By Yekeen AKINWALE
WITH a leaking roof, outdated books, collapsed toilet, entrance overgrown with grass, as well as other signs of debilitation all over the place showing that the only public library in Zaria town, Kaduna State, Northwest Nigeria is a shadow of its old self.
As the fourth largest and third most populous state in Nigeria, Kaduna State is nicknamed the Center of Learning. Zaria is home to 13 tertiary institutions, among them are Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, the National Institute of Transport Technology, the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, and Nuhu Bamalli Polytechnic.
Despite a continuously growing need of the reading public in a state surrounded by colleges, the Zaria Public Library, a 40-year-old library is deteriorating and needs urgent attention.
The Zaria Public Library was established in 1981— to cater to the needs of the reading public. The Library has three sections; the children’s section with age-appropriate books, the reference section for research and information gathering, and the adult section which is subdivided into sciences and social sciences. Today, the decaying structures accommodate outdated books that serve limited purposes of scholarship and learning. An unrepaired leaking roof has caused damage to tables, chairs, shelves and other supporting facilities.
Sadiya Ahmed, the Chief Librarian laments about the absence of important renovations required for the library to function properly. She says there is no electricity and running water, and that the toilet has also collapsed.
Evidence of leaking roof at the library
“Oftentimes, some readers come with their own mats that they lay on the ground for their own convenience,” she said. “This used to be a library that was once a home to hundreds of thousands of books.”
Aliyu Jibril, the Assistant Librarian is distraught about the current condition of the library. “The library structure used to be colourful and neat. However, today, the entrance is covered with weeds and very unkempt,” Jibril told a team of independent procurement monitors who visited the library.
He recalled how books at the library were new and always updated. “Children visited every day to read from the earlier collections which ranged from sciences to arts, with stories and artworks that could attract and prick the wildest imaginations of children, all the while teaching them basic vocabulary, grammar, and fundamental mathematics.”
The monitors were on the trail of the rehabilitation contract for the library awarded by the Kaduna State Government in 2017.
“This place used to be a safe haven for people who liked to read,” Jibril laments.
“We had a lot of books before now and people trooped in and out to just get lost in the pages of books, but now the place is dead. No light, no water, we don’t even have a functioning toilet.”
A botched renovation contract
In 2017, Kaduna State Government awarded N90 million worth of contracts to the Universal Engineering Pillars Ltd to renovate the library. The state government had budgeted N25 million for the project that was supposed to last six months.
But while the status of the project on the website of Kaduna State procurement agency was showing ‘completed’; in reality, the library remains dilapidated.
An unkempt environment of the library.
A disagreement over mobilisation fee between the contractor and the supervisory ministry, Kaduna State Library Board has since 2017 stalled the rehabilitation work and the library is worse for it.
“There was nothing done in the library with respect to the project so far. The library has been in the same situation as it is and no contractor has reported to the location or the Ministry reaching out to them,” Mohammed Dahiru Jamila, a member of the procurement monitors team said.
While the contractor insisted on being paid a 50 per cent mobilisation fee, the Kaduna State Library Board was ready to pay just 30 per cent. The unresolved disagreement is responsible for the shabby condition of the library.
“We paid an advocacy visit to the implementation agency, which is the Kaduna State Library Board.
“We found out that the project was indeed awarded in 2017 but it took the implementation agency and the contractor a lot of time to finalize the negotiation on the percentage of mobilization funds. The contractor insisted on fifty per cent of the contract fee while the government insisted on only thirty per cent,” Kassim said.
The Kaduna state procurement law says contracts are awarded based on the capacity of contractors to mobilize to the sites to work while the funds are released at a certain stage. But the contractor held the government to ransom on the project.
Therefore, the procurement monitoring group recommended to the state government to revoke and re-award the contract to a contractor that has the financial capacity to undertake the project.
Government revokes the contract
Kassim says that the team succeeded in making Kaduna State Government revoke the contract after about three years of passivity.
The team, he said, drew the attention of the Kaduna State Public Procurement Agency to change the status of the project on the portal from ‘completed’ to ‘not started’.
The State government and the State Library Board were also notified to ensure that this project is revoked, re-awarded and duly followed for implementation.
“What we were able to achieve during that time was to get the government to revoke the contract,” he reveals.
“The contract was revoked. Earlier this year, we also engaged them in re-awarding the contract because revocation was actually not what we wanted. We want the library to work. If the contract is revoked, it means the service delivery is not there. We engaged them to get the contract to be re-awarded to another contractor, but that has not happened.”
Pains and losses
The condition of the library makes reading at the library less comfortable, which in the long run will reduce learning outcomes, says Kassim who notes that many more readers are getting discouraged from using the library. When completed, the Zaria Public Library is expected to be upgraded to more modern standards.
“We did three visits to the library and during one of the visits, we saw some people reading and asked them what were their challenges in using the library,” he recalls.
“Some of them were telling us about the leaking roof, outdated books, outdated facilities and even there was no internet service in the library which the renovation was supposed to take care of.”
Open contracting as a tool for development
Though 40 years old, the state library has been in neglect for many years.
Team members trained by the Public-Private Development Center on Open contracting portals have been instrumental in the discovery, tracking, following up and other activities that brought to light the neglected state of the library.
“With the data derived from the website, though there was false information showing the completed status of the project, citizens like us were able to question, investigate, recommend and put pressure on the implementing agency to change the status of the project,” Jamila says.
Open Contracting would also help fight corruption and looting of public funds by public officials as there is access to information. If the Kaduna state government still holds its commitment to raise the standard of education and maintain the status quo as a citadel of learning, rehabilitation of reading areas such as the public libraries should be one of its utmost priorities.