December 8, 2023

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Calabar Library Complex: Ayade’s Other Monument Of Shame

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Godwin Ajom, Calabar

A lot has been said about the Spaghetti flyover initiated by the current governor of Cross River State, Prof Ben Ayade. It is a project that was meant to ease traffic at the Odukpani junction axis, especially for those coming into Calabar from either Uyo or Ogoja axis.

The project was conceptualised to be the first of its kind. But about six years after it was conceived and about four years after work started, the project is yet to get anywhere. It has become a monument of shame, just as the Superhighway project which the same governor conceived and abandoned halfway.

But a lot of people do not seem to be as concerned about the abandoned projects as they are about the decaying state library complex in Calabar, moreso because as a professor, there were high expectations that anything concerning education would receive priority attention. Not in Cross River, where the deputy governor is also a professor.

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The natives are worried that the government has allowed the library complex to decay and rot away. Last week, a former commissioner for works in the state, Ntufam Ekpo Okon had said in an interview that the decaying library complex was a true reflection of how far the Ayade government had decayed.

Commissioned on Monday, 17th April, 1989, by Vice Admiral  Augustus Alkhomu, during his visit to the  state, the Cross River state library complex used to be a very lively place for educational, social and economic activities.

In Calabar for example, during the governments of Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke, the state library complex used to be a beehive of activities. Most programmes and state government events were held in that complex. The halls were commercialised while students and other people with interest in reading and research found the library a great place to be.

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But the glory of the state library complex faded away after Ayade assumed duties. From the roof to everything good that the library represented, everything has gone. It has become a monument, a monument of shame that is.

This reporter visited the library complex last week. Security men attached to the complex were no more. Those who used to do business around the complex wore sad faces as nothing was happening there again.

TNN got there about 12:27 pm on Saturday, December 18, 2021. You could see from afar, that the place was dead.  The grasses around the structure are overgrown. The glasses that were broken by the #ENDSARS protesters and looters still wore their ugly looks. Of course, you would hardly know what colour of paints were used on the walls. Everything has since peeled.

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But some drinking joints are still functioning around the complex. One of those who do business there, selling drinks and isi ewu(goat head) told TNN that a particular senior staff of the library complex used to visit the place especially on Saturdays. But on that particular Saturday, the staff was not there. TNN was informed that the man was organising an event somewhere and that could be the reason why the person was not at the library complex.

“She dey always come here on Saturday, and she dey stay here for long before she go, but today she never come.  Na only security you fit see here now sef.  That building wey you dey see there wey yellow so, na Lions club build am.  Sometimes, dem dey do church for under here, (that is behind the library) on Sunday morning if you come here you go see them on Sunday morning,” he explained in pidgin English.

A man that we spotted at the complex, who we were told was a staff of the library complex was not willing to give information about what was going on in the place. He would not volunteer any information. But when asked about the person in charge of the place, the response was that “The director’s child is having a wedding today, so she will be too busy to attend to you. That is where I am dressing to go. The only thing you will do now is to meet the security outside.”

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Throughout the about two hours that TNN spent at the complex, no security person was found there. All we could see were empty book shelves, broken glasses, dusty tables and an unkempt environment.

Special Adviser to the governor on education, Mr Castro Ezama, when contacted over the phone said the government had awarded contract for the reconstruction of the library complex before the EndSARS protested descended on the place last year. “I have met with the contractor who His Excellency awarded that contract to, so he said he began work there until the #ENDSARS protest came and spoiled what he began doing and even wrecked the place the more.

“So it is very painful that we are still having that place there. I also told him to see reasons why he should follow up and ensure that that place is fixed. I too don’t feel good that the state library is still the way it is.

“So I am putting fire on the contractor to get things done. To tell you how important libraries are to this administration, His Excellency inaugurated a state library board. The board is to see to the functionality of those places. So we are following up to ensure that those things are fixed.

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“Talking about time (that the work will be completed), I asked the contractor and he assured me very soon, and I’ve asked him to put up a write up, let’s know the milestones and from my interactions with the contractor, I ‘ve seen the amount of seriousness in him and I can assure you that the library will be fixed.”

The governor’s aide would however not want to give any information about the contractors or how much the contract was worth and details of expected jobs to be done by the contractor.

“I am not in a better position to disclose the contract sum. Maybe the board should be able to do so,” he said, when he was asked to give details of the contract. Even though the library has remained in comatose, with no sign that the place would be put to use soon, the aide however expressed concerns about the reading culture. He was worried that even if the library was reconstructed and revived, people may not go there to read.

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“It is one thing to fix the library, it is another thing to get it utilized, and it is important that we talk about it because the reading culture of our today’s children is somewhat low, as compared to the reading culture of children we used to have before.

“So we would encourage that once this is fixed, they should take advantage of it and get themselves busy with the books and materials therein,” he said.

The situation of things at the library complex has become a source of concern to many. “Mrs Mirabel, a graduate of the University of Calabar had this to say: “the library has been very instrumental to us until it became bad. Back then, events like parties, wedding receptions and other social events used to hold here and it was generating revenue for the state, but what do we have today? I wish this can be fixed.”

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An economists, Dr Richard Esu, in a separate interview said the government still had a huge economic gain to make from the libraries.”I have a friend who works at the Ikom Library, so I understand what the issue is, but economically, I know that if properly harnessed, the state government can make huge monies from the state libraries in Ogoja, Ikom and Calabar. Let the board that the government has set up come up with a quick rehabilitation and revitalization plan, and then a revenue generation frame work, that will allow for very coordinated economic services in the environment, that will not distract readers and users of the library, because you know, that’s a library, not a shopping mall.

“Good enough the Lions club has built an electronic library there, so the ball is now in the hands of government, if they want the library to work fine, if they don’t want, no problem.

“But, it is unfortunate that we have two professors as governor and deputy and yet we have to cry before our libraries can be fixed. That is supposed to be their top priority. In fact they are supposed to take education very seriously.”

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