Daily Trust

Inside Nigeria’s decrepit public libraries

They were supposed to be centres of learning, information gathering, entertainment and fun; making all kinds of knowledge and information easily available to users. Indeed, Nigerian public libraries, most of which were established in the 1970s and 80s, were intended to help promote literacy and the culture of reading, as people, including students and even parents, go there to seek information. But as investigations by Daily Trust on Sunday have revealed, public libraries in Nigeria are now shadows as they have been left to rot away due to corruption, poor funding and understaffing, among several factors.

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If you have visited one public library in Nigeria, you have visited all.

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Located at the Kofar Soro Central Mosque, the Katsina State Library is locked between a motor park and some lock-up stalls that surround it. This makes the environment unconducive and near uninhabitable for reading and research purposes for students and scholars alike as the supposed serenity of the library is always tempered by noise from commercial buses as well as the nearby market.

The library had been in existence since the native authority as a ‘Reading Room and was later improved upon during the old Kaduna State to the status of a public library for the then old Katsina Local Government.

To make the matter worse, its allocated permanent site, situated at Dutsen Safe area, has been revoked and allegedly allocated to politicians who have already built upon the vast land. 

A visit to the library revealed its old shabby building, which is in need of urgent repair and attention.  In fact, over the years, the library is said to have served as ‘punishing base’ for members of staff that are in the bad book of the government. 

Checks revealed that the library had, for long, suffered from neglect, funding and other forms of assistance, for the main reason that it is the only library across the country placed under the Ministry of Information as against that of education.

This improper placement had made it difficult to secure assistance from interventionist agencies like the Education Trust Fund (ETF), which has been assisting in developing the frontiers of knowledge.

Most of the books on display in the Katsina library were of old stock until only last year when, for the first time, the library got a release to purchase books needed by students.  Even the e-library established by the past administration packed up after its commissioning. The computers never worked given the lack of power and effective internet facility. Inadequate members of staff is also a serious problem of the library, given the fact that most of them have retired and not replaced for decades.

It was gathered that the National Communication Commission had also tried to establish another one, which also packed up for same reasons. A member of staff who took our reporter round said the only archival material you find there were newspapers which, for years, the authorities were unable to bind for easy access, due to lack of funds. The staff, who wouldn’t want his name in print, showed us a dusty room filled with old newspapers. One could hardly differentiate their titles as dust  covered them. 

The Executive Director of the Katsina State Library Board, Zainab Armayau, said they had been suffering for long, but added that respite was underway. 

‘‘For the first time, we wrote to the government on some books requested by students and researches, and the government, instead of giving the responsibility to contractors, asked us to supply them. This is unlike before when books were just dumped here for us, ’’she said.

Even the Federal Government-owned library in the state is suffering same faith as  it has been operating in a rented three bedroom apartment in a residential compound for several years. This alone makes it unconducive for reading and research. There are no books, even as an average of 10 students only access it daily. 

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the deplorable state of the library has taken its toll, even on the security guards, who are said to have all stopped coming to work as government is finding hard to pay them.

Similarly, the Plateau State Government- owned public library, also known as Ambassador Ignatius Burlong Library, which was established for research and expansion of knowledge, has been in a shambles. Commissioned more than three decades ago, the library, located at No 4, Tafawa Balewa Street, is said to have suffered neglect since 2008 during the first tenure of former Governor Jonah Jang.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the last time funds were released for the library was in 2008 despite annual budgetary approvals by successive governments in the state. A source, however, confided in our reporters that the annual budget of the library from 2015 to 2017 was about N38 million, which was inadequate to run the library.  The source also alleged that the state government had not released the money despite approvals.

A visit by our correspondent revealed that  the archival system, which was designed to accept the responsibility of preserving information and making it available for the general public, is in poor shape due to insufficient staff, whose  figure had been reduced drastically from 100 to 38.

The books, magazines and journals in the library are outdated, old and in bad shape, and there is no internet connection that would attract the general public to patronise the library.

Emmanuel Oluwaseun, who has been coming to the library for almost 17 years, expressed displeasure over the comatose state of the library. He said the books in the library were not up-to-date, and that sometimes, even if one used the catalogues, the librarians would not find the books. 

“Students in Nigeria are expected to compete academically with other students in other countries; therefore, we want the government to update its libraries,”  he said, lamenting that the library lacks electricity, current books, journals, and has a poor archival system.

All efforts to speak with library officials proved abortive as they declined all entreaties without giving a valid reason.

Like others, everything about the Borno State Library Board complex indicates that the structure is in a bad shape. Constructed in 1972 and commissioned in 1973, the library is below the standard of current demands. It lacks adequate building for archival materials, a requirement long overdue considering the huge volume of archival materials. It also has an epileptic internet service and an e-library that does not function. 

The library complex has a total of 68,828 reading materials, comprising books, journals, newspapers, magazines, official documents and educational cassettes, majority of which,  according to the authorities of the Board, are not up-to-date. They pleaded with the government and all stakeholders for most current reading materials. 

“The present structure of the complex is grossly inadequate for the growing patronage since peace and security are gradually being restored,” the Director of Administration of the Board, Mallam Bukar Sale, said.

Explaining further he said: “Between 500 and 1000 readers now patronise the library daily, and the number grows higher in the examination season of the University of Maiduguri and Ramat Polytechnic, as well as when all the schools are in session. You can see that the seating facilities cannot be described as adequate.

“There is a proposal now for a new library complex due to the growing inadequacy of the over 40-year-old one we have, to accommodate the teeming users.”

The Sokoto State library was established in 1987 to serve the then old Sokoto State, comprising Zamfara, Kebbi and Sokoto. Located at the heart of the state, the library is just meters away from the city campus of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University and its School of Matriculation, as well as secondary schools in the area.

The two-storey library complex hosts hundreds of students, especially when any of the tertiary institutions commences examinations. The library is structured into sections, namely, physically challenged section, the children section, and e-library section, which is yet to commence operation, as well as the main section.

But the level of dilapidation on the structure is an eyesore as there are cracks virtually everywhere while empty shelves occupy most of its spaces, with a dysfunctional standby generator.

In 2013, the then government of the state was said to have earmarked the sum of N50 million for the purchase of books, but that has not been provided till today, a development one of the library officials said was due to the fact that the money was either misappropriated or ended up in private pockets.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the library relies much on thesis of students pursuing master’s degrees and research works of scholars, as well as donations from individuals and agencies to update their shelves.

When our reporter visited the library, many students were sighted reading from their notes. When asked, some of them said they could not find some books relevant to their courses.

The Special Adviser to Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal on Library Matters, Alhaji Nasir Ladan, regretted the removal of public libraries from the intervention programmes of the Tertiary Trust Fund (TETFUND, as according to him, government alone cannot fund them.

According to Ladan, for education to be developed in the country, public libraries need to be considered for special intervention because they are the most patronised in the country. He identified the challenges of Sokoto State library to include lack of qualified librarians, current books, as well as funding. He, however, expressed optimism that all the challenges would be over before Governor Tambuwal leaves office. 

The Anambra State e-library, also known as Prof. Kenneth Dike State Central e-library, was commissioned on March 15, 2014. The state has two other sectional libraries – the divisional libraries and community libraries. While the divisional libraries are three, community  libraries are seven.

The library headquarters, located in Awka, the state capital, was, at its commissioning, equipped with basic infrastructure, including books, photocopying materials, tables and chairs, and internet facilities.

The first recruitment exercise was conducted almost immediately by the Library Board for professional and non-professional staff.

The acting director of the Anambra State Library Services, Nkechi Udeze, said the staff strength of the library was close to 140, but added that recruitment exercise is periodically carried out to fill in the vacuums created by those that retired or left for other reasons. 

She, however, said the library had been faced with the challenge of power supply and patronage. “Power supply has been our major challenge. Though a general phenomenon, it is so epileptic that we keep on running on generator, especially for our e-library section,’’ she said. 

Some of the readers in the library who spoke to our correspondent also decried the near absence of power supply in the library. They said although the environment enjoyed some level of serenity in terms of its location, there is much to be done to improve the standard.

A public servant who wouldn’t want to be named, expressed worry over the power situation of the library, which he attributed to  low patronage.

“There is virtually no electricity here. Imagine how uncomfortable it is for one to be reading and sweating; that is enough reason for one not to come back. They should discuss with the relevant companies to find a way of addressing this issue so that the place will be conducive for studying,” he noted.

Situated in the heart of Makurdi, the Benue State Library also needs urgent repair to save the complex from collapsing in the near future due to excessive leaking roofs.

Our correspondent who visited the complex reports that the building appeared to have been mildly renovated when compared to what obtained four years ago, when  a dilapidated structure and obsolete materials dotted the rooms of the two-storey building housing the once vibrant library. But it was observed that the contractors did not do a good job on the 26-year-old structure, especially on the roof, as it was not so from the beginning. 

A library official who craved anonymity because he was not permitted to speak, said that partial renovation was done on the complex to improve its pitiable condition. He said that few years ago, during heavy rains, the entire complex was  usually so flooded that even the  administrative office was forced to relocate. Sections that were adversely affected include science and technology library, children library, technical session, arts and social section and the administrative wing, which posed danger to lives and property.

  However, little respite seemed to have come the way of the library and the building housing it following some sort of government’s intervention to avert the danger ahead, except for the leaking roof still seeking attention. The complex, located along Senator Iyorchia Ayu Road, now gets new books, at least two or three times a year from the government and individual donors. 

But the staff strength of the six public libraries across the entire state is grossly inadequate, occasioned by retirements, deaths and transfer, according to an official, who also disclosed that the library could boast of only 24 members of staff. Consequently, the official revealed that some of the libraries, located outside Makurdi, the state capital, were locked up until such a time when they get staff to man the offices.  

It was also learnt that the excessive leaking roof of the complex during the rainy season have prevented members of staff from putting the second floor into proper use as the entire place is usually flooded. 

A section of the building which holds the electronic library, with an inscription at the door, signifies that the project was donated by the Universal Service Provision Fund. It accommodates modern ICT facilities, with at least 50 computers, but it remained under lock and key, suggesting that the e-library is not in use, even though ICAN examination was ongoing at the time our correspondent visited.

It was gathered that the inability of the state government to give its financial backing to install the computers for commercial internet services was why the facilities are not yet functioning.

While the library can hardly generate any internal revenue to boost its account, the Ministry of Information and Orientation, under which the library board exists, was allocated only N834, 096. 622 in the 2017 state budget, out of which only N87, 472. 783 had been earmarked for the library.

The Bauchi State-owned library was an offshoot of the defunct North-East library before the creation of Bauchi State in 1976. The State Library Board was formed in 1989 through edict number 3.  The state has only two state-owned public libraries, the one in Bauchi and another one in Azare.

The library operated from its temporary site and was later moved to the state cooperative building as its headquarters, headed by a director.  However, the library is now headed by the state librarian, Mr. Ezekiel Ayuba Sukumu. The building where the library is presently located was provided in 1991.

Although the library has stock of books, journals and other publications, the librarian maintained that most of the books were out- dated and new ones are hardly purchased. According to him, money is always budgeted for the purchase of books, but releasing it is always a problem.

“Even this year, the sum of N10 million was earmarked for the purchase of books. The budget has been signed, so we will wait for the money to come. In the past, we get books through the intervention of the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and BookAid International. Now BookAid has removed Nigeria from the countries benefitting from its aid while that of  the ETF has stopped since its transformation to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND),” he said.

Sukumu also informed that the library lacked adequate staff as the state now has 83 existing school libraries. He noted that the library had only 20 professional librarians, 162 non-professionals and 23 administrative staff.

Checks by Daily Trust on Sunday  also showed that zero disbursement of budgetary allocations since 2013 had hindered the restocking of the main library and 15 other divisions in Jigawa State.

In the last four years, the Jigawa State Government allegedly refused to release money to the State Library Board as part of its budgetary allocation. A source close to the Board told Daily Trust on Sunday that owing to the paucity of fund, the libraries in the state cannot even afford periodicals (newspapers, magazines etc).

The state government was said to have only released a monthly subvention of N150, 000 for the main library located in Dutse, the state capital and 15 others across the state. Even with such poor funding, the board is expected to cater for fuelling a standby generator of the main library, official vehicles and other bills that might be incurred in running the other 15 divisions.

The hall of the main library, which has the capacity to accommodate about 200 readers at a time, hardly takes  more than five visitors in a day, except during examination periods of  the federal university and the state polytechnic, both in Dutse.

It was gathered that the immediate past government of Sule Lamido supported the sector in capital expenditure, but two years to the expiration of the administration, funding stopped completely. The trend has now extended to the present administration of Governor Mohammed Badaru Abubakar.

The 50-seat capacity e-library donated to the state’s main library by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) has stopped working as the library cannot afford the subscription of Bandwith and of buying software for accessing e-books.

Checks also revealed that the sector is understaffed as government rejected all proposals for recruitment over the years. At present, there are only 90 members of staff to man the main library and the other divisions. Of the remaining staff, only 30 are professional librarians while the rest are largely auxiliary.

All efforts to speak with the officials of the Library Board proved abortive as they claimed they were not allowed to talk to journalists.