From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Nigerian Library Association (NLA) has expressed concern over the federal government’s abandonment of libraries in the nation’s federally funded Unity Schools.
It also revealed that the government hasn’t hired a single professional librarian in the nation’s educational institutions in more than 30 years.
In an interview with journalists in Abuja over the weekend, Dominic Omakaro, the president of the association, expressed sadness that the school library system had deteriorated despite the NLA’s 60 years of existence and its production of over 135 professors and countless academic doctors.
He stated: “Recently, we noticed a dearth, particularly in the area of school library system. The school library system in Nigeria, over time, has become a challenge for us as a profession, particularly with the lackluster interest of governments in promoting that area of librarianship.
“Of course, you all know that we have a National Library also, that is supposed to be a repository of the knowledge of Nigerians. The National Library building has been a monumental abandoned projects in the last couple of years.
“But through the efforts of the association, we’ve got government to get interested in the continuation of that building construction. As I speak to you, for those of us who are conversant with the news reports, we got the federal government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari to transfer the funding of that project to TETFund.
“To the glory of God, we are proud to announce that TETFund released 15% of that contract sum to start back that construction. We are hoping that we will continue it.
“One other thing over the years we’ve also been able to do is that for this year for us as a profession, we decided that we needed to bring to fore this particular area of neglect of the school library system.
“That is where our theme for our library week that was just celebrated last week is ‘Revitalizing the School Library system the way forward.’ How do we get back the libraries?
“For us, luckily, two days ago, I met the representative of the permanent secretary, Ministry of Education to inform them, because we’ve come to realize that in the last 20-30 years, federal government has not employed librarians to run their school libraries.
“You know that education is on the concurrent list in the Constitution. Federal government has federal unity schools, and these unity schools have libraries. And the federal government has a policy to spend money on an annual basis. And this activity is carried out by the National Library. It is called the Readership Campaign.
“Every year, we spend money to do Readership Campaign. If the school library system is not effective, it’s not functional, how do we catch old men and women to start reading?
“So, for us as a profession, we think we need to draw national attention to the school library system. If we can promote it again, that will also help in catching these young children and removed their mind again and take them out of vices.”
Omakaro emphasized the necessity for political leaders in Nigeria to read more in order to expand their knowledge and become more successful leaders.
He used the example of the United States to illustrate the need of retaining libraries that must be referred to for the benefit of the present and future, and he noted that all former presidents in that country have presidential libraries.
He added: “My advice to political leaders is they should go back to history. And the Nigerian democratic system is fashioned after the American system. And if you look at every precudents that have ruled America, they all come up with a presidential library.
“The impression they create with the establishment of presidential libraries is to let you know that you read a lot, they write papers. Their tenure is covered and that is why if you go to places like America, you have presidential historians.
“People dedicate their life to a particular administration and they chronicle the activities, the achievements, the failures, the disappointments in book forms, and keep it on the shelf for posterity. And any leader that is coming that wants to know his way must first of all no where he is coming from.
“I mean, that is why we are happy, as an Association, that government is bringing back history. Because if you don’t know your history, how do you know where to chart your course?
“So, for me, my advice to them is let them continue to read. Let them refer and make references to the past. That way, their future will be guided right, though not in the realm. There is something in those days, I don’t know how many of us can remember that.
“Somebody was talking about Ibrahim Babangida, that he was going to feed his daughter with feeding bottle. I think it was a Concord cartoon. And when they asked him questions, they were shocked that he read it.
“And he said in response, he rears all the newspaper published in Nigeria and that way, you can see that such a leader is in tune with people. When you don’t read, you cut off from people. So, that would be my advice to political leaders”, Omakaro said.