Kolapo Joshua (not real name) was seated in a corner of Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) Library, reading a 1964 dictionary of music — Pergamon Dictionary of Musicians and Music. He had a face towel he frequently sneezed out congestions in his nostrils into. As he flipped through the pages of the book, the sunrays reflected through the window caught few dust particles as they escaped pages of Joshua’s book. Joshua might have inhaled some of these particles and might have caused his nasal irritation, this reporter suspected.
Located on Wesley Street, Lagos Island, CBAAC Library could be the hub of book lovers and culture jocks who seek to detach from the unremitting noise synonymous with Lagos Island but the library holds no such possibility. The decrepit building — a colonial architecture that housed the library — looked abandoned just as the library. The reading area, which can barely sit 30 people, is a dingy room with fallen chairs and shelves. A section of the shelves labeled “reference materials” contained dust-covered old newspapers and magazines.
“It used to be like a National Library”, Mr. Kareem Oshodi, a resident who lived opposite the ancient building told Saharareporters. “But I don’t think it is still functioning. Nobody works in this particular building again apart from this security man that stays by the gate. They are now in the white house over there."
“As you can see for yourself,” he adds, pointing to a tall glass building, “the glass windows are falling off. This building has been like this for a long time. I am not sure governments know they have something here again."
The glass house is a three-storeyed building with a signpost that reads: 'Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC)'. The centre, established by decree 69 of 1979 following the successful hosting of FESTAC ’77, also provides library service for members of the public.
The book shelves, cramped in a poorly-lit room, have piles of old and outdated texts, all covered in dusts accumulated over years of neglect. “There are no recent texts here,” a library user, who said he had been using the space for three months said. “You can come with your books but there is really no more to this place than that.”
Library in a market square
Idumota market is one of the major markets in Lagos where one is sure to find anything, but a library would not be such a disappointment if not found in that environment. Still, Tom Jones Memorial Hall and Library sits in the heart of this market, amidst blaring sounds of vehicles, loud calls of traders trying to attract customers.
It came as no surprise that one Jonathan Ifeanyi was the only devoted user of the library. “The noise from outside is too much. How do people manage to read here?” this reporter asked Damilola, the young man who serves as a librarian and receptionist. “The noise from the outside is always like that. When you close the windows, it is still very loud.”
Another defect of the library is the absence of Nigerians and African authors on the shelves. Apart from, a few text book and compilations of WAEC and JAMB past question papers, the shelves hold foreign novels, the types found with roadside book vendors.
“Ah!” Damilola exclaimed, “I don’t think we have any Nigerian author here. We don’t have Soyinka and Achebe’s books.”
The library, newly renovated, is not lacking in good furniture — rows of comfortable tables and chairs — it would have been better designated a reading room but for the unhindered market noise that would make reading an ordeal.
Library with no book
Orile Agege Local Council Development Area (LCDA) Library at No. 55 Power-line Road can best be described as a ghost house. A floor on one of the deserted blocks of offices in the LCDA secretariat houses the library — with no single text book.
At about 12noon when this reporter visited the library, on May 10, there were two users in the library — two young ladies, one far asleep on three chairs she collapsed into a long bench, the other sitting at an extreme of the room with head bent over a book.
The book shelves were all empty, the floor tiles all broken, but for the reflection of the afternoon sunlight, the whole room, too, would have been dark.
“There were never books in library” Vincent, a worker at the LCDA told Saharareporters. “When they built it, we thought they would put books but they never did.
“It used to enjoy more patronage when it was new and then, light was stable. A lot of people stopped using it because there is no light again. Some of the fans are not even good. The place is generally not okay anymore.”
A library of irony
Apart from the haphazard arrangement of outdated books on the shelves, Henry Carr library, also located in Agege, is the exact opposite of what a library should be.
Shouting loudly from a notice board by its entrance is the mission statement of the Lagos State government for every library in the state.
The statement reads: “our mission is to provide first class 21t century library and information service to the citizen of Lagos state through profession librarian.” Ironically, the library is in disarray, with many of the books either turn or with dog ears — a sharp contrast of what a first-class 21st century library should look like.
Michael, one of the library users who spoke with Saharareporters, said: “You can’t conveniently find any book on the shelves. You won’t even know if they have it or not. The shelves are not labelled. The books are all scattered. You are not sure to meet a book if you leave it on the table. Sometimes, I have to hide any book I want to come the next day to read. If I don’t, I won’t meet the book. It would have been dumped among the piles such that you won’t be able to find it."
When asked where books on African literature could be found, the librarian, a middle-aged man of average height, said: “The books are not arranged. You will have to check all the shelves, maybe you’ll find the books you’re looking for. The users don’t arrange the books properly when they are done,” he said as justification for the chaotic state of affairs.
People will read if they have good places
The Herbert Macaulay library, built in 1966, was not better of CBAAC Library or the ones in Agege until July 2017, when it was renovated by Guarantee Trust Bank Plc. The wretched, antiquated facility has given way to a modern, e-library and so has the love for reading rose among the young and old in Yaba community where the library is located.
Folami Babatunde, an elderly man who seems to be in his late 50s, is delighted by the changes that have accompanied the renovation.
“I have been using this library for over 25 years” he says, “but the library is in a better condition now. Since it was renovated, the number of users have tripled because of the conducive atmosphere of the place.
“If there are more libraries like this, it will have greater impact on the overall population of Lagos State. With this kind of centre around, children will come in to read, instead of going around doing what is not right. They will read more and acquire more knowledge. Knowledge is power and without knowledge, nothing can be done. The knowledge they gain from reading books would in tune be used to boost the economy.
“Internet was not in the library before but now, through the help of CODE LAGOS, there is internet access in the space now. I now stay longer in the library because the atmosphere is now very conducive.”
However, it is not all cheers, even with the new library. Two blocks away from the e-library is the Mainland Local Government Area (LGA) library — a hackneyed facility that now serves as alternative for people who cannot find seats in the Herbert Macaulay Library.
Godswill, a prospective university student who came to the library to prepare for Post-UTME in Nnamdi Azikwe University, could not get a seat and had to use the Mainland LGA library.
“I don’t have a choice than to use here, every time I get to the YouRead [same as Herbert Macualay library] library, the place is always full,” he told Saharareporters.
Another user of the Mainland LGA Library, who identified himself as Elder Babatunde, said: “I like to use the other library. I have used it a couple of times but today, they said it was full,” he said.
While delighted at the improvement at the Herbert Macaulay Library, Babatunde lamented the inadequacy of space in the sitting area.
“The main problem with this library is space. You see people are hanging around. No space.” Babatunde said.
'Adopt a library' initiative
In 2016, the Lagos State government launched an initiative tagged 'Adopt a Library', which seeks to have private organization renovate public libraries in the state. It was through this initiative that the Custodian Insurance, GTB and Zenith bank, renovated the libraries in Illupeju, Yaba and Isolo, Saharareporters gathered.
However, the success of the initiative has been abysmally low when compared to the number of public libraries in the state. The state has 14 libraries, according to the information provided on its website, but there are about 60 other local government libraries scattered across the state.
It is not clear if the initiative is for state-owned libraries alone or it is intended to extend to all other facilities in the metropolis.
As of the time of filing this report, the Special Adviser to the Governor on Education, Obafela Bank-Olemoh, had not responded to the enquiry sent to his email address provided by his aide.