most, completion of its headquarters and the construction of state chapters of the national library in 10 states. Katsina, Gombe, Oyo, Maiduguri, Adamawa, Ondo, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River, and Jigawa were supposed to benefit from this.
Despite the releases, the temporary headquarters of the NLN in Abuja is in a terrible shape. Just like the state branches, it bears the characteristics of shabby buildings, lack of electricity, virtually outdated books and lack of Information Communication Technology (ICT) facilities to provide quality service delivery to a society hungry for information.
Up till date, the construction of the NLN headquarters located on Plot 35 of the Central Business District Abuja, which was awarded to Messrs Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) in 2006 at the cost of N8.590 billion is still on. It was supposed to be completed in 22 months (February 2008), but it’s yet to be completed.
Investigations show that 12 years after the award of the contract, the sum of 11 billion has been expended on the project, which is presently at about 44 per cent completion stage. RCC, the preferred bidder, which got the contract four years after the bid opening in 2002 without revalidation of prices, had commenced work in April 2006 after obtaining an Advance Payment Guarantee (APG) in sum of N1.718 billion from International Bank to secure the 20 per cent payment. However, the project stumbled on troubled waters when the Federal Government failed to release enough money for its completion and as such, was revised three times over the period.
At the expiration of the contract period in February 2008, the contractor stopped work and demanded an upward review of the initial contract sum. But instead of doing that, the client, the ministry of education on recommendations from a private consultant, approved a redesign of the specialist work on the project in 2009 to incorporate new technology, which led to the reduction in the number of floors from eight to five.
The contract sum of the reduced scope was reviewed upward to N17 billion from the original sum of N8.590 billion, followed by the issue of compliance certificate of ‘no objection’ on the review by the Bureau of Public Procurement and approved by the Federal Executive Council with a completion period of 21 months effective from July 2010.
But again, the project could not be completed due to paucity of funds and the presidency in a presidential anticipatory letter with reference number NLO/C.62/VI/66 dated October 11, 2012, instructed RCC to revert the project back to full scope, just when the company was about roofing at fifth floor.
In February 2013, RCC requested for more time and reviewed the contract sum upward to N48 billion but in 2014 an ad-hoc committee consisting all stakeholders was set up to resolve all pending issues. The committee recommended N38.764 billion as the revised cost with 30 months completion period expected to be forwarded to the presidency by the ministry for approval.
About two years ago, the cost of the National Library project rose to N38.7 billion in 10 years but according to the National Librarian, Prof. Lenrie Aina, an additional N60 billion is needed to complete construction of the building.
Aina, who insisted that the National Library branches do not lack current books, noted that books worth millions are purchased and distributed to the 27 branches every year. Blaming his staff for the slow rate of processing the books, he lamented that the library was short of manpower, especially a special breed of librarians known as cataloguers.
“Yes we have been having problems; we buy books every year running into millions, but some of the problems are the rate of processing, which has remained slow. Since I came on board, I keep quarrelling with my staff not to keep books at the headquarters, books must be at the branches and that we have been doing that. “
But contrary to his claims, there were no current books at the branches visited. Aina, who agreed that the state library boards and national library branches were starved of funds and in bad shapes, disclosed that in a couple of years, the branches would be granted financial freedom to access N10 million grants each, strictly for maintenance and purchase of library materials.
”We have generators in all the branches but maintaining them, buying diesel among others have been a major problem. We are planning to have grants for the branches so that each branch will have a certain amount of money, about N10 million depending on the branch, to be used for maintenance. They won’t have to depend on the headquarters any more. We are working on that and in a year or two our branch libraries will be in good shape,” Aina said.
With the National Library in such a sorry state, it is not surprising that state libraries are nearly dead. For many years, directors of state libraries have struggled to ensure facilities remain in a manageable form. With zero disbursement of budgetary allocations resulting from state governments’ refusal to release money allocated in the budget to state library boards, a majority, if not all public libraries in the country, can no longer afford to purchase even periodicals such as newspapers, magazines and journals.
To further worsen the grim situation, there is no imprest to run or maintain the generators, photocopiers and vehicles (for those who still have), and to purchase bandwidth subscription for the computers which are all covered up in dust and locked out of use in majority of state and branches of national libraries across the country.
Further checks by Saturday Telegraph revealed that a majority of the directors are only able to attend conferences and run maintenance of the library from personal savings and contributions from all member of staff whenever salaries are paid.
“Sometimes we are asked to contribute N200. We use it to buy detergent, mop and to address little issues we can’t overlook,” Martins, an employee at one of the libraries, said.
While budgetary allocations are made for capital projects and overhead costs annually, recent tour of state libraries and national library branches in four geo-political zones: Benue, Imo, Oyo and the Federal Capital Territory, depicts a grim picture of neglect and lack of funding.
Imo State Library, just like its counterpart in Benue, has been without power for over five years. The library has been grappling with total blackout since 2014 when it was moved from its old location on Bank Road, to Port Harcourt Road in Owerri, by Governor Rochas Owelle Okorocha.
But unlike the Benue State Library Board, which last got new books about 27 years ago, the Imo State Library board took delivery of new batch of books 25 years ago. Although the National Library, Owerri branch, last took delivery of about 1,000 set of new books in 2016, the books are not updated editions. In the Oyo State library and its branch in Ogbomosho books were last purchased over 10 years ago.
In efforts to ensure the shelves are not free of books, Nigerian libraries have resorted to application of the law of legal aid deposit, which mandates publishers to donate not less than four books, depending on the state. This, according to them, is to keep the shelves stocked up regardless of its relevance to the general public.
The Acting Director, Library Services, Oyo State Library Board, Ibadan, Moses Adigun, explained: “We are bending the rule to make use of these kinds of materials so that our shelves will not be extremely outdated. We supplement them from our legal deposit copy but the legal deposit copy being submitted is not actually meant for our shelves, they are meant purely for bibliography services, for preservation and for authors to recall back when they are out of their copies.”
For his counterpart in Benue State, Mrs.Theresa Zamber, all libraries operating in the country whether public, national or private are expected to purchase new and updated volumes every year. Unfortunately, paucity of funds has continued to be a barrier, because money is not adequately released to meet the needs intended.
Speaking to our reporter on behalf of Zamber, an employee of the library board, Mrs. Veronica Akpaka, said: “It is so bad that we cannot even afford to buy newspapers or magazines.”
Also, based on a survey report made available to the Ministry of Information and Technology by the Librarians Council of Nigeria on the state of public libraries in Nigeria, 21 state library boards, including the ones visited by this reporter, have computers and active internet connectivity.
However, the computers in the e-libraries of those visited, were mostly free donations and have not been functional for years. For example, in the Oyo State Library Board, 50 computers were delivered in 2013 but there are presently less than 10 computers left in the abandoned e-library section under a rusted padlock and surrounded by bushes a few meters away from the administrative building of the ancient library.
Inadequate staff is another issue of concern. According to all library officials in the visited locations, this was occasioned by retirements, deaths and transfers. A good example is the branch of the National Library in Imo State, which presently has only five members of staff with three certified librarians instead of 25.
According to the Benue State Library board director, state government’s refusal to engage more professionals to man the library, has led to the shutdown of some sections and branches in some of the communities. While the Gboko branch has been closed down for more than five years that of Otukpo, which is currently out of operations due to ongoing renovation by concerned indigenes, who benefitted from the impact of the library in the past, has been shut down since the retirement of the librarian in September 2017.
For Tony Ewache, a businessman on the street housing the Otukpo Library, a new librarian only got assigned to the library in June this year. The new librarian, he said, has really not resumed work.
Ewache said: “He just came, inspected the place but he has been in Makurdi ever since. The person who has been there before retired in September last year and after then, it has not been functioning. Besides, people don’t use the library because the books in it are all old and outdated. I am sure the individuals, who are contributing to refurbish the library, will also purchase new books.”
With a large expanse of land with modern structures loaded with outdated books and 100 non-functional computers, staff of the Imo State Library Board consistently boycotts going to work due to lack of resources as a result of inconsistent payment of salary by the state government. Scared for their lives, the employees do not spend much time on the corridors of the multi billion naira structure due to the multiple cracks possibly resulting from the use of substandard building materials.
“Nobody is happy here; the governor said it’s an ultra-modern library but most of the buildings are collapsing and so we don’t stay long on the corridor for fear that it might cave in. We have 100 computers not functioning; they are under lock and key. Government does not give us subvention or imprest, the library has a bank account, which has not been operated for long. We have a bus we can’t fuel and we have not bought a newspaper in the last four years.”
A concerned indigene and library user, Uzoma Francis, lamented that the relocation of the library from Bank Road, a central point in Owerri where about 80 per cent of inhabitants reside, to Port Harcourt Road, caused a huge drop in the number of users due to high cost of accessibility. He said: “When the library was centrally located before it was replaced by a chapel, majority of its users spend as low as N50 to access it but now, to use the facility in one day, you have to spend at least N700 and still walk a distance before getting here.”
At the time of visit, there were only eight users in the library but the director, Lady Ijeoma Akanaga, explained that before the relocation, the library recorded between 350 to 400 users per day. “I don’t have the audacity to question staff when they don’t come to work.Where is the money when there is no salary? We do not generate money; if the government that owns this place does not fund this, it’s a dead end,” she added.
Implication of poor library services
The library, apart from the internet, is a vital platform for achieving quality education. Although they were primarily set up to be centres of learning, information gathering, entertainment and fun to help promote literacy and the culture of reading, recent visits to those edifices have however revealed that the once vibrant institutions have become mere shadows. They have been left to rot away due to corruption, poor funding and understaffing.
People’s increased access to current information is a significant precursor to their physiological, psychological, social developments and technological innovations. Unfortunately, not only has the libraries been literarily abandoned by those in the corridors of power. This in turn has negated the role of providing the information needs of young adults to equip them with lifelong learning and literacy skills that could help to positively shape the future.
A library, according to experts, is meant to be managed by trained personnel. Ironically, the majority of workers in public libraries in Nigeria today, are auxiliary staff without professional knowledge of library services. Due to the challenges of outdated and uninteresting materials, unprofessional library staff, poor location owing to noisy environment and distance, inadequate funds and lack of interest, most public libraries are perceived to be archive sections lacking contemporary books, serials and audio visual equipment, thereby keeping serious readers at bay. About 95 per cent of youths boycott the physical library and depend on their phones, cyber cafes and school libraries to carry out peripheral research.
According to Adigun, the dearth of funding and current books poses great threat to the nation’s development. “Unfortunately, nearly everybody is running after money, but the money we are actually running after is a function of the information we have and the most deep rooted information is seated inside books. But when you want to draw the budget for the library some people will ask you how much they are generating forgetting that you cannot quantify the amount of money being generated by the library.
“Our development and riches are a function of how much right information we get. Our development depends on our connection with information. Today’s world is on information and reading is the vehicle that drives that. The library is the tripod upon which development relies on,” Adigun said.
Unaccounted budgetary funds and releases
All the states visited had issues of zero allocation despite the yearly approval and releases of budgets to the sector. For example, records show that the sum of N87, 472. 783 was approved for the Benue State library Board in the state’s 2017 budget. Incidentally, the majority of the library employees have said that no fund was released to run the library, at least to the best of their knowledge, for years.
“Our financial situation is so bad that we cannot even afford to buy newspapers or magazines,” one of them complained. Both the state commissioner for information and chief press secretary to the governor did not react to this, despite repeated efforts.
Although budgets for capital projects and overhead cost were approved annually for development of the Imo State Library Board, they were never released to the knowledge of the staff. Interestingly, out of the fixed amount of N140, 130,362 million approved for personnel cost every year, only N70 million gets released. A grumbling staff noted that “70 million is released every year, half of what is approved, but the irony is that the staff strength keeps reducing drastically, on a yearly basis.
The official record of libraries in the country is 316; a good number of them, however, are no longer functional. Some listed towns have never had a library sited just as witnessed in the case of the supposed Bwari Library in the Federal Capital Territory and Okigwe Library. These two represents a legion of fictitious library centres. In Imo State where the records state that 27 local government areas have active libraries, only 10 are functioning. Same in Benue State where nine libraries are listed, but only one is functioning at present.
After so many years in the Library sector, nothing will please Akanaga more than to see the Library assume its position in society. Highlighting the benefits of community and mobile library in the past, she hopes government will reconsider resurrecting the mobile library commonly referred to as library on wheels, to restore the fast dying reading culture in the country.
The Reading Promotion Campaign introduced by Aina, according to Kalu Charles, assistant library officer, National Library, Owerri branch, is a viable project with capacity to reinforce the ideals of reading. Seeking a buy-in from state governments and organised private sector, he stressed the need to engage more professionals to man the library.
To Adigun, the libraries can generate more revenue creatively through the lease of its facilities for social functions, organising book fairs and exploring the internet to carryout downloads and photocopying services. In like manner, the National Librarian is hopeful that the intensive discussions with state governments during his just concluded tour of the 36 states will bear fruits for erring state governments to emulate Kaduna; Bauchi and Bayelsa states library boards, which have attained standard optimal in public libraries.
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.