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National Museum: Cultural palaces or protection agency?

By Appolos Ibeabuch Oziogu
In Nigeria today, National museum has become one of the important tourist centres for both the nationals and foreigners, old and young, the literate and illiterate.

Though the Museum movement started late, yet the collection of cultural artefacts began much earlier than 20th century through some concerted efforts of some highly respected and rich individuals and groups in various Nigerian communities who were relentlessly purchasing and making private collection of cultural objects either as their hobbies or for decorations in their residential houses, traditional shrines and cultural palaces like those of the Oba of Benin, Ooni of Ife, Obi of Onitsha, Akarigbo of Ijebu-Remo, Akenzua of Benin, Akran of Lagos, Alafin of Oyo, Obong of Calabar, Sultan of Sokoto, Atta of Igala, Shehu of Borno, Tur of Tiv and Lamido of Adamawa etc.

It is these private  collections that later turned to museum objects that are ubiquitously found today in most of our National Museums nation-wide.

However, museum movement started in the 20th century when some British nationals in Nigeria initiated the mass collection cum preservation and presentation of our cultural artefacts (antiquities) for knowledge, entertainment, enjoyment and education.

Notable among the British nationals that championed the cause of museum movement in Nigeria were Late Kenneth C. Murray, Bernard  E.B Fagg; E.H Dukworth and H. J. Brauntholts etc.

These British nationals had already known much about the importance of museum since museums exist in their respective countries of origin. As a result, when they saw the type of objects the people of Nigeria had, they immediately knew their importance.

It is of a paramount importance to mention that right from the period of the colonial rule in Nigeria to date, about thirty-three National museums have been established in the country, about a museum in each state of the Federation as follows: Esie in Kwara State (1945); Jos in Plateau State (1952); Ife in Osun State (1954); Lagos in Lagos State (1957); Oron in Akwa- Ibom State (1958); Kano in Kano State (1960); Owo in Ondo State (1968).

Enugu in Enugu State (1972); Benin in Edo State (1973); Kaduna in Kaduna State (1975); Ibadan in Oyo State (1976); Aba in Abia State (1984); Umuahia in Abia State (1985); Calabar in Cross River State (1986); Lokoja in Bauchi State (1988); Uyo in Akwa-ibom State(1988); Owerri in Imo State (1988); Abuja FCT(1988); Abeokuta in Ogun State(1988); Akure in Ondo State (1988); Oshogbo in Osun State (1988).

Maiduguri in Borno State (1988); Minna in Niger State (1988); Yola in Adamawa State (1988); Sokoto in Sokoto State (1988); Port Harcourt in Rivers State (1988); Oyo in Oyo State (2003); Igbo-Ukwu in Anambra State (2003); NOK in Kaduna State (2003); Koko in Delta State (2004) and Badagry in Lagos State (2004).

Generally, National museum is a house of treasures. It houses museum objects which are three-dimensional objects for learning teaching and research. In Nigeria today, National museum has become one of the important tourist centres for both the nationals and foreigners, old and young, the literate and illiterate.

It could also be recalled that, at the time the British nationals embarked on Museum Movement in Nigeria in the 20th century, the county’s cultural heritage was then suffering some heavy losses due to various factors among which are the following:

First, there was a systematic imposition of foreign religions (Christianity and Islam) on the indigenous population. The two religions preach and practice monotheism (worship of one God), and communication with the Supreme Being is only through Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed respectively not through any other intermediaries being represented by idols carved in woods or iron.

Consequently christians and their counterpart muslim faithful on embracing, their new faith, either  destroyed their art objects which were simply considered fetish and satanic or left them to decay or rot away or removed as curios to museums and private home in the countries of their inquisitive foreign missionaries.And Most of these precious works of art were eventually taken to museums abroad.

Second, Nigeria lost much of her cultural heritage through plunder as epitomized by the British punitive expedition against Benin empire in 1897 and other expeditions like Akassa raid etc. After these various successful expeditions, these zealous colonial soldiers included in their booties, some looted works of art which they took from the cultural palaces and shrines as an evidence of their gallantry and conquest over the heathen communities of the country invaded.

Third, there were arts dealers who knew the high value of these priceless art objects out-side the country. These people were   responsible for the mass evacuation and large   sales of Nigerian antiquities abroad, resulting in heavy loss of our cultural heritage.

Fourth, people took the antiquities out of the country as souvenirs or gifts or in exchange of some exotic goods. Fifth, Nigeria also lost much of her works of art through research workers including museum professionals and their counterpart foreign experts who in the process of using them for study and exhibition abroad, succeeded in selling them, only to return the replicas of those objects while their originals found their way to many museums abroad.


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