One definition of ‘hometown’ should be a place where you can walk a street and be related by blood to everyone in sight. Asaba used to be that kind of place. In the seventies, walking down Ezenei Street from the house in front of the old magistrate court to the library beside Nigeria’s first high court gave me that – sometimes claustrophobic – sense of relationship. It was no different inside the library either. I went there most days to browse and borrow books – westerns, thrillers, adventures – the sort of titles that would interest any other 10-year-old. I remember the librarian as kindly and anonymous… until my father’s brother’s wife told me that her sister’s cousin who worked at the library was complaining that her young nephew really should make up his mind before checking out books, and not cart them home only to return them the following day…
I returned to that library of pleasant memories a few yesterdays ago for some heartache. Surely a developing country is one that is developing – that is, moving generally from slightly-good to rather-better. The seventies’ library was a pleasant, clean, space. I did not have to wash my hands after touching the books. The child in me was drawn to books with colourful covers. On the evidence of Asaba’s library in 2011, we are an undeveloping nation. The library’s floor is now as pitted as Lagos/Benin highway at Ore. Several bookshelves are emptied of books. Those books that are left are dusty and ancient, clearly leftovers from the stock I read back then.
There is one positive thing though: the library was full of children. At the time of my visit, most of the seats were taken: but the kids have not come to borrow or browse. They have come to read their own notes, to study for their exams. The exciting, panoramic vision that the library presented in the seventies has become a tunnel vision pointing back to our sad myopia. Asaba’s library is now a reading room for desperate children who have no study space at home.
We should be doing better.
I made some enquiries at the State Library board and am pleased to report that there are in fact plans to build a rather larger library for Asaba’s children. (This is not to say that adults do not require libraries, but I am sticking to an image of a 10-year-old reader discovering a world of books…). Sadly this project appears to have been abandoned. The completed building to the right of the picture is the Central Bank, Asaba, the moldy ruins of the abandoned library project sulks on the left. The photograph at the bottom show what the library should be today. It is still an artist’s impression. (This image used to stand proudly on a billboard at the construction site until it clearly became an embarrassment) The two projects were started at the same time and their current status provides an involuntary metaphor of our anti-intellectual merchantilist ideology. It is great to have a completed Central Bank project… and a new airport… but how about a time frame for a public library?
If I were 10-year-old today, the present reading room could not hope to compete with any of a hundred mindless video and phone games. If I were 19-year-old today, perhaps a new library might tempt me from a new drugs scene… but the present reading room would have no prospect of keeping me from the fortunes to be made selling and reselling other people’s land. If it makes anyone feel better, the Yaba libraries in Lagos fare only slightly better. Indeed, across the country there are probably millions of children who have never been inside their non-existent public libraries… yet, we are all getting richer. Our cars and SUVs are getting longer. The policy makers who can put libraries on our streets and books on the shelves of the libraries within WEEKS may well have excellent private libraries for their children at home. But failing to provide public educational facilities that cost so little is short-sighted. It is not rocket science, this idea that the patriarch who invests in his empire rather than his children will eventually have his unmentored children destroy his empire.
I am no prophet, but will make this one prediction. There is someone arriving at his (or her) desk about now, who has the power, opportunity and duty to succour our children, who might instead be tempted to add to his fleet of SUVs and walled estates. Here is the prediction: every good book you place in the excited hands of a 10-year old today is a gun you take from the hands of a thirty-year old career armed robber of the future. We cannot all live in walled estates forever. One day, our SUVs will go out to play. On that day when we come face-to-face with the childhoods that we have made, or marred, the lives we save will be our own.
Let us with sombre tongues count our teeth in silence. Let us reach the right sums, and do the right thing.
17 Replies to “A Library in Asaba”
I hope the some of the animals we have in the government can read this article and take it into his or her heart as i do right. It is heart breaking to see the conditions of our governments schools and libraries. As you said ” One day we(they) will come face-to-face with the childhood that we(they) have made..
Thanks Chuma! If this call is not heeded and the inevitable happens, it shall not be said that no one warned the ailing, self-acclaimed “giant of Africa.”
Thanks for drawing attention to what is happening to Asaba. I wish we can all be this concerned. Thanks.
Thank you very much for this, Chuma. You are indeed an advocate of enlightenment.
The elites of Nigeria have simply conspired to kill Nigeria by choosing to keep quietin the face of evil of many proportions.
The elites of Nigeria have simply conspired to kill a country they hate with venom but claim to love dearly.They keep quiet when they should not. It is an unfolding tragedy.
Good to draw attention to this vexing matter, then, there are many more – the classrooms, potable water, regular power supply, hospitals, etc. We have to evaluate and rank development projects and stop stumbling in the dark with the present disjointed approach. In the face of competing needs and scarce resources, emotion must give way to methodology
you are right of course about prioritization: our government has to decide whether to add a new Toyota to the government fleet or stock the entire shelves of the library for a generation of readers with the same money… decisions, decisions 😉 …And yet, in the 20th year of its creation, a state government should really have finished a library building, even if it was at the very BOTTOM of government priorities. The building itself can hardly be more expensive than many of the private ‘villas’ in our state capitals.
On the other hand, I do not understand why reading is not at the TOP of all our priorities. Literature is the ONLY means of sustaining and transferring wisdom from one generation to the other. One illiterate generation is enough to wipe out a civilisation. An illiterate child will use his father’s patent documentation for toilet paper. What is the use of setting up nuclear plants if your educational system is so broken that uni grads use your official language incompetently, your accountants cannot tally up columns and your computer scientists were trained in universities that have no computers?
Is this a curse? (Don’t answer. There is no such thing. ;-)) But excavate Africa and you will find that at comparative periods of antiquity, many societies achieved level of innovation equivalent to and sometimes superior to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, such innovations were often incubated in closed cults, covens and guilds. So all the gifted healer, coppersmith or other scientist has to do is to have a dolt for an only son, to have 500 years of wisdom and innovation lost to the human race. (Picture Igbo Ukwu villagers who have no knowledge of metallurgy digging up centuries-old, world-class bronze treasures created by their ancestors.)
So Africa’s tragedy is a leadership that fails to see ALL society’s children as theirs. Societies do not progress by the incubation of rich kids in rich schools or guilds in an educational wasteland. The geniuses that will transform society can mathematically emerge from any family…
What is required is not so much ‘prioritization’ as political will. After all, the contract for the new library was awarded, and work was started. Where are the appropriations for the project? Is there a mismatch between what was paid and what was built? Where are the pennies left for the completion?
Great piece. We can only hope that the promise of the Board will be kept. Asaba is a place we all love to cool off before going home to the villages; if a library works there, then we can all, as well, work there. In all, this is very illuminating.
This is a topic that I’m so passionate about. You really expressed my views succinctly. Thank you for writing and sharing this piece.
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Thanks for this commentary. It speaks truth to our often-blurred vision of progress in Delta State and Nigeria as a whole. Any people who forget their young, live each day closer to the alter of their extinction. My take? Lets act to re-populate the library with books. Myself and some Ahaba colleagues, home and Diaspora (less than 6 people in all) pooled our effort some years back and got to the point of finding a suitable location to situate a library after securing literature from various sources in the US & Canada. Sadly the challenge was finding a credible person to run the library in Asaba. It can be done again and followed up. Waiting for the Govt is akin to shooting a moving target.
If your spirits are still willing, then do get in touch with me – there is a lot we can achieve, even now. Thank you for writing…
Chuma, thanks for this important write-up. Imagine how many books the money spent by government officials buying one of those glittering surplus black SUVs in their motorcades would buy! It`s all part of the Nigerian decadence and philistinism. The library in my hometown Ogwashi-Ukwu is in a worst state. Yet I remember how much it contributed to shaping my literary cum intellectual interests and development. Once upon a time, there were even mobile libraries in the old Bendel State under Ogbemudia that serviced the rural areas and schools. What a country of idiot leaders who think sending their children to other countries developed by visionary leaders will insure them against the mess they make of their homeland…
Here’s some good news for a change.
Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post, “A Library in Asaba” about the criminally neglected library of my childhood. It is still relevant to hundreds of libraries across an educational-challenged country with the distinction of having the highest number of out-of-school children in the world.
Last year, a new state library on three floors was completed in Asaba, a few kilometres away from the old. I have visited a couple of times and I thought it would be nice to share a few images of what I described (back in 2011) as the mouldy remains of an abandoned project.
With a restaurant, reading rooms, training room, IT rooms, over a hundred and twenty computers, and facilities for CBT testing (JAMB test registrations were on-going when I visited) it’s safe to say that our children have caught a break for a change.
But from the pictures, you’d have also noticed that the shelves are mostly empty. I spoke with the management and the library is open to [appropriate] donations. So if the spirit leads you, let’s do it.
Great piece. Let’s chat…. 09034213183 via whatsap