In October 1995, the Military Governor of the Rivers State, Col. Dauda Musa Komo unveiled a facility called the the Rivers State Jubilee Library located at 17 Afam Street in D Line, Port Harcourt. In 1995, D Line was calm and suitable for reading and research. Today, churches surround the library and what is left of it is less than a fraction of its original purpose. Businesses form around the gate. Across the road is line of car wash outlets and mechanic workshops. And they produce their special kind of distractions, sometimes not very creative.
Libraries have books but the Rivers State Jubilee Library had books which have been transferred to the National Library in Owerri, Imo State, according one of the officers on duty during the period of this report. What is left of the library is a structure that barely gets electricity supply and an entrance that is a river when it rains. The chairs are dusty and the floors that are swept are the places where the eyes can see. If no one sees the back of the library, the cleaners think that it is a totally awkward idea to grace these places with their magical brooms. But a surprise hit me during my visit to the facility. There were actually people in the library reading. The first sight were newspaper readers. The library gets free supplies or subsidized copies daily. The readers occupy the reception area and may barely hear you greet.
The security post is just an office. And the officer cares more about his privacy. The restaurant is functional and the wide space made for parking lot have fewer cars. But its space and the flowers still find a way to tuck at your senses, to see them and sit around. The books available at the front desk maybe not be up to eighty-five in number. Most users of the library bring their own materials. The building is a place where they can quietly read and write their reports. But when the church next door has an event, it is a useless venture attempting to read at the library – it could be a church. The Living Faith Church, also known as Winners Chapel has its Port Harcourt headquarters next door. And residents who live across the small canal outside the library have maintained the healthy habit of burning tires. And the soot helps the tired white walls of the library to research for all forms of cleanliness.
Perhaps the only consolation of the facility is that people still find their way to its hollowness to read. One of the users told me that the library is supposed to close at 8pm. That’s what the billboard states but the librarians close by 4pm or earlier. They have to beat traffic and get to their destinations. And the billboard says it has an e-library but that is more imaginative. The desks that were supposed to host the computers host dust that have been tenants of the house for quite a while. Many years ago when I used the library, they had a lot of interesting texts. Today, those texts are probably somewhere, away from readers, in a safe, where great books are kept far away from the prying eyes of humans.
The Rivers State Jubilee Library is not attached to a university. Outside Nigeria where public libraries function, they do not have to be affiliated to any institution of learning to stand. The system takes education seriously and ensures that its libraries run. Here, the libraries run, on empty stomachs. And may one day collapse as a result of under usage. And surprisingly, the library may have about 300 workers on payroll but less than ten come to work. And though it is fantastic, it is reflective of the audit system and porous state of education.
Maybe the current state government would revive it. The librarian says I can go to Benard Carr Steet in down town, a second library owned by the state, to find books. But I can bet an arm and a head that it would be more of a business centre than a library and the books are, let’s say, safely stored somewhere so that in the nearest future when books become extinct the Rivers State government of then can auction the relics and make huge sums for the state. It is a futuristic plan but very few learned people may understand.
Bure-Bari Nwilo is the author of A Tiny Place Called Happiness. He lives in Nigeria.