Friday, January 11, 2013

Traders, artisans take over public library in Lagos

Different faces of the Mainland Library, Oyingbo, Lagos. Photos: Sodiq Oyeleke
The takeover of a public library in Lagos by artisans, traders and car-wash operators has brought to the fore the neglect of public libraries by governments in the country, MOTUNRAYO ABODERIN and SODIQ OYELEKE report. 

The poor state of the library is a pointer to the disdain with which governments in the country hold education. Its walls are cracking. The few number of books in it are obsolete. Chairs and tables therein are antiquities. Rather than serve as a place to acquire knowledge, artisans, car-wash operators and traders have taken over the library. They do their business challenged by only faceless council officials who allegedly collect rents from them. Welcome to Mainland Local Government Library, Oyingbo, Lagos. Though set up to serve as an avenue for knowledge seekers to read and get information, the library has become a shadow of it old self.
When one of our correspondents visited the library, the gate to the main entrance of the library was locked. There were varieties of cars parked waiting to be washed by mobile car-wash operators.  Some parts of the library had been turned into shops while some of the illegal occupants had converted another part of it to a cloth-drying line.
The guards at the entrance to the library said they were instructed not to open it for anybody. However, it was also learnt that the artisans, traders and car wash operators pay ‘rent’ to some people who claimed to be council officials.
Residents of the area said the local government council had, rather than renovating the library, Lagos Mainland Local Government have left it to rot.
According to an elder in the community, who craved anonymity, the local government has abandoned the library for commercial activities instead of the academic purpose for which it was established.
He noted that the library had played an important role in the academic development of youths in the 1970s-1980s.
He said, “The library had provided an avenue for some of us to meet, interact and exchange ideas, knowledge and educate ourselves. But each time I pass by the library, I feel pained because it has always been a reminder to me that our leaders don’t value education. If they do, they would not have abandoned it for some people to be doing business.
“They should remember that the economic benefit they are deriving from it can never be compared with the social and academic purpose it was supposed to serve.”
He added that the library had served as a centre where youths learnt morals and develop psychological orientation of the environment.
“In the early 1990s, there was an attempt to sell the library but the youth resisted it. Then, they even went as far as removing the roof. The only thing that remained was for the structure to be pulled down but we refused, and today, they have abandoned it.
“There was even a situation that the books became obsolete yet we still went there with our books to read. Majority of us who used that library found our ways into the universities easily.”
Also, the President of the Mainland Youth Movement, Mr. Shehu Amodu, lamented the effect of the abandonment of the library on youths in the community.
He explained that the group had written letters to the local government but there was no response.
He said, “The library is not meeting its primary objective, instead what you can find there are shops, car wash and car park and when local government programmes such as kick polio out, malaria net distribution and other programmes are coming up, we do see them open the library. Is that not a pointer to the fact that they don’t value education?
“This is affecting the level of education in this area, because instead of students converging for positive reasons, you now see area boys converging there to smoke hemp and to gamble.” He urged the local government to urgently open the library and stock it with relevant books.
Also, President, National Association of Lagos Mainland Students, Mr. Ayodeji Tinubu, emphasised that government does not pay much attention to the educational sector. 
“I see no reason why a local government library should not be functioning. It shows that the government does not pay attention to the educational development in the Mainland Local Government. It is negligence on the part of the government to have encouraged the misuse of the library,” he said.
He urged the local government to protect the interest of students in the area since the library is the only one in the community.
However, when contacted, the council chairman, Mr. Oladele Adekanye, said the library was locked because it was defective. He added that the council took the decision to lock the library in order to provide safety for its users.
He said, “The library was closed for reading purpose because it was sinking and the wall was already cracking and peeling. So, in the interim, we thought of getting professionals who will give us the cost of reconstructing the library.”
According to him, the council did not have any knowledge that several commercial activities were going on in the library.
Adekanye also denied plans that the council intended to sell the library.
He added, “The security guards there must have been taking advantage of the place because people don’t go there quite often again. They must be responsible for people parking their vehicles and motorcycles and allowing traders to do business there.
“We are not aware that some people are collecting money from people there. We have not sent people there to collect money but to protect the place.
“We know the importance of education and what legacy will I be trying to leave if I don’t value education?”
However, it is not only the Lagos Mainland Library that is in a decrepit state, other public libraries in Lagos have their own fair share of decay.
Other public libraries in Agege, Ilupeju, Ipaja and Yaba visited by our correspondents are nowhere near what a  21st century library should be. For instance, the Herbert Macaulay Library, Yaba, Lagos is old. Despite being stocked up with textbooks for adults, secondary school pupils have nothing to read there. Even the chairs in the pupil section of the library are so small and uncomfortable. There are no computers.
An official who refused to disclose his name acknowledged that the library had not concentrated enough on the section for pupils, but he added that something was being done about it.
However, he did acknowledge that the library was not your typical 21st century library.”
When asked if he had contacted government on the need to equip the library, he said, “Several times we’ve sent letters to them but nothing has been done but I believe government alone can’t handle everything. Private organisations need to offer support too.”
Also, window panes of the Agege Public Library are broken while readers are subjected to inclement weather. When there is no power supply, readers are forced to sit in a hot, not-so ventilated room.
At one end of the room are dusty old books. One of the officials in the library, Mr. Yemi Adebayo, said the last time new books were brought to the library was two years ago.
Another government official, who pleaded anonymity, said even pupils had written several letters to the government to renovate the library and provide new set of books..
One of the library users, Mr. Godwin Onah said, “This library has been like this for years. There is hardly electricity. Inside is so stuffy; it’s hard for one to concentrate. The books in the library are old and irrelevant. I don’t bother reading the library’s books, I bring my own books.”
But the public library at the state government secretariat, Ikeja is different. Located in the heart of the Alausa, the library is air-conditioned and has comfortable seats with good reading tables.
However, the books in the library are mainly on Lagos State matters. When our correspondent inquired why the library did not have books for pupils and undergraduates, an official said the library was only for government officials.
A resident of the state, Mr. Gilbert Oki, noted that government at all levels should revive public libraries if they hoped to reverse mass failure in public examinations in the country.
“When we say our children are not reading, do we provide them with the facilities that can encourage reading? Libraries in schools are non-existent; the ones in the community are bad, if we are serious, governments, wealthy individuals and organisations should join hands to rebuild the education sector,” he said.

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