INVESTIGATION: Enugu public libraries in ruins despite budgetary allocations –Part 1
The Enugu State Library Board between 2016 – 2018, budgeted a total sum of N134,903,152 for the renovation, rehabilitation, reconstruction and procurement purposes for the libraries. But these projects, which have since received various monetary allocations of N43,033,152 in 2016, N54,370,000 in 2017 and N37,500,000 in 2018 respectively, still remain decrepit with leaky roofs and empty shelves. Their worn-out structures and a shortage of staff depict a glaring betrayal of the huge amounts so far expended by the Board within a three-year period.
PATRICK EGWU, who visited the five libraries, reports.
DISGUISED as a student who needs to use the library, gaining entrance to the Enugu State Central Library only cost this reporter a modest annual registration fee of N1,000. Once in, the reporter began to do a swift observation of the poor state of the library, taking in every little detail.
It is located at a place called “Holy Ghost” in one of the busiest markets in the state. Thousands of motorists ply the road opposite the library, daily. Next to the library are scores of transportation companies, tooting their horns and using mega speakers as they bellow to woo commuters.
Added to the boisterous scenario close to the library, are hawkers, in their large numbers, who also litter the vicinity. The general menace inflicted on the teeming library users daily is appalling. A much needed but notably deprived essential of the library, silence, was not given any consideration.
Back in time
In 1958, the Enugu Central Library (ECL) was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as part of a viable pilot scheme for public library models in Nigeria. Not long after, it became the first public library in West Africa and was handed over to the then Eastern government. Then adjudged the best in West Africa, it attracted users from different parts of the country who visited it for studies and research purposes. But today, the story has changed – for the worse.
ECL – Legacy in ruins
Current realities at the ECL are worrisome. Sited at the heart of the state, the library exhibits a very big building with large reading halls and offices. But despite its size, everything from the structure to the shelves, archives and expected 1,000 users’ sitting capacity, are in ruins. The roofs and ceiling boards are leaky and already falling off – posing a potential source of harm to unsuspecting users. The ceiling fans are very old and rusty giving a clear proof that no new procurement was made in any recent past.
Books and journals displayed on the shelves are outdated, dating back to over 30-years. A closer scrutiny by this reporter shows most of the books with 1960 – 1970 imprints. Worse still, there are no current journals at the library at the periodicals section.
As this reporter expressed shock, a user close-by volunteered: “You must be new here. I usually come with my own books as I haven’t ever found the books I want. As you can see, those in the shelves are very old.”
The user, who gave his name as Okike Chike, a Financial Studies’ student at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Enugu, added: “If you check the shelves further, you will discover the seriousness of what I’m talking about. I just wish something fast can be done about it soon.”
He said he has never seen the ceiling fans work since he started using the library over a year ago. “It is always hot in here and there is no electricity to start with,” he said.
The leather covering the outer surface of the reading seats are rusty, old and wearing-off. The desks are not any better. Some parts of the windows are in bad shape, looking unkempt with dirt and cob-webs and some parts broken.
Enugu’s five libraries
WHILE Enugu State has five public libraries, only six librarians inter-changeably handle the day-to-day activities in all the libraries as discovered from interactions with the library Board. Explaining the reasons for it, Mr. Jude Offor, acting director, Enugu Library Board (ELB); who is also in-charge of all the public libraries in the state, said: “We don’t have librarians in the other libraries apart from this one,” referring to the main library.
Continuing, he adds: “What we have at other places are clerical staff because there is no money to employ more hands. We have only six librarians in the whole library and they are all here at the main library.
“On the need for government’s intervention, we have written many letters to them detailing our needs in addition to seeking increase in the subvention we currently get, from N3.7 to N6 million to boost the day-to-day running of the five libraries. The state governor has visited twice. He told us to write and we wrote. Once, he directed the Commissioner for Education to go round the libraries and verify the state of things to give him a first-hand report. The Commissioner did as he was directed but we have not seen or heard anything thereafter.”
ECL official – Insufficient money given
APPARENTLY, for lack of any alternative, knowledge-seekers still throng the library. “That’s why I continued from where others stopped,” said Offor.
Speaking on the situation of the library, he said: “Our first problem here is that the N3.7 million subvention we receive every month is not enough to carry out the works to be done. For instance, we owe a lot of people running into millions. What my predecessors saw is what I am seeing except that now, government is giving us money but it is not enough to carry out our responsibilities.”
Offor said pensioners who had worked at the library instead of receiving their complete payments every month, are paid once in four months because of paucity of funds. “For example, we have 64 pensioners helping out and instead of paying them monthly, we pay them once in four months. We also owe staff leave allowances of up to eight years since 2009. And it increases as the years run by. We expend the money on keeping vehicles running, fueling and other incidentals for all the five public libraries in the state. It hardly goes by.”
Offor also made efforts to justify his administration’s prudence in the judicious disbursement of the N3.7million monthly allocations to the library. He said, “But despite the poor state of the libraries across the state, no embezzlement charges can be laid on our laps because we use the funds given to us judiciously. Nobody can say that a dime, as in, one kobo, has entered my pocket. We use the money exactly the way it should be – for salaries, electricity bills, vehicle charges and monthly rents for staff under the payroll of the Board.”
Funds budgeted for libraries never released
INVESTIGATIONS show that though funds were allocated to the library Board in the budgets under review, they were never released. When asked about the monies budgeted for the Board in the state budgets, Offor responded: “The problem is that these monies are not usually released. And this happens, not only in Enugu state, but also elsewhere. In fact, from the beginning of the library, funds budgeted for it have never been released. Others who were here before me have done everything to collect the money, but they were unsuccessful.”
Stressing further on the library Board’s budgetary allocation, the acting director said: “If these monies were ever released to us, we would have renovated the libraries. In fact, special consideration would have been accorded the Enugu Central Library in particular. Remember, it was the first public library built by UNESCO in the whole of Africa before other libraries followed.
“The only money that gets released to us is the recurrent expenditure whilst the capital overheads are not usually released because it seems difficult. And when you complain, they will tell you to go and work it out,” he intones, “whatever that means.”
When this reporter contacted the commissioner for education in the state, professor Pat Uche Eze, to ask why funds budgeted for the Board are not released as the director had claimed, Eze said “I am not a budget expert so I cannot discuss the budget. So, let’s not talk about what happened in the past. Budgets are based on identified challenges. We have done a study. When we reported it to let the governor know the extent of the challenges, that will help him know how much will be allocated.”
Still, the commissioner was prodded further. He said “when you have your budget, you implement it. I’m sure that the acting director must have accessed the budget. Did he show you the memo he wrote? As I was saying, for you to access a budget, for instance, if it is capital, you have to do a memo. You have to apply in order to get it and you have to justify that there is a need for it. And when you do all these things, it will still be discussed before action can be taken in that regard.”
When told that the Library Board acting director said he had written letters; Eze sidetracked the conversation, saying “I want to tell you that government is quite aware of the issues relating to public libraries in the state. Some months ago, it was an issue discussed at the State Executive Council meeting. There-and-then, I was directed to do a status report on the libraries because the governor is determined to give them a facelift. In fact, provisions have already been made for complete renovation of the state library.”
The education commissioner was also asked about the need for an increase in the N3.7 million Library Board monthly subventions, he sharply responded: “I don’t have to comment on that because the director has to convince the government that this is what he has done with the one he was given and this is why he needs another increase. For me, he has not been able to make that case.”
However, the director insisted: “The issue in focus is not about writing letters. The main concern is about releasing monies for the needful as far as the libraries are concerned after receiving the letters we wrote. And this has not been done since I started as the director.”
Nsukka Library – Lifeless despite budgets
IT was a rainy morning when this reporter visited the Nsukka library. On the inside, ten users were seen reading some printed texts. Others walked around the shelves, scanning through available but mostly outdated books lined up on the shelves dating back to 20-30 years ago without any recent literature or journals. This library has about 300 sitting capacity. The children section lies practically fallow.
Established in 1989, the Nsukka Zonal Library serves the Nsukka town which hosts Nigeria’s first indigenous tertiary institution – the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It was discovered, that students throng the library to research or study in preparation for their examinations.
Despite the very important purposes it serves its essential users within Nsukka and beyond, the library is currently in shambles. Its structure and infrastructure are dilapidated, a situation that has been declared a major challenge to library users.
This reporter was told that the number of users dropped drastically as they now seek for other better reading places. Some even resort to online researches to fulfill their desires for updated knowledge. However, a few users still defy the odds to visit the library.
“This place used to be very lively with students all over the place. Sadly, this has changed because of the current state of the library, said Angela Ezema, the library assistant. “And it is getting worse every year.”
In the 2016 budget for the Library Board, the sum of N5,600,000 million was appropriated for the overhauling of the Nsukka Zonal Library. It was to include the re-roofing for an undisclosed amount.
Also, N12,580,152 million was allotted for the stocking of books and journals annually for the libraries. But investigations showed that this was not the case as library officials say they never received journals aside only two copies of newspapers, daily.
Another sum of N1,500,000 million was budgeted for the construction of one block of four toilets. Whereas now, the library has no convenience rooms for both staff and users. This reporter only saw three uncompleted structures with no doors, windows or water cistern designated as latrines for users. Its floors are not merely concretized with cements.
Shaking her head in sadness, Ezema, said the shanty toilets have actually been under construction for more than five years. “That is the way it has been for over five years. We don’t even use it to avoid contracting lavatory diseases that never get healed.”
Others library officials also chipped in that there are no desktops or laptops provided for them to work with even though the money for these items were provided in the 2016 budget.
In the 2017 budget, N54,370,000 million was budgeted for the state libraries. Sums of N5,000,000 and N2,500,000 were respectively slated for rehabilitation and re-roofing of the Nsukka library. But none of this has reflected in the library’s exterior or interior amenities.
Ezema hinted that heavy downpour in recent months also destroyed most parts of the library’s roof causing other major damages. “The rains came with heavy winds and blew off the roof, opening up everywhere. As you can see, we now use bucket and plastic bowls to scoop water whenever it is raining,” she said as she showed this reporter a bucket positioned directly under the leaking spots.
She said appeals for the repairs of the fallen structure have not been answered and the damage is getting worse. “We took pictures and called Enugu State government to inform them so they can help us with resources to fix the damages but nothing has been done.
“On June 1, 2018, the Commissioner for Education, accompanied by some state officials came to the library for on-the-spot inspection and assessment in the hope of major interventions. He took notes while assessing the level of damage and promised to send engineers to embark on repairs and equipping the library to standard. But neither the commissioner nor the team of engineers were ever seen again.”
While this reporter was still at the library, another torrent of rain began to fall which enabled him to witness the library staff as they scampered to get buckets and position at the leaky holes to prevent water from flooding the reading halls.
Then, towards procuring printing and laminating machines with 15 sets of ceiling fans for the bindery section of the library, the sum of N1,790,000 was allotted. That was a shortfall of the N1,848,000 budgeted in 2016.
However, nothing in the bindery section of the library could attest to any new equipment being procured. Rather, the librarian showed the reporter a computer room with 10 desktop processors and printers which were procured and donated by the local government area chairman since 2008.
Almost ten years after the procurement, the procured desktops have never, for once, been used since they were brought to the library. Reason is there has been no electricity supply to power the computers. Cobwebs and dust have covered the items packed in a water-logged room since about a decade ago.
“We have 10 desktop computers but none of them is working because there is no power supply. They promised they will bring a big generator for us but we are yet to see it. So, we don’t know if the computers have expired or not,” Ezema said.
MOST of the items in the 2016 and 2017 budgets of N37,500,000 million for the Library Board were repeated in the 2018 budget.
Items such as procurement of printer, laminating machine and ceiling fans for the bindery section of the library; budgeted below N2 million in the previous budget, was listed at N2,500,000 million in the budget 2018.
Renovation of the library in the 2018 budget, however, got a downward review of N2 million as against the N5 million it received in the previous years. Construction of one block of four library toilets was repeated in the 2017 and 2018 budgets at N1,000,000 respectively. Still, the library has no readily available toilets. Users resort to nearby bushes and open spaces when they need to relief themselves. Some make use of public toilets where they pay token fees to access the facility.
Promise Asogwa, who started using the library five months ago said: “I step out to pee whenever I want to because there is no toilet inside. And though I see all the books I need here, the library is not up to standard. I have never seen power supply here. It’s bad.”
Despite the yearly recurring budgetary allocations, there was no sign of procurement of ceiling fans which was listed in the three budgets. A two-year library user, Ebubechukwu Agboeze, told the reporter she has never seen power supply to enable the ceiling fans to work. “I have not even seen light for once,” said Agboeze, who is preparing to study medicine in the university. “Everywhere is just dusty. But we are managing it like that as there is no other one around where we can go.”
Agboeze’s expression corroborates the librarian’s submission who said they have not seen light for a very long time and neither is there provision for a stand-by generating set to supply power as promised.
“We need perimeter fencing here for security reasons,” said Christiana Egbo, the library’s data processor. “This is a state library and not private. It is in a mess compared to other libraries. But the state seems to be doing nothing about it. Nothing here is new or modernized or working. The building, seats, tables and books are all outdated. Anambra State Library is far better than ours.”
This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.