By Ekemini Simon
The vision was promising. It took 58 months, billions of naira for the dream to materialize.
With the foundation laid on September 25, 2007, by the Godswill Akpabio administration, after long months of work, Ibom e- Iibrary was finally inaugurated by President Goodluck Johnathan on July 27, 2012.
The flamboyant ceremony marked the beginning of the use of a facility touted as best in West Africa. Nevertheless, what was really unique about this project to the height of attracting a sitting President for inauguration?
Features of the Commissioned e-library
At launch, the project was reputed to have digital collections to avail users access to about 16.5 million e-documents, over two million electronic books and 14.5 million electronic research e-journals,
Besides physical copy of books, the electronic library had children multi-media resource centre, 1,260 educational games for children; 1,000 simulations and mathematics practice tools.
There is a provision of a large external playground, open and private reading areas and children reading areas with story-telling/play facilities as well as 80,000 question and answer series for tertiary examinations.
The edifice, a sprawling unit along Ibrahim Babangida Avenue in Uyo, was also fitted with state-of-the-art 1000 person capacity conference centre, with language translators, apart from board rooms and offices.
What is more, what made the e-library outstandingly unique was the fact that collections, stored in digital formats, could be accessed anywhere via the Internet.
With N5000 yearly registration fee, one is given access details. Once the person logs in, he can access the e-resources. A programming course was also on offer at the library at N40, 000.
Interestingly, the Library had significant patronage few months after inauguration. It is reported to have recorded up to over 4million subscribers. No state in Nigeria had such facility. Ibom e-library became the most sought after destination for students, those from the academia, businessmen among other knowledge seekers. Sadly, this rise in the e-world was short lived. Less than 24 months after birth, patronage crashed. Gradually, e-library disappeared from the global map of e-resources. What was behind this, you may wonder.
The Beginning of Rot
After two years of inauguration, the electronic resources of the Library ceased functioning. Subscribers were no longer able to access electronic resources. Credible sources at Ibom e-library who pleaded strict anonymity since they are not authorized to speak on the matter reveal that the fall from glory stemmed from negligence and lack of will to provide constant electricity to the facility. They disclose that the electricity concern stalled operations especially as the computer server needs to work with constant power supply. The sources report that till date, there is no electricity supply from Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company.
They reveal that since adequate funds are not released for the management of the facility, the generating set that serve the library is only powered to Pump water, used when the hall is rented or the computer system is to be used for examination or training. The Sources note that till date, the e-resources have not been activated.
This development, it has been gathered has reduced significantly the number of persons who visit the library as what distinguished the library from a conventional library is no more.
Although physical books are still available for use, checks reveal that right from inauguration till date, there has been no update of books at the library. According to experts in Library Science, books should be updated every three months in a modern library. Yet, there is a more serious problem at the e-library.
Poor Treatment of Staff
Since 2012 when the library became operational, workers at the Library have been working on contract basis as Adhoc Staff. Despite the fact that majority have put in over eight years of service at the outfit, till date, none have been issued appointment letter by the State government.
According to some of the Adhoc staff at the E-Library who pleaded anonymity for fear of victimization, their salary which they claim some are grossly below the N30,000 minimum wage does not come regularly.
The Adhoc staff of the outfit which are about 30 in number are said to rely on imprest sometimes given to the supervising Ministry, Ministry of Science and Technology for their salary.
Currently, the Adhoc staff are owed five months salary. The staff say they are told by the Ministry that the immediate reason for this stems from the fact that the ministry has not received any imprest within the months in view from the State government.
On the issue of employment of the workers, our sources among the Adhoc staff note that hopes are often raised but dashed by successive administration especially during periods of electioneering campaigns. They recall that in September 2014, their credentials were collected but the ministry never acted upon the credentials. They say the same happened in 2018.
One of the sources adds” During the first quarter of 2019, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Science and Technology. Engr Nicholas Idungafa in a meeting with workers at the e-library said our credentials are on the table of the Permanent Secretary, Government House to sort out our employment issues immediately after election hence bring to an end the perennial salary problem we face. But sadly, till date, nothing is done.”
Our sources also report that they lack job security since staff are sacked at will by officials of the Ministry. Be that as it may, are the funds generated there adequate enough to pay the workers who are citizens of the State?
Funds Generated and Released
Our sources from the Ministry reveal that the monthly salary of all the workers there is a little above a million naira. Nevertheless, although the key aspect of the Library is no more functional, the facility still generates huge resources into the coffers of the State Government.
The Adhoc staff of the outfit mention that people still renew their registration yearly although now at N2000 to access physical books from the library.
Moreover, the workers there maintain that each year, the library generates millions of naira to the government through the Ministry of Science and Technology from the Computer Based Examination facility it operates.
An impeccable source in the Ministry adds ” This year alone, before the lockdown, millions were paid by the Joint Admission And Matriculation Board (JAMB) to the government Of Akwa Ibom State for using the library for their Examinations.”
It has been gathered that Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria have the centre as their examination base. Although their contract ended about two years ago, National Open University of Nigeria had the e-library as their Centre. Federal Agencies like the Federal Ministry of Budget have also used the Computer system there for their training.
In addition, the 1000 person capacity conference hall given out a day at the price of N150,000 is another source of revenue. The open space is often given out for rentals too although the price is negotiable. The cyber cafe , office spaces currently leased out for four monthly tenants also serve as a source of revenue.
When this reporter made a request to the Ministry of Science and Technology on August 4, 2020 under the Freedom of Information Act (2011) for information on the details of the budgetary provisions and releases for the Ibom e-library from 2013 till date and the details of the revenue generated from the e-library from 2013 till date, the Commissioner, Ministry of Science and Technology, Dr Imo Moffat did not honoured the request as at the time of filling this report.
Under the Act, this reporter is entitled to a response within seven (7) working days of the receipt of the request.
Be that as it may, this reporter took further steps to investigate. This reporter was able to access budgetary provisions for the Ibom e-library from 2018 to 2020.
During checks, it was gathered that although nothing has been added to the e-library, there have been huge budgetary provisions by the Akwa Ibom State Government.
Under code 50323109 and 50323105, the State Government had budget for the e-library under Software License Renewal and PC Servers N35 Million in 2018, N25 Million in 2019 and N10 million in 2020.
Subscriptions (Internet Books) had N35.500 Million in 2018, N20.500 million in 2019 and N5 Million in 2020. Support Maintenance had N19.500 Million in 2018, N13.500 million in 2019 and N5 million in 2020.
Purchase of two numbers of Saloon cars (Official Vehicles) had N44 million in 2018 and same amount in 2019. Although N39 million was slated for it in the 2020 budget, nothing was provided for the purchase in the 2020 revised budget.
Physical books and Journals had N4.5 million in 2018 and with a repeat in 2019 while N2 million was budgeted for in 2020.
Marketing and Communication had N2 million budgeted in 2018 and same amount again in 2019 while N2 Million was earmarked for 2020
Staff training had N5 million for 2018, again in 2019 and 2020.
Monitoring and Supervision had N3 million for 2018, N3 million again in 2019 and 2020. Purchase of 24 numbers of close circuit cameras had N2.5 million in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
N30 million was budgeted for the purchase of three (3) numbers of Generating Sets in 2018 and same amount in 2019. In 2020, N10 Million was budgeted for the purchase of a generating set.
In 2020, the expected revenue from the outfit is pegged at N15 million; N5 million is expected from the hiring of the e-library hall while N10 million is expected from general businesses of the facility.
In 2019, although the State budgeted N5 million as expected revenue from e-library, the actual revenue remitted was N3.753 million.
According to the 2019 Financial Report of the Akwa Ibom State Government exclusively obtained by this reporter, the Ministry of Science and Technology had some releases that could have been used for payment of staff, capital projects and other runnings of subscripts under them.
Although N204.301 was budgeted for personnel cost of the Ministry, the report highlights that N148.642 million was released for the Ministry.
Overhead cost which had N79.220 million as budget had a release of N13.168 million. N2.8 billion was budgeted as capital expenditure for the Ministry but N49.255 million was released to the Ministry.
With the current rot experienced coupled with seeming negligence by successive government. What does the future hold for Ibom e-library?
The Future of Ibom e-library
The Commissioner for Science and Technology, Dr Imo Moffat after resumption of duty at the Ministry coupled with the FOI request he received from this reporter embarked on a visit to Ibom e-library on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.
Giving insight into his visit through a post he made on his verified Facebook Account, the new Commissioner said the purpose of his visit was to familiarise with the staff and inspect the complex and its internal facilities to know their different states of functionality, so as to understand where improvement or urgent intervention is required.
He added ” Together with my Permanent Secretary, Engr. Nicholas Idungafa, I interacted with the management and support staff who lodged complaints of underfunded welfare as well as outstanding salaries.
“I assured them that the issues raised were not only already known to me, but I also have been on discussions on how to bring them quick solutions.”
Dr Moffat reported that he also noted the underutilization of the facility which has left it serving far less than the purposes it was designed for.
The solution? He noted ” In line with the agenda of the current administration of His Excellency, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, we hope to balance equations for and within the facility and put it back to maximal functionality and in a short while.”
In less than 24 hours, on Wednesday, August 12, 2020, when the Executive Council meeting of the Akwa Ibom state Government met, it was resolved that a Public Private Partnership management structure should be activated for the management of Ibom e-library.
According to the State Commissioner for Information, “This decision was taken to ensure the optimal utilization of the facility, for the good of the state and citizens”.
With the assurance from the State government, fingers are crossed not only with expectation to see the interest of those who have worked at the outfit protected, but to witness the return of the glory and vision the e-library held at conception.
(This investigation was supported by Policy Alert, a non-governmental development organisation working on economic governance and environmental justice)