Libraries are treated like museums by people in government, says Abdullahi
One issue that poses a source of worry to President, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), MALLAM DENJA ABDULLAHI, as he heads to Makurdi, Benue State, for this year’s ANA International Convention from October 26 through 29, 2017, is the absence of libraries or poor state of the few existing ones in most Nigerian communities. As a writer, his worry is germane because of the role libraries play in book development, knowledge economy, educating the populace and in the life of writers. Abdullahi’s worry becomes compounded, especially in a country fast sinking into irredeemable illiteracy. In this interview, Abdullahi shares some of his thoughts with Assistant Arts Editor, ANOTE AJELUOROU
Abuja does not have a National Library yet as a federal capital city. How bad is this for writers and readers alike?
The National Library is under construction and it appears a massive concrete building that one begins to wonder if it is the way National Libraries are built in today’s world, where the emphasis is on e-library and its limitless reach. We are hopeful that when the edifice is completed it will be named after a prominent Nigerian writer, possibly Chinua Achebe.
Government and private libraries dot Abuja. So, those who really want to use a library or have the time to consult one know where to go. There is a library in Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, alongside National Library in Area 2 and Children’s Library in Zone 4. The resources in the government-owned libraries may be out of date, as expected, but the private libraries are good enough for consultation.
Libraries have become luxury items in the country whereas their existence ought to serve as platforms for buying/collecting books from writers like you.
What does this absence mean to you and members of your association, especially in terms of revenue loss?
It may interest you to know that most government libraries do not have budgets for buying or re-stocking books and other library resources. Even Libraries found in some specialised government institutions are not fond of renewing their bibliographical resources. Funds earmarked for buying books and periodicals are often diverted or the managers of the places do not care about the libraries or see any correlation between a good library and productivity of their staff at their work places. The way libraries are left to rot everywhere connects to why writers and publishers hardly make anything from their labour. It is high time our government introduced a policy of buying at least 1000 copies of every good book produced in the country. This is done in Norway and other countries where books are valued.
If the above is true, why is it that writers haven’t mounted the kind of pressure on government to do the needful in establishing libraries across the country?
What does it really cost to establish and maintain a library? It is actually not all that a capital intensive exercise, but misapplication and outright embezzlement of resources will not allow most governments and their agencies to establish libraries, as it is expected. Libraries are treated like museums by people in government! Even educational institutions do not give the needed priorities to libraries but wait on international and local NGOS like ANA to donate books and other library resources to them. Writers within ANA have been part of schemes that donate books to libraries across Nigeria or advocate for the keeping of schools and community libraries. We have been mounting our pressure as circumstance will allow us but in the absence of a National Book Policy, our pressure may not lead to any noble effort from the government.
A nation is supposed to have a book policy that guides the operations of the book industry. The policy normally shows how government can create enabling environment for writers and other stakeholders in the book industry to operate. It is sad that the policy is presently not in existence and has never been implemented even when a draft of it was said to be operational some years ago. The book policy is also supposed to give effect to a National Book Advisory Council, made up of stakeholders in the book industry, that would oversee the implementation of the book policy.
The distortions and gaps in the book industry are there because of the absence of a viable book policy, which we, the stakeholders, seek to correct. ANA is in league with other stakeholders in the industry like the publishers association, librarians, booksellers to ensure the draft policy gathering dust in some government agency’s shelve is reviewed, activated and made fully operational.
It’s the same thing at the state and local government levels, which wasn’t the case some years back. What can be done to reverse this obvious negative trend of cities and communities without libraries?
Just as it is being advocated in the film circle for a cinema house to be built in each local government, a modern and standardised library should be built in, at least, every local government headquarter and maintained by government. The problem has to be tackled with the relevant government policy of a model library for each local government area in Nigeria. The implementation of the policy can be factored into the relevant department of government. I wonder why we still talk of huge tome of funds lying in UBEC-SUBEB unused, when we do not have libraries in schools or befitting ones anywhere. As for cities and communities without libraries, city councils and communities have governing authorities and municipal councils that can embark on library building and renewal projects.
You are right by the allusion to the thriving community libraries of yore, where our (young) imaginations were fired many years back. Those golden days of community libraries went down, when government at all levels started abdicating their responsibility to the faceless public or that child who needs unhindered access to knowledge. I must admit here that some states’ libraries are well kept and top of the range, but there are still many that are substandard.
Is there a book division/department in the Ministry of Culture at all, as it obtains in other countries like Brazil, India, etc?
There may be one on paper, probably located in a department of research that has long forgotten what research is all about. What we have in the Ministry of Culture today is a far cry from the culture department of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s that facilitated the production of landmark books on Nigerian history, literature and culture. You should ask where is the Nigeria Magazine and Journal hitherto produced by that Ministry in the years I earlier referred to? You can hardly divorce books from culture, but the way culture is being managed today gives no credence to the importance of books to the goal of cultural propagation. That is why we in an association such as ours (ANA) are like orphans tossed between the Ministry of Education and Culture with no one giving us any vital assistance or correcting or minding what we do.
How much of the soul of city or community can a library play? And why has the country’s leadership neglected this important soul food to the people?
We travel often to saner countries like our leaders do and we see specialised and general libraries dotting every corner of modern, smart cities. In a city you are supposed to meet the history and cultural texture of such a city in libraries, bookshops, galleries, museums, performance spaces and exhibition houses. How many of such edifices or spaces exist in Abuja, the newest city in Nigeria? The master plan of Abuja has none of these places of books and culture in them, except the ones that were hurriedly put in place or developed by private individuals. Our leaders do not care a hoot about these things and do we wonder why we are often led badly or why leadership, as we are regularly served in Nigeria, is never inspiring? Leaders without a sense of culture in-built in them will hardly lead well or connect appropriately to the people they are leading. Check all the great leaders of the world or even in Africa and you will discover that they have some of cultural rootedness to their country and the people they led or lead!
With the advent of social media/internet, is there a sense that libraries have become obsolete?
We must concede that the social media has dealt a big blow to the library space, as we traditional know it. You can sit in your house now and surf the world or go into e-shelves without visiting a physical space called a library. But libraries still remain the sanctuaries for knowledge and the hallowed spaces, where you can still go to think and write and come out with a sense of achievement. Libraries will never be obsolete for those who do research, read and write to advance knowledge or just for others to read. Much of what goes on in the social media are banalities. Real work is still being done in libraries and other such quiet spaces.
And how much of social media and electronic gadgets do Nigerians, especially young people deploy in place of libraries?
The smart phones are the new libraries now. The PC is going obsolete, except for compulsory academic work and other such productions in offices and schools. The iPAD and tablets are also being used for mostly what smart phones are deployed for by our young people. To do any serious work today, you may need to turn off the phone, go off the social media – compulsive and addictive applications. To be really productive in today’s world of the social media, one needs a lot of personal discipline.