Cross River State Library …when the governed is denied access to knowledge
Over the years, experts have summarised the vital roles that libraries play in the lives of societies, just as they have pointed out what a disservice it constitutes to pay scant attention to these facilities.
Norwegian writer and law professor at the Norwegian Research Centre for Computers and Law, and the Faculty of Law at the University of Oslo, Jon Bing, who was considered a pioneer in international IT and information law gave his opinion this way: “To ask why we need libraries at all when there is so much information available elsewhere, is about as sensible as asking if roadmaps are necessary now that there are so very many roads.”
While Eleanor Crumblehulme, a former library assistant at the University of British Columbia, Canada, elected to summarise the all-time importance of libraries thus: “Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague,” Isaac Asimov, American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, elected to be a bit more elaborate.
Considered during his lifetime as one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov in explaining the importance of a library wrote: “It isn’t just a library. It is a spaceship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life.”
Many experts sum up the definition of a library as a collection of information, sources, resources, and services, organised for the use and organisation of a public group, institution, or individual.
In other words, a collection of books and allied services used by people who choose not to purchase, or cannot buy a huge collection on their own, or who need professional help for their research among others.
Beyond being a large assemblage of assorted literature, libraries in some climes represent community centres, social interaction platforms, and locations where members of the public have free access to information.
By their nature and design, libraries are expected to be safe, serene, secure, and comfortable if they must be fit for purpose. And with changes in society happening at breakneck speed, innovation, and creativity must be brought to bear by their managers.
All these explain why many national and sub-national governments are not only investing in their public libraries but are doing everything to bring them up to speed with contemporary trends, especially given the livewire effect that libraries have on societies.
Sadly, Nigeria has not been a good example of a country that places a lot of premium on libraries or library services. Cross River State, led by two professors – as governor and deputy, is among states that are showing bad examples of how not to run public libraries.
Cross River State Library As Appalling Example From Within
GOVERNOR Benedict Bengiuoshuye Ayade, apart from being a politician, is an environmentalist, and lawyer who parades a massive chest of academic laurels.
Born on March 2, 1968, Ayade who hails from Obudu Local Council, holds a B.Sc., LLB, BL, M.Sc., MBA, LLM, and a Ph.D, which he bagged at 26 from the University of Ibadan. He became a professor of science at the age of 36.
Ayade’s research works won him several awards, including a 6 million JPY Ph.D. grant from Japan for his contribution to Methano Genenesis, and Global Warming.
Prof. Ivara Ejemot Esu, Ayade’s deputy, is a soil scientist (pedologist), who has taught in various tertiary institutions, including the Kaduna Polytechnic; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, University of Calabar, University of Uyo and the University of Ghana, Legon, Accra. He is also a former vice-chancellor of the University of Calabar (UNICAL).
Never in the history of the state has it been led by a composition of eggheads with the combined cranium capacity, and educational pedigree of Ayade and Esu. But how these two have driven past a dilapidated library for about six years, and still let it lie in ruins to date remains a paradox.
This contradiction, many say, calls to question, the duo’s passion for education and knowledge acquisition, in an era where the knowledge economy is aggressively gaining foothold globally.
For emphasis, the Cross River State Library Complex is not a nondescript structure that is tucked away in one part of the state. It is strategically located in the state capital and has a trove of history behind it.
Located on the site of the defunct Bricksfield Prison, where former UPN leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was imprisoned, one part of the perimetre fence is the giant Bricksfield Prison wall. The wall is the existing part of the first maximum security prison in the country, built in 1890. The historic building was destroyed during the Nigerian Civil War. The state library supplanted the prison.
The imposing structure, which is directly opposite the Headquarters, Cross River State Command of the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCS), is bordered on one side by the popular 11 11 Roundabout, better known as the Cenotaph, which is home to the statue of the unknown soldier.
On the side of the historical prison wall, a street sets the building apart from the Udoakaha Jacob (UJ) Esuene International Stadium.
Its central location in the Calabar Municipal Council is further underscored by the fact that it is less than half a kilometre from the governor and deputy governors’ lodges, while it is also barely 600 metres from the Governor’s Office Complex. Indeed, most times that the governor and his deputy are going to, or returning from work, they sight the disused facility, which was state-of-the-art upon its inauguration.
Different military and civilian administrations, including that of Navy Captain Ibim Ebenezer Princewill, and Chief Clement David Ebri, all registered their imprints and contributed their quota to sustaining the library project. But despite all these, the library was nowhere near where the Donald Duke-led administration took it to – an ultra-modern library, with all appurtenances.
Stocked with over 4,000 books, the comfy ambience, well-laid-out bookshelves, and neatly arranged comfortable seats made patronising the library a delightsome experience. Among the books collection, were relevant journals, reports, periodicals other similar materials.
Well-mowed lawns, flower hedges, large plants that provide shade around, and paved pathways added to the aesthetics of the facility.
Under Duke, the structure was kept spick and span, and a part of it- the Conference Centre- hosted choice state functions, in addition to other events of local and international acclaim.
“For three years of the four that I spent in the University of Calabar, I used the state library complex most weekends, and my memories of those days remain very pleasant. It was a few years after it became operational that I noticed that the grounds of the facility were rented out for social functions. Even though I, like many others, did not appreciate the idea, because we were reasonably insulated from noise rising from such functions, we still trudged on,” Ofem Ubi, an accountant told The Guardian.
He continued: “This library had books that were modern and up to date. With the cozy ambience, you could be soaked in reading without noticing that hours were flying past. The glass walls enabled you to take in a few spectacles when bored, but without being bothered by the accompanying noise.”
Years after Governor Duke was succeeded by Senator Liyel Imoke, the structure began showing signs of scant attention. It did not take very long for the cracks to widen and become something akin to crevasses.
With the lack of attention from the government becoming evident, part of the perimeter fence came down, and the water and toilet facilities broke down just as non-payment of mounting electricity bills has left the complex without power for years.
With this scenario, the complex effectively became a ghost town, while still battling antiquated books syndrome.
It was in this state that a fire incident, at the state branch of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), led to an explosion that shattered the glass walls of the library.
For years, those without option that still use the facility in that horrible state have been contending with the noise pollution from the extremely busy Calabar Road, where it is located. Heatwave sear through the shattered glass walls, especially during the dry season, and rains also do their worse during the rainy season thereby contributing their quota to reducing activities in the complex and making a mockery of the once-befitting library complex.
Having sunk to the abyss, the state government in 2018, announced plans to facelift the facility during an inspection visit by Senator Ayade.
During the visit, the governor admitted that the library has been, “a bit ineffectual and almost in a state of collapse.”
“There are two major emphasis here in this library. One is the business component which has to do with reprography, has to do with binding and all sorts of services that have to do with education-related matters, including research and development, serving of journals and other learned articles of high repute.
The other component is the public service, which has to do with the public coming in at low cost,” Ayade said.
In deploring the state of the library then, he added: “For 10 years, this library has been in a state of collapse. We are renovating, reinvigorating, and revitalising, bringing in a lot of equipment, new technology, and different access to conducting research in a modern way.
“It is our intention to ensure that this library gets on board and fully in use by the close of November and at the very worst, second or third week of December, the library will be proper and fully in use,” he stated.
On the cost, Ayade said: “It is inestimable at this point because it is a cascaded reaction. As you get into refurbishment, you never can know where it will be, it will be millions and millions of Naira. Definitely, I am sure it is not going to cost us less than a hundred million naira as it stands.”
In his remarks, the then Chairman of the State Library Board, Mr. Andrew Ita Bassey said: “You will agree with me that the state of dilapidation knows no bounds, everything has collapsed. But, I am believing that before the end of the year, it is going to be an entirely different place.”
No sooner had the contractor moved into the site than it abandoned the facility and never returned four years after. All the promises made by Ayade remain unkept.
‘Ayade Government Not Anti-intellectualism’
Chief Press Secretary and Special Adviser, Media to Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, rejects any attempt by any person, or group to paint the outgoing administration as being anti-intellectual.
According to him: “One single administration cannot address all the problems of the state, but it is important to highlight the fact that the same Ayade-led administration has bequeathed to the state, two world-class institutions- the Teachers Continuous Training Institute in Biase Local Council, and the British-Canadian University of Law and Medicine in Obudu. These two schools demonstrate the commitment of the administration to the educational sector.”
He added: “The state library was already in a bad shape before the Ayade-led administration came on board. In 2018, the library was renovated with a lot of structural improvements, including even part of the roof. Unfortunately, the library got damaged by a heavy windstorm, especially the glass panels.”
Political Class Deliberately Keeping Populace Blind For Easy Manipulation
CROSS River State as of 2022 had an estimated population of about five million people, with far less than 10 public libraries servicing the predominantly youth segment.
Ubi was quick to recall Crumblehulme’s submission insisting that whatever the financial state of the state may be, starving citizens of library services to feed other sectors is counterproductive.
“Said he: “When Eleanor Crumblehulme of the University of British Columbia said: ‘Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague,’ she meant every word of it. I want to say that there is no reason to shut the doors of knowledge against knowledge seekers simply because the economy is in dire straits. Acquisition of new knowledge can sucker-punch poverty and illiteracy out of the way and help create sustainable wealth.
“Having stayed in office for nearly eight years, Ayade’s administration has shown a very poor example of how to run a knowledge mill. Guess what? The treatment of the state library is a confirmation of the deliberate way that the political class manipulates the populace blind for easy manipulation,” Ubi stated.
Third Republic lawmaker, Moses Oko, who represented Ogoja Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, agrees with Ubi that politicians take delight in keeping the people down intellectually.
Oko said: “Knowledge is unarguably the window through which we explore the world, and libraries are storehouses or repositories of knowledge accumulated by the hard work of other people for the sake of research and further discoveries. Not having functional libraries in the state could be a deliberate attempt by the leadership to keep the populace perpetually blind so that they can be continually manipulated to do their bidding such as in elections. This was eloquently expressed by a former President of the French National Convention, Maximilien Rosbespierre, who said: ‘The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.’ That could be surmised in Governor Ayade not showing interest in reequipping the library, and the development of education, as well as the recruitment of over 6, 000 youths as appointees, and paying them what he called ‘food on the table.’
“The former national lawmaker continued: “The dysfunctionality of the state library over a period of five years is to me a microcosm leading to the larger decadence in everything in the state, including educational standards, moral standards, dilapidated infrastructure, the loss of honest labour, lackadaisical attitude to work, carting away of government resources, unbearable filth in a state, which was once the cynosure of all eyes, and the prevalence of lies and propaganda in high and low places. In less than eight years, these negative tendencies have taken over the state…”
Oko recalled: “Libraries in the state were in some appreciable level of use before Ayade came, and when the governor did not have any pretention to the acquisition of academic laurels. But despite his intellectual prowess, he fell flat in the exhibition of the refinement of the hyperbolism of intellectualism and resorted to intellectual arrogance by which his unfeelingness bastardised and vandalised the libraries while he did nothing, but watch them peter out of existence.
“It is even more unfortunate that a man with such intellectual fecundity has not shown any respect for intellectual pursuits in a state loaded with many tertiary institutions such as the University of Calabar, Arthur Javis University, Akpabuyo, Cross River State the University of Technology (CRUTECH), and several colleges of education. The high level of government’s unconcern over the fallen state of libraries in the state sums up Governor Ayade as a mere pretender to the flaunting of the so-much academic laurels.
In responding to those that are alleging that two professors at the helm have failed to prioritise library services, and by extension education, Oko, an author said: “Let me, first of all, make a distinction between the two professors. Ayade is the executive governor of Cross River State, while Prof. Ivara Esu is a deputy governor. We all know that the office of the deputy governor in Nigeria functions not only at the mercy of the governor but also by his caprices. The deputy governor does only what the governor assigns to him. And with Ayade, Prof. Esu would pinch himself and play by the rules to avoid the danger of being tagged as intransigent.
“In such a situation, the man who knows all would find nothing good to tap from Esu, who had been a scholar long before Ayade graduated from school. Ayade came to governance as a businessman who placed a premium on areas most profitable to him, and not for the benefit of the generality of the public. That was why his people of the Northern Senatorial District rejected him in the National Assembly poll of March 27, 2023,” Oko alleged, adding that the “result of the election should have been an eye opener to Ayade, and his ilk that the transience of power requires the holder to tread with caution as it could be so ephemeral.”
With the constant rise of the knowledge economy globally at a time that Nigerian youths/students are being starved of libraries be they conventional, or e-libraries, the politician regretted that “Africa and Nigeria cardinally have become passive recipients of the ideas of Europe and other climes with nothing to add or gain. Up to this time, Nigeria is a receiving and consumer nation of foreign goods. As the average Nigerian leader has nothing to show, but prides himself on the consideration that if he is doing well, then the nation is doing well.”
Across the country, state governors make huge noise about funding education, but some leave offices after eight years without building a single library, or equipping an existing one thereby underplaying the importance of libraries in the education value chain.
For Oko: “The poor attitude of the government towards libraries could never reduce its value. It can only betray the government as an unserious one. The dwindling nature of the functions of the libraries only points to the falling standard of education. This is further underscored by the fact that most of the libraries so painfully abandoned were built, and furnished by the government of yesteryears that understood the value of the library to learning, and education. Meanwhile, the importance of the library in a vibrant education sector cannot be overemphasised. Libraries are, and will remain storehouses of knowledge, and are very invaluable to research.”
Libraries Deficit Denying Indigent Students Access To Resource Materials, Others
THE President of the Nigeria Library Association (NLA), Mr. Dominic Omokaro, is concerned with the thinning number of functional libraries in the country, and its consequences on the learning public.
“The consequences of the lack of a functional library in any state are enormous. Youths are exposed to other vices instead of studying. Secondly, it denies indigent students access to resource materials for their studies. It also denies the citizenry a conducive environment for self-study and development. All of these are factors responsible for so many vices in our society.”
He continued: “The library is the pivot upon which most educational activities rotate. There is a government policy on education that states that all primary and secondary schools should have libraries and of course, tertiary institutions cannot strive without a library. But, I can tell you authoritatively that hardly can you see libraries in most primary and secondary schools in Nigeria today. The reason is because of the lack of interest in education.
Omokaro, noted that youths/students seeming lack of interest and abandonment of libraries “stems from poor library infrastructure and poor funding. Again, the advent of technology is also affecting students utilising the libraries.
On the place of libraries in the education value chain, Omokaro said: “The library is second in order of importance in the educational value chain. After the establishment of a school, the library is next, and key for the survival of that institution as it gives access to a world of knowledge for the school.”
The NLA bemoaned the “insensitivity of government towards library development in most states of the federation,” stressing that this “is coming from the fact that most chief executives don’t see any economic value in library development, and as such do not give it attention. What they fail to know or realise is that the library is the public university of the people and a well-developed human capital is a key to their economic development.”