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Udom gov’t underfunds public libraries in Akwa Ibom, but spends billions on luxury Sheraton Hotel built for the rich

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By Ekemini Simon 

ONCE a citadel of research and learning, where people thronged to access quality books and good reading ambience, especially for publications and documents that held historical information on colonial administration, the divisional library at Ikot Ekpene, the first local government area in British West Africa is now a shadow of itself after years of neglect by the Government of Akwa Ibom State led by Udom Gabriel Emmanuel.

The library built in the 1960s has badly degenerated into a haven for dangerous reptiles and criminals. The books in this facility have been lost to the effects of rainfall from the leaking roof, termites and the vagaries of the weather. For over a decade, the facility has remained under lock and deteriorated.

Inside Divisional Library, Ikot Ekpene.
Inside Divisional Library, Ikot Ekpene.
Inside Divisional Library, Ikot Ekpene
Inside Divisional Library, Ikot Ekpene

The Paramount Ruler of Ikot Ekpene, Obong Okon Udo Ukut says that by abandoning the library, his people have been deprived of the opportunity to remain the custodians of colonial historical records.

“The library was established when Akwa Ibom was under the South-Eastern States. We had rich colonial records there. Successive governments maintained it until the civilian government came and neglected it”, Obong Ukut said.

The traditional ruler said the presence of public and private polytechnic in Ikot Ekpene should give the government adequate reasons to resuscitate the library.

Yet, the decay at the divisional library, Ikot Ekpene shows the neglect of government-owned libraries in the oil-rich State.

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Official documents show that the government of Akwa Ibom State had planned to situate a library in each of the 10 Federal Constituencies in the state.

Checks into the state budgets confirm that all the federal constituencies except Ikono/Ini and Itu/Ibiono Ibom federal constituencies have a library or library project. Among the eight libraries in the government records, three sited at Oron, Ukanafun and Ikot Abasi local government areas have been categorised as uncompleted projects, while that of Ikot Ekpene has turned into a historical site. Yet, the remaining four divisional libraries are derelict.

Etinan Library in Poor State 

Although the divisional library at Etinan local government area still has a signpost and the premises are maintained, its operation is questionable. When TheMail Newspaper visited the library thrice between September and October, the facility remained closed. No staff, including security personnel, was sighted.

Community members said the facility is no longer in use but is only visited by staff for maintenance.

Divisional Library, Etinan. Photo credit: Ekemini Simon.
Divisional Library, Etinan. Photo credit: Ekemini Simon.

”The few books left there are very old and worn. You rarely find a good chair to sit on, and you can’t see electricity while reading. So, what would really make someone go there?  Due to the poor state of the library, people had to stop using it, and their staff no longer opened the place”, says Udeme Akpan, a community member who lives near the library.

The member representing Etinan State Constituency at the State Assembly, Aniefiok Dennis said he is unaware of the deplorable state of the library but will contact the relevant authorities for immediate action.

Uyo, Eket, Abak Libraries

Akwa Ibom State has only three libraries in operation; divisional libraries in Uyo, Eket and Abak. These libraries were last rehabilitated by the immediate past administration. Though libraries in Eket and Uyo are operational, they are in a poor state.

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For instance, Eket library was last rehabilitated in July 2013; now the old shelves are almost empty. The few remaining books on the shelves are dusty and worn-out, published in August 1984.

The fans and lighting are not functional. There are only a few broken plastic chairs left in the library.  Throughout the four hours this reporter stayed in the library to observe, only one reader visited the library. It was also observed that only one staff member was available on duty when TheMail visited in September.

Almost empty shelves.
Almost empty shelves. Credit: Ekemini Simon.
Old books.
Old books. Credit: Ekemini Simon.
Non-functional fan, lighting.
Non-functional fan, lighting. Credit: Ekemini Simon.

Even though there is a twin 2-bedroom semi-detached staff quarters and 3-bedroom quarters for chief librarians that were reconstructed in 2013, the buildings are left to waste.

A staff of the library who refused to be named on print for fear of victimisation told TheMail that although they have written severally to the Ministry of Education about the lack of modern books, among other infrastructural decay, the requests were ignored.

The staff said the poor condition of the library may have been the reason why few readers visit the library despite the large population of polytechnic students in the area.

The situation is the same at the divisional library in Uyo which also serves as the headquarters of libraries in the State.

Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State, has a Federal University and several polytechnics.

Poor lighting at Divisional Library, Uyo.
Poor lighting at Divisional Library, Uyo.
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Although reconstructed in May 2008, the library is dilapidated and not study-friendly. Users of the library told our reporter that the library rarely fulfils their information needs. The wet ceiling reveals the roof is leaking. The lighting is poor as most electrical bulbs and fans are inoperative.

The staff of the facility told this newspaper that the generating set available at the library has remained down for over six years now, leaving the library to rely on epileptic public electricity.

It was observed that the most recent books on the scanty shelves of the library are dated 2009 and mostly tagged as gifts. Periodicals like newspapers were mainly dated 2020. The most recent periodical in the library was the State-owned newspaper, Pioneer, dated May 2022 whereas this reporter visited in September 2022.

Leaking roof at Divisional Library, Uyo.
Poor lighting at Divisional Library, Uyo.
Poor lighting at Divisional Library, Uyo.

Among the divisional libraries in the state, Abak library, rehabilitated in September 2011, is the only library with almost full books on the shelves and a relatively convenient reading environment. Regardless, readers in the library said that electricity has not been regular.

A student of Federal Polytechnic, Ukana, who gave his name as Jackson, met at the library by our reporter, and expressed frustration.

Poor lighting condition at Divisional Library, Abak.
Poor lighting condition at Divisional Library, Abak.
Full books on the shelves at Divisional Library, Abak.
Full books on the shelves at Divisional Library, Abak.

He said it is nearly impossible to undertake quality research in the library because most books are outdated.

Abandoned Library Projects 

In addition to several rundown libraries in Akwa Ibom state, there are many other library projects abandoned by the state government. These projects are located in Ukanafun, Oron and Ikot Abasi local government areas.

When TheMail Newspaper visited the facility designated for the library at Ukanafun, the building was under lock. Although situated at the council Secretariat and inaugurated for use in February 1997, the council staff told our reporter that the facility had only a few books but stopped functioning about 10 years ago when the state government stopped paying attention.

The Council Chairman, Godwin Inyieng and the House of Assembly member of the area, Charity Ido, when contacted, declined comment on the state of the library.

Library Building, Ukanafun.
Library Building, Ukanafun.

At Ikot Abasi local government area, a storey building is provided for the divisional library.  Yet, it has remained abandoned. The surrounding of the facility has been overgrown by weeds.

Checks reveal that books and furniture were not provided for the library to commence operation.  When contacted, the Member, Ikot Abasi/ Eastern Obolo State Constituency, Uduak Odudoh said he was as helpless and concerned as his people that the structure was abandoned.

” I hope to ensure that there is budgetary provision and releases for the library in 2023, especially now that Ikot Abasi has a Federal University of Technology”, Odudoh who is also Chairman of the House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance, said.

Abandoned library building, Ikot Abasi.
The abandoned library building, Ikot Abasi.

At Oron local government area, which plays host to a Federal Government Maritime Academy, the structure designated to house the divisional library Oron lays waste. The roofless structure has been covered by bushes.

Abandoned Oron library building now bush.
The abandoned Oron library building now overtaken by bush.

A chief, Asuquo Effiong Otuakak, the Village Head of Udung Anwan Village, Eyoabasi where the library structure is located said the State government, during the administration of Governor Victor Attah provided a structure for the library but without furniture and books.

” When Governor Attah left without providing books for the library, it was abandoned, and years later, people started stealing things like the roof, and since then, it has remained the way you have seen,” he said.

The traditional ruler called on the state government to complete the building and provide a library for the area noting that continuous abandonment of the library project by two successive administrations is a subtle way of suppressing the literary advancement of the people of Oron federal constituency.

Curiously, an analysis of successive budgets presented by the administration of Governor Udom Emmanuel (2016 through 2022) does not have provisions for the completion or furnishing of Ikot Abasi and Ukanafun libraries.

It was only in the 2019 approved budget that a provision of N5m was made for the completion of the divisional library at Oron. However, checks into the financial statements for that year show that funds were not released for the project.

Library decay caused by misplaced priority

The poor condition of the libraries in Akwa Ibom state is not a happenstance. It reflects Akwa Ibom state government’s spending priority in education, most importantly, the level of importance attached to reading.

Analysis of the Appropriation Laws of the state shows that the state government is aware of the deplorable condition of libraries in the State and understands the need to address the decay. Yet, misplaced priority has been the reason for the neglect.

Checks into the budget of Akwa Ibom State from 2015 through 2022 show that in eight years, the State Government budgeted a total of N995.55m for library development across the state.

The line items which have been recurring in successive year budgets for the library development include the provision of books/equipment and furniture for each of the five divisional libraries in Ikot Ekpene, Abak, Eket, Etinan and Uyo.

Others are renovation/rehabilitation of each of the aforementioned libraries, provision of equipment/facilities for the library on wheels programme, purchase of 50 number of computers sets with accessories for the five divisional libraries mentioned, provision of internet facilities at each of the five libraries, provision of binding equipment/facilities in the five libraries, and construction of a new central library in Uyo and new divisional libraries.

Yet, analysis of the Accountant General’s reports and audited financial statements for 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 shows that no dime was released for any of the items/projects under library development.

Yet, analysis of the Accountant General’s reports and audited financial statements for 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 shows that no dime was released for any of the items/projects under library development.

Analysis of financial statements shows that the last capital expenditure made for library development in the State was in 2014, and N6m was spent for the ” provision of books/ equipment for libraries in the state”.

TheMail Newspaper, through the Freedom of Information Act (2011) and Fiscal Responsibility Law of Akwa Ibom state sought to know the expenditure the state made on library development from 2015 to the second quarter of 2022. This request was ignored.

However, a senior civil servant in the ministry of education who cannot be named in this report for safety concerns disclosed that there had been no capital expenditure for library development from 2015 till date. The source said the N6m spent in 2014 was used to procure chairs across the libraries.

Yet, despite neglecting divisional libraries, the state government continues to spend millions of naira yearly for the salaries and wages of library staff in Akwa Ibom state.

Analysis of the financial statements from 2015 to 2021 shows that the government of Akwa Ibom State spent N301.5m on personnel costs under Akwa Ibom State Library Board.

This implies that for each of the seven years, Akwa Ibom State Government spent an average of N43.07m to pay salaries of staff made redundant due to non-functional libraries.

Amount spent yearly on controversial hotels after inauguration could have fixed Akwa Ibom Libraries

Less than a kilometre from the ruins of the divisional library in Ikot Ekpene is a state-owned four-star hotel project called Four Points by Sheraton. Although inaugurated by the immediate past administration for use in 2015 with all the physical compliments of a hotel during its commissioning, the luxury hotel, seven years after, is yet to be opened for business.

Surprisingly, Governor Udom Emmanuel who witnessed the inauguration in 2015 as Secretary to the State Government has continued to budget billions on the construction and maintenance of the hotel.

Governor Emmanuel (Right) at the inauguration of the hotel.
Governor Emmanuel (Right) at the inauguration of the hotel.

For instance, between 2018 and 2022, Udom’s administration budgeted a total of N13.2bn for the ” Four Points by Sheraton Hotel -Ikot Ekpene” project.

In two years alone (2018 and 2019) which TheMail Newspaper could access the capital expenses, the hotel gulped N1.85billion.

In these two years, N796.7million was disbursed for the “purchase of additional generators, chillers and dedicated power supply”, N527m spent on maintenance, while N200m was spent on furniture and deposit for the hotel operator.

A subhead tagged completion of external works at the hotel gulped N325m for two years.

TheMail Newspaper on September 13, 2022, filed an FOI request to the Ministry of Special Duties seeking detailed information about the expenses made on the hotel between 2015 and 2021.

The newspaper specifically requested evidence of expenditures, the amount spent each year, the identity of the contractor(s) and copy of contractual agreements on the project.

The request despite acknowledgement of receipt by the ministry has not gotten a response till date, thus raising suspicion about the management of state resources by Udom’s administration.

Curiously, on October 18, 2022, 33 days after the ministry received TheMail’s FOI request asking for evidence of spending for the hotel, the State Executive Council of Akwa Ibom State government for the first time after the inauguration of the hotel in 2015 considered a report on the state of the hotel.

According to the excerpts of the executive council meeting published by the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Information, Ini Ememobong, immediately after the meeting, the hotel has now been handed over to Marriot Group and is ready for commercial use.

“Exco received a report on the Four Points by Sheraton hotel at Ikot Ekpene from Honourable Commissioner-Special Duties, intimating that the Hotel, which was previously at 68% completion level in 2015 (according to the Hotel evaluation report), has been fully completed and handed over to Marriot Group and that the test run of the hotel will soon begin. The total number of rooms in the new hotel is 146 and are fully ready for commercial use”, the excerpts read.

But what difference could the controversial billions of naira spent on the Sheraton Hotel in Ikot Ekpene make in renovating libraries across the State?

Since the State government budgeted N121.48m for library development across the State in 2019 and this budget captures all the libraries needs across the state as highlighted earlier, including the completion of the library at Oron, TheMail Newspaper calculated what N417.4m spent for the hotel in 2019 alone can do for libraries.

Analysis shows that only 29.1 per cent of the N417.4m would be needed to cater for library development as budgeted in 2019.

Regarding the abandoned library projects at Ikot Abasi and Ukanafun, since these two projects only need renovation, and provision of furniture and books, N16m will be adequate to address these needs. The State Government budgets N5m for the renovation of each library while N3m is earmarked for the provision of books/equipment, furniture for each library.

Despite the estimated expenses in favour of library development, the State Government will still be left with a balance of N279.9m from the N417.4m spent in 2019 alone.

Akwa Ibom state government keeps mum over poor library condition

Besides not responding to the FOI request for key documents and information required for this investigation, the Commissioner for Education, Idongesit Etiebet was not on seat when TheMail visited her office on October 21 and October 24. She also did not respond to calls and text messages throughout this investigation.

Also, the Chairman of House Committee on Education, Godwin Ekpo did not respond to calls and text messages seeking information on the oversight responsibility the House of Assembly has played to revive libraries in the State.

Take emergency action, salvage our libraries – Organisation tells Akwa Ibom government

A literary organisation in Akwa Ibom State, Uyo Book Club has called on the government of Akwa Ibom State to take urgent action on revitalising libraries across the State.

In an interview, the Founder of the Club, Udeme Nana said the State has lost so much history by allowing almost all of its libraries to rot.

“Take, for instance, Ikot Ekpene; the library there is completely down. This is a library that housed documents on the first experimental local government administration in British West Africa. We have lost history because of the abandonment of libraries,” he said.

He added,” Government should take emergency action to salvage our libraries. They should pay special attention to equipping it with new books, furniture that make reading convenient and also provide around-the-clock services at the library.”

*This Investigation is supported by the John D. and Cathrine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (The ICIR)*

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