INVESTIGATION… Enugu public libraries in ruins despite huge budgetary allocations –Part 2
In this concluding part of the series on the budgeted for, but not funded Enugu State libraries; the searchlight is beamed on Awgu, Amufie and Ibagwa-Aka. Libraries here remain in sorry states due to lack of funding. Many questions remain unanswered as our reporter, PATRICK EGWU, continues his exploratory quest to unearth reasons for the poor state of the three remaining public libraries in Enugu state despite huge budgetary allocations.
JUST as the previous libraries featured in the part one of this investigative report; Awgu LGA library is at its final stage of total collapse. Its walls are cracked. Its roofs are falling apart. As for its ceilings, they are drippy.
The library located in the state where the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, hails from, regrettably is in a shambles. Needless to repeat, it’s In a poor infrastructural state coupled with lack of reading materials and basic necessities to make it a library indeed. As for the shelves, they are almost empty while exhibiting a few outdated books.
Established in the 1980s, Agwu library’s poor state provides an attraction for miscreants and hoodlums who have turned it to their operational base and hiding place largely due to its bad state.
The library’s principal officer, Georgina Udeh, bemoaned,“Our library is crumbling. We lack basic facilities – the windows and doors are all damaged and we even have no toilets. The worst are the big cracks on the walls. Look at the grounds like it’s going to cave in like an earthquake someday soon. We are daily in fear of our stay here as it seems a looming danger for staff, students and other library users.
“Here, dreaming of new books acquisition is like expecting ‘Alice in wonderland’. Just take a look at our shelves to grasp the full extent of what I am talking about. We can only call on the deputy senate president and other government officials to come and rehabilitate this library,” Udeh pleaded.
In a circumstance similar to the experience of other previous library officials, Udeh said: “We have written letters to the library Board for intervention. But since then, no help has come our way.” Showing copies of the letters as proofs, she adds: “Nothing has happened after these letters were delivered to them. Nothing, like I told you before.”
An immediate past councilor, Agwu LGA, and currently a user of the library, Michael Kelle, took this reporter down memory lane of its history. His narration: “This building was established by the Second Republic government of the late former President, Shehu Shagari since the 1980s. Then later, they decided to equip it as a library. But the building was not fully put into any meaningful use until around 1997. Then, the State Education Commission decided to establish the Awgu-zone of the Post-Primary School Management Board (PPSMB). So they used this place as the takeoff point.
“By the time the then government was ready to establish a library in the area, they considered this place a better choice. That’s when they transmuted the structure from the PPSMB and converted it to a full time library. And that’s rightly so because it was originally built for the library. Also, it was much easier for the State Library Board to locate their zonal library office here since this is an existing structure meant for that purpose. The gloomiest part of the whole story is that, since then, about thirty-eight years ago, this building has not been given any form of makeover or refurbishment, but rather left fallow and almost roofless as every portion of it leaks. In addition, children and miscreants now use it as their playground and hideouts. But where else can we go to use? That’s why you see that the staff and users still use the place,” he recounted.
Kelle added that despite the poor situation of the library, “users, especially students, still throng the facility as there is no other better one to go. It’s just kind of empty now because schools are on vacation. All the same, this should not be an ideal excursion library for school children. It has nothing to show them in terms of knowing what a library should look like. And that’s why we are calling on the government to fix this place and upgrade it to what a standard library should be,” Kelle said, as he flipped through a file in front of him.
“In fact, every library official here has tried their best beckoning on the government to come to their aid. Some months ago, the education commissioner visited to assess the situation of things. He claimed not to be happy and promised that government will look into it. He also advised us to ensure that the local government partakes in making the library wear a new look. But, that’s all to it. All barks but no bites! We’ve not seen anything till date. It could be they are still doing the paper works. Mind you, we’re talking about the only library that serves a wide range of communities users come from. It’s so unfortunate.”
Kelle further noted that due to security concerns, “some types of equipment and infrastructure cannot be fixed in the library because the building lacks perimeter fencing. Until the building is rehabilitated and fortified to ensure security, high quality books and equipment cannot be brought in yet. But when everything is in its proper shape, indigenes can be persuaded to donate to the library. For now, nobody would be willing to contribute anything.”
Tracking the monies
In the 2016 budget, where N43,033,152 was budgeted for the library at Agwu, N1,500,000 was slated for the construction of 1 block of 4 toilets and another N6,500,000 allotted for the rehabilitation of the zonal library. Up till the filing of this report, nothing close to renovation or infrastructural upgrade has been done on the library.
Likewise, in the state’s 2017 overall budget of N54,370,000 to the library Board; N5 million was recurrently planned for the same Agwu zonal library rehabilitation. Another N1 million budgeted for the construction of the same 1 block of 4 toilets as done in the previous year still featured again. However, despite these monies, none of the projects mentioned saw the light of the day as this reporter went round to scrutinize the entire library surrounding.
Again, in the 2018 budget of N37,500,000, N2 million was slated for the exact rehabilitation of Awgu library, with another N1 million again, earmarked for construction of toilets as was the case in the previous years’ budgets. Yet as before, the toilet, government has failed to release funds for these allocations. Users resort to doing easing themselves in near-by bushes.
As if the poor state of the Agwu library is not bad enough, in a scenario akin to adding pepper to injuries, this reporter saw a huge refuse dump site oozing out stench that pose a potential health hazard to library officials, users and even close-by residents.
Ibagwa-Aka and Amufie libraries – not faring better
THE reporter’s visits to these last two libraries reveal similar tales of woes. Nothing impressive was seen about any of them. They are all ramshackle buildings with fallen roofs and empty shelves amid bushy environments. As for the staff, their countenance conveyed disappointment and hopelessness.
A narration about the divisional library revealed that it was established in 2005 and located in Ibagwa-Aka in Igboeze South LGA of the state. It was started as a monthly fixed-rate rented apartment by the library board. And just as others before, this library boasts of a total absence of library needs for its teeming users of students and visitors. And, it is located in a remote area with poor road networks, no electricity and toilet facilities.
The library, which has a 24-seat capacity, is not only ancient in looks, it is very poorly ventilated with no ceiling fans or electricity. It has no sections like bindery, children and reference expected of a typical library. In addition, with the absence of electricity, installation of computers and desktops to access online materials and data bases becomes needless.
Lamenting, Livinus Eke, the library assistant, told the reporter: “Users barely come here because of our remote location. The only time we see them are close to, or during their exam periods. Then, those from neighbouring villages also come sometimes to use the library. Other times, we stay here without having anybody to come around.”
Fate of Amufie library
“LIBRARIES in Enugu are in a financial mess. All library managements have approached the state government severally at different states, but nothing positive has been received on our outcries. Without mincing words, urgent assistance is needed to revamp them. We need you to communicate our plights to the government for speedy intervention,” Eze pleaded.
A clerical officer, Patience Ugwu, who has been working at the library since 2006, also added her voice to the pleas. She said: “The abject lack of essential library necessities discourage users from coming all the time as they never get their quest for deeper knowledge met.”
Their lamentations tally with the similar realities seen at the Amufie library located in Igboeze North LGA, as it has no basic supplies. The building was once a community-owned town hall. It was later donated to the government to use as the library. Worse still is that the inside is so oven-hot that users who visit for one academic purpose or the other, run for their lives.
It is merely a hall without sections, wooden seats and reading desks which are not only old, but in a bad shape and surrounded by bushes. On its shelves, few old books were displayed. With about 25-30 sitting capacity, there was no user at the time of visit. The security man, who simply gave his name as Samson, ushering in this reporter, said users and students in the area hardly patronize the library.
When asked the whereabouts of the librarian-in-charge, Samson said she had gone to the bank for some transactions and would soon return. But after about 2-hours of waiting for her, this reporter took his leave.
This reporter spoke with a Professor of Library and Information Science at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Professor Charles Omekwu, who said regrettably that the society does not cherish education.
“We are living in a culture in which the value and importance of information and knowledge are yet to be treasured. But the painful aspect is that you cannot be more powerful than the information and knowledge you possess. Every library is an institution, a place people visit to access information, acquire knowledge and improve themselves. So when a nation, state or university has poorly equipped library infrastructure and facility, it is most likely going to translate to a citizenry that is not well informed and knowledgeable,” he stated.
Omekwu said the result of this unfortunate scenario is that “information rich countries will continue to dominate information poor countries. We must accept that the world is currently running on a knowledge-based economy and a library is the store house of basic gen and understanding for our people to match up.”
And until funds meant for the revamping and stocking of Enugu State public libraries are judiciously utilized or those responsible held to account, the conditions of these libraries will continue to remain poor and in a bad shape, rundown and inoperable for needful users.
But the cheery news here is that, the library security personnel told this reporter that a new structure is currently under construction by the library board to replace this old one.
Trailing the Money – 2016-2018
WHILE the back-and-forth persists regarding where the monies for Enugu libraries are; the reporter went to the State Ministry of Finance with the intent to trail the cash in the government coffers. Sadly, he met the absence of Finance and Economic Development Commissioner, Mrs. Eucharia Uche-Offor. He then made an attempt to speak with the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr Benedeth Ezema. But he too, was reportedly absent.
The reporter then commenced a thorough inquiry into how library funds have been allotted in the last two years.
In the 2016 budget, the sum of N43,033,152 was earmarked for the Enugu State Library Board. It was intended for the total overhauling of the five libraries including rehabilitation, renovation and construction of toilets, procurement of different ICT facilities, e-books and journals for the libraries. Out of the total sum, N7,500,000 was budgeted for the renovation of the ECL and N5 million for its ICT centre.
However, as the library currently stands, even the blind could visibly tell that there’s no sign of an ICT centre. Indeed, not even a single mouse or computer can be sighted also as this reporter closely observed. The overall state of the library shows no sign of renovation with its fallen roofs, ceilings, broken windows and bad toilets. Offor maintained: “We don’t have an ICT section and money has never been released to us from the budget as I affirmed.”
Aside that, another N1,848,000 was allocated for the procurement of one printing machine for the bindery section and 15 ceiling fans and one laminating machine. Thorough scrutiny also revealed that none of these items were procured for the library when the reporter visited. Also in the budget was the sum of N750,000 earmarked for the purchase of 30 sets of staff seats and tables with a separate N5 million repeated for the same purpose in 2017. Investigations sadly revealed that till date, available seats in the library remain rickety, termite-infested and in pitiable conditions.
The tales didn’t fare any better in the 2017 budget in which N10 million was budgeted for the rehabilitation of the Enugu Library. A repeat of N5 million still features for the construction of an ICT centre earlier budgeted for in the 2016 fiscal document.
However, in the 2018 budget, from the reporter’s studies of the financial plan, it was discovered that nothing was budgeted for the Enugu Central Library. The only mention of library money was the N2,500,000 meant for the purchase of office equipment such as printers, laminating machines and unspecified number of ceiling fans for the bindery section across the libraries.
Asked however, if there was any money the library board got for the current year, Offor retorted: “Nothing! And I tell you that even the N15 million and N25 million earmarked for a library bus in 2017 and 2018 budgets respectively, never got to us. As we speak, we don’t have an operational vehicle here as our own. The one bought twelve years ago has broken down and to repair it is a big problem.”
Also speaking on these findings, deputy director, library Board, Ms. Angela Aroh, said: “Serious lack of funds remain a basic challenge affecting library staff and services as there is equally no single amount of money for purchase of books. Previously, government used to give book grants. But that is no more. The little money they give cannot even pay salaries and we are running short of staff. That’s aside the fact that many have retired and there is no money to hire new ones. In fact, the retirees are being owed.”
Aroh further corroborated Offor’s submissions that letters had been written to the government for intervention, “but nothing has happened till date. The library is really backward in Enugu while some other libraries in the South East are doing well. You can see our reading rooms are in a bad shape,” she said pointing to a broken down reading desk. She went on: “There is no light and we cannot pay our bills. We have a big generator given to us by a former governor, but it is bad now and we cannot fix it. And even if it is fine, we cannot buy the diesel to run it. We tried to have an e-library here but we couldn’t pay the network providers.”
Puzzled at the untraceable huge sums of monies mentioned much as the reporter endeavoured to unravel the knotted riddles, his probing mind still yearns for answers. In the light of denials and counter denials, his main question remains: Where are these monies held or kept and with whom, since clear claims are that they are not demanded for and/or released?
All eyes and ears are continuously on the authorities concerned and mentioned in the report in hope that they can proffer needed responses.
…This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.