ROCHAS CHAPEL

Goodbye Imo State Library! It may be too late to reverse that wrongdoing, but it needs to be emphasised that the governor probably needs a new set of advisers. In the best interest of the state, Imo citizens all over the world need to come together to support the Rochas-led administration by rendering innovative ideas and solutions that will move Imo forward. The State Governor, on his own part, needs to establish mechanisms for receiving, engaging, processing and implementing these innovative ideas and contributions from citizens of the state, who mean well and are desirous in seeing that the state succeeds.

Last weekend, I couldn’t control the tears that flowed freely when I drove past Modotel Roundabout in Owerri, Imo State, and saw a beautiful chapel erected at the spot where the Imo State Library formerly stood. As much as I struggle to avoid putting either Imo State or its Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha on the spot, nothing breaks the heart more than learning that the Imo State Library was demolished to pave way for a magnificent church edifice that is hardly in use. This is a wrongdoing that is not only abominable in the 21st century, but also totally unsupportable by every imaginable and unimaginable reason in the world.

Local residents say the new church building now serves as an interdenominational worship facility exclusively reserved for the state governor, Rochas Okorocha, and his “very special” visitors. Please bear in mind that Assumpta Catholic Cathedral – the largest church building in the whole of South-East – which has the largest seating space for any Christian religious worship is just a few streets away from this new facility. Not only that, Owerri capital city boasts of an array of churches on every street corner, left, right and centre, to the point of constituting what is beginning to look like a nuisance and irritable noise pollution, in sharp contrast to the serenity that once characterised the state’s social landscape. What makes the demolition of the state library particularly objectionable is that it was done by an administration that constantly trumpets its commitment to education. It is indeed, no wonder the project has been described “as an overzealous display of misplaced priorities.”

Anybody that grew up in Owerri in the ’90s would be quite familiar with the exceptional impact the Imo State Library Board made on children of school age during that period. Every holiday season, the state library was so overwhelmingly jam-packed that it was usually difficult for school children to find seating spaces if they came later than 8.a.m. It was then traditional for the State Library Board to organise reading festivals, Borrow-A-Book-Everyday, school quizzes, inter-school competitions on dictation, poetry, essay writing, singing, dancing and so forth. Before the advent of the internet, that was how school children networked with pupils from other schools, and tested their reading and writing proficiencies beyond their schools’ termly evaluations. There were no holiday classes then because most kids usually went to the library to read books different from the recommended texts in the state’s academic curriculum.

It was not surprising that Imo State consistently maintained the lead in educational attainment in Nigeria during those days, which enabled it to close the gaps in gender inequality in education. Just like me, there are many who continue to relish those memories and benefited immensely from the intellectual development exercises that the state library delivered free of charge to young Imo citizens.

What are the alternatives – in terms of public reading spaces – that have been made for Imo students and pupils? Should they suspend all forms of reading until the new library is completed? With this sort of awful action, it is no longer difficult to understand why Anambra is now taking the lead in educational progress in the South-East leaving Imo relegated: something that was unthinkable as recent as five-six years ago?

I am a Christian: Catholic by marriage and Mormon by birth. So, I am not averse to Christian worship. I am not also saying that the governor’s right to worship in a nice church building situated closer to the Government House should be unmet. I, just like many others, am totally devastated to see that an interdenominational chapel could be given such greater priority over a state library! This is heartbreaking and mindboggling! The private needs and predilections of a few leaders ought to be balanced against public interests and considerations. In event of a clash between such private needs and public interests, the latter should always prevail. By any stretch of the human imagination, the new chapel fails the test of overriding public interest. To that extent, anybody that describes Rochas’ chapel as an “intolerable waste of taxpayers’ resources” wouldn’t be any farther from the truth.

Equally vexing is the flimsy excuse that the Imo State Governor has plans to relocate the library to some new site in New Owerri. For two reasons, that excuse is totally flawed from both the rational and economic points of view. First, New Owerri is quite a distance from the main Owerri capital, and will surely create accessibility challenges to library users. Students of major educational institutions in the state, such as Imo State University and Alvan Ikoku College of Education once had easy and direct access to the demolished state library. It does appear that the Mbakwe administration that built the demolished library carefully considered the issue of proximity to students before situating the library at the most strategic location in the state. To add to the pains of an inaccessible library, that relocation will increase the burden of transportation costs on pupils, students, and their parents or legal guardians.

Secondly, assuming the issue of access can be overlooked, would it not have made greater sense to build and complete the new library before demolishing an existing one? What are the alternatives – in terms of public reading spaces – that have been made for Imo students and pupils? Should they suspend all forms of reading until the new library is completed? With this sort of awful action, it is no longer difficult to understand why Anambra is now taking the lead in educational progress in the South-East leaving Imo relegated: something that was unthinkable as recent as five-six years ago?

Goodbye Imo State Library! It may be too late to reverse that wrongdoing, but it needs to be emphasised that the governor probably needs a new set of advisers. In the best interest of the state, Imo citizens all over the world need to come together to support the Rochas-led administration by rendering innovative ideas and solutions that will move Imo forward. The State Governor, on his own part, needs to establish mechanisms for receiving, engaging, processing and implementing these innovative ideas and contributions from citizens of the state, who mean well and are desirous in seeing that the state succeeds.

Victoria Ohaeri is the executive director of Spaces for Change (www.spacesforchange.org), a youth-development and policy advocacy organisation based in Lagos, Nigeria. She can be reached on victoria@spacesforchange.org.