How Un­der­fund­ing Hin­ders Mu­se­ums, Pro­tec­tion Of Cul­tural Her­itage

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - FRONT PAGE - By Gre­gory Austin Nwakunor, Arts and Cul­ture Ed­i­tor and Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja)

IN the last 30 years, there has been an in­crease in the con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment of mu­se­ums through­out the coun­try. How­ever, this boom has not trans­lated into an in­crease in the vis­i­tor base nor is there a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of the tra­di­tional vis­i­tor pro­file (marked by high in­come and a high level of ed­u­ca­tion).

Among cru­cial con­tents of tourism is mu­seum-vis­it­ing cul­ture and many states of the fed­er­a­tion have fa­cil­i­ties owned by the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment and man­aged by the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Mu­se­ums and Mon­u­ments (NNCM) that can at­tract vis­i­tors. How­ever, an in­ven­tory of Nige­rian mu­se­ums to­day will re­veal a sad and painful treat­ment of the coun­try’s his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ments and her­itage. The Cross River ‘Ak­wan­shi’ or mono­liths and other tourism her­itage in Nige­ria are fac­ing se­ri­ous threat of ex­tinc­tion. They are left to rot by a sys­tem that is less con­cerned about the for­tunes of na­tional as­sets placed in its care.

Wor­ried by this de­vel­op­ment, ex­perts at the third In­ter­na­tional and In­ter dis­ci­plinary Con­fer­ence with the theme: “Cross River Ak­wan­shi, the In­ter­ven­tion and In­ter­pre­ta­tion of Indige­nous Cul­tural Stones,” which held at the Univer­sity of Cal­abar, called on gov­ern­ment to re­con­sider it stands on cul­tural her­itage pro­tec­tion.

The con­fer­ence sub­mit­ted that as a re­sult of non-chal­lant at­ti­tude of gov­ern­ment, the coun­try had lost hun­dreds of Cross River mono­liths and other cul­tural her­itage to mu­se­ums in Europe, Amer­ica and other parts of the world.

De­liv­er­ing a key­note ad­dress, the Head of De­part­ment of His­tory and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Paul Univer­sity, Awka, Anam­bra State, Prof Levi Uzuakor said the mu­se­ums are hand­i­capped in their ef­forts to pre­serve and con­serve.

“In fact, some of them (mono­liths) are suf­fer­ing in the mu­seum, be­cause proper care is not be­ing taken. It is not that the mu­se­ums do not know what to do, but they don’t have the where­withal. The mu­se­ums are un­der funded. They must be prop­erly funded to play their role in the so­ci­ety. If the author­ity that ought to fund these in­sti­tu­tions do not come for­ward to do that, be­cause they do not un­der­stand that it is nec­es­sary to have our his­tor­i­cal arte­facts, the pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tions should come in and as­sist in this work,” Uzoakor said at the lec­ture.

Stake­hold­ers in the cul­ture and cre­ative sec­tors have noted that mon­u­ments like the Egbo Egbo House and the old colo­nial pre­mier build­ing and print­ing press in Hope Wad­dell are grad­u­ally los­ing their her­itage val­ues, be­cause they are not prop­erly pre­served.

Ex­perts have ar­gued that the pri­mary mis­sion of most his­tory mu­se­ums is to col­lect, pre­serve, ex­hibit and in­ter­pret ob­jects of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. They note that over time, all ob­jects will be­gin to de­te­ri­o­rate for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, such as en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, use and nat­u­ral de­cay.

In­side the pre­mier build­ing is an old ma­chine, the first print­ing press in Nige­ria, which was in­stalled in 1920, and it pub­lished one of the first news­pa­pers in the coun­try called Cham­pion.

The pre­mier build­ing was brought in from Glas­gow and as­sem­bled in Cal­abar. If these build­ings are left for a while, they may just col­lapse and the coun­try won’t have them again.

A first time vis­i­tor to Lokoja in search of the Na­tional Mu­seum of Colo­nial His­tory with very high ex­pec­ta­tion may be dis­ap­pointed as the fa­cil­i­ties, lo­ca­tion and the ed­i­fice have be­come shad­ows of their past colo­nial glory. This is be­cause the colo­nial relics of in­ter­est have been re­duced to an­cient pho­to­graphs with no ob­jects that may en­cour­age the sight­seer to spend ex­tra time.

Al­though, there are about 50 gov­ern­ment owned mu­seum sta­tions across the coun­try, and a large num­ber of pri­vate, com­mu­nity and palace mu­se­ums in var­i­ous states of the fed­er­a­tion, fully op­er­a­tional or in var­i­ous stages of de­vel­op­ment, their im­pacts are hardly felt.

Mu­se­ums are suc­cess sto­ries in Europe and Amer­ica. They play a lead­ing role in the suc­cess of the tourism of these coun­tries, at­tract­ing mil­lions of in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic vis­i­tors. They show­case the best of their na­tion’s his­tory and cul­ture to the widest pos­si­ble au­di­ences and cap­ti­vate vis­i­tors with ob­jects that tell sto­ries of the world.

It is not sur­pris­ing that mu­se­ums in Europe and Amer­ica now make mil­lions of eu­ros and dol­lars yearly, ei­ther through ad­mis­sion charges and or sales of books, pam­phlets, paint­ings, casts and other sou­venirs.

As a re­sult of sus­tained in­vest­ment in the Western world, their mu­se­ums have im­proved their vis­i­tor of­fer and at­tract ever-greater num­bers of tourists through their doors. Through the money they spend, these mu­seum vis­i­tors de­liver eco­nomic ben­e­fits to lo­cal economies.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search con­ducted by the Themed En­ter­tain­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (TEA), more than 106.5 mil­lion peo­ple visit the top 20 mu­se­ums in the world ev­ery year. The re­port said Lou­vre, in Paris, France had 8.7 mil­lion vis­i­tors in 2017.

The Lou­vre is huge, im­pres­sive, and houses some of the most well known art in the world — Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and an­cient Greek vases. But it’s not only the art and arte­facts that are im­pres­sive. The mu­seum is housed in the for­mer royal palace where fa­mous his­tor­i­cal fig­ures like the Marie An­toinette and Napoleon once lived, and block­buster films like The­davin­ci­code were filmed. Also, the Na­tional Mu­seum of China, Bei­jing, at­tracted 7.3 mil­lion vis­i­tors. This enor­mous build­ing, which is lo­cated on the east side of Tianan­men Square and cov­ers a stag­ger­ing 192,000 square me­tres, has a vast ar­ray of his­toric Chi­nese art, arte­facts, porce­lain, tra­di­tional fur­ni­ture and more.

While the Na­tional Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory, Wash­ing­ton DC, USA at­tracted 6.9 mil­lion vis­i­tors. A part of the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion is one of the world’s top re­search com­plexes and mu­se­ums “ded­i­cated to in­spir­ing cu­rios­ity, dis­cov­ery, and learn­ing about the nat­u­ral world through its un­par­al­leled re­search, col­lec­tions, ex­hi­bi­tions, and ed­u­ca­tion out­reach pro­grammes.”

The British Mu­seum, Lon­don, equally 6.8 mil­lion vis­i­tors and in 2017, the Vat­i­can Mu­se­ums, Vat­i­can City, Rome had 6 mil­lion vis­i­tors.

NCMM La­gos of­fice, on its part in the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod, recorded 41,826 vis­i­tors: Jan­uary – 1, 015, Fe­bru­ary – 5, 523, March – 10, 984, April – 2,093, May – 2, 206, June – 4, 347, July – 2, 625, Au­gust – 1, 588, Septem­ber – 1, 269, Oc­to­ber – 3, 352, Novem­ber – 4,107 and De­cem­ber – 2,715.

The mu­seum hosted 42,724 in 2015, 46,359 in 2016 and 41,826 in 2017 with a dif­fer­ence of 4,533 when com­pared to 2016.

Ex­perts and stake­hold­ers in both her­itage and tourism sec­tors of the Cul­ture, Cre­ative In­dus­try (CCI) be­lieve that Nige­ria boasts of an­cient art of var­i­ous eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties, par­tic­u­larly, of African re­li­gious ori­gin, which could at­tract vis­i­tors.

From the Na­tional Mu­seum, Onikan, La­gos to Colo­nial His­tory Mu­seum, Lokoja, Kogi State, which spe­cialises in Nige­ria’s pre-in­de­pen­dence era, mostly British-rule an­tiq­ui­ties and pho­to­graphs, and Slave His­tory Mu­seum, Cal­abar, Cross River State, a lot can be learnt.

A ma­jor hand­i­cap mu­seum in Nige­ria faces is poor fund- ing. That is their great­est chal­lenge, said Act­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, NCMM, Emeka Obiora Onuegbu.

Onuegbu said poor bud­getary al­lo­ca­tion for the sec­tor has made its im­pact in­signif­i­cant in terms of rev­enue gen­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to him, “the prob­lem with the coun­try is not lack of mu­seum struc­tures, but the fi­nan­cial ca­pa­bil­ity to make them func­tional. What we should be talk­ing about is fund­ing to up­grade, ren­o­vate and ef­fec­tively ex­hibit our cul­tural pat­ri­mony in our cur­rent hold­ings.”

He stressed there are many things the Com­mis­sion would have done, but fund­ing re­mains a chal­lenge. Fund­ing for the mu­se­ums come solely from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, a re­cur­renty ex­pen­di­ture that is part of the coun­try’s huge yearly civil ser­vice bur­den on the na­tion’s in­creas­ing in­fra­struc­ture deficit.

A for­mer cu­ra­tor at the Na­tional Mu­seum La­gos told The Guardian, “fund­ing is a big chal­lenge for us. To main­tain the aes­thetic value of this place, they need money. The kind of fund­ing we have is not enough to do the kind of things we are sup­posed to do.”

Be­yond poor fund­ing, ex­perts have said mu­se­ums should be work­ing in part­ner­ship with third-sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions to pre­serve and pro­tect these her­itages. A Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment-ford Foun­da­tion project aimed at re­mod­el­ing of Na­tional Mu­seum Onikan, La­gos, worth $2 mil­lion dol­lar was sus­pended by the for­eign donor due to the in­abil­ity of the gov­ern­ment to pro­vide N500 mil­lion coun­ter­part fund­ing.

The Act­ing DG, nev­er­the­less, called on com­mu­ni­ties in­ter­ested in devel­op­ing new fa­cil­i­ties that could project their cul­tures and his­tory to col­lab­o­rate with the Com­mis­sion.

The botched project, which in­cluded a con­ser­va­tory lab­o­ra­tory, was launched in 2009, but sus­pended some years af­ter by the Foun­da­tion.

The can­celed Fg-ford Foun­da­tion lab­o­ra­tory would have served the en­tire West Africa in area of restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion of arte­facts as well as gen­eral works of art, par­tic­u­larly of African ori­gin.

For sev­eral years, the Ford Foun­da­tion part of the fund­ing was avail­able, as gov­ern­ment ‘failed’ to pro­vide the coun­ter­part fund­ing.

On the drought of pro­fes­sion­als, the Mu­seum boss blamed the sit­u­a­tion on lim­ited va­can­cies in the Com­mis­sion.

“Those trained in ar­chae­ol­ogy, at com­ple­tion, com­plain of low salary struc­ture and the few who are em­ployed leave for greener pas­tures while some change cadres af­ter em­ploy­ment.

“The im­pli­ca­tion is grave but sys­tem­at­i­cally; the Com­mis­sion is grad­u­ally bridg­ing the gap of this dif­fer­ence in pro­fes­sion­al­ism,” Onuegbu said..

The cul­ture ac­tivist and com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­pert, Ben To­moloju, does not feel the blame should be heaped on the Com­mis­sion. He noted that the mu­se­ums have the staff to do the work, but “how ef­fec­tively have the pro­fes­sion­als who had been em­ployed in past few decades been en­cour­aged to utilise their skills to the fullest ca­pac­ity? I ask this ques­tion, be­cause as a mem­ber of the Gov­ern­ing Board of the Na­tional Com­mis­sion for Mu­se­ums and Mon­u­ments, in the early 1990s, the is­sue of ca­reer ful­fil­ment for the paras­tatal’s mem­bers of staff was of ut­most con­cern to my col­leagues and I on the Board.

“The spe­cial­ists had great ideas, hav­ing passed through the tute­lage of renowned schol­ars like, Pro­fes­sors Ekpo Eyo and Ade Obayemi at one stage or an­other. I re­call that L. I. Izuakor and M. O. Ham­bolu au­thored books in their re­spec­tive fields. There were a num­ber of oth­ers like, Charles Gonyok - a di­rec­tor, He­len Kerri, Adedi­ran and some oth­ers, who ex­hib­ited tremen­dous schol­ar­ship dur­ing their ser­vices at the Mu­seum. I don’t know where they are now. But as the Chair of the Board’s Sub-com­mit­tee on Es­tab­lish­ment, I was a wit­ness to their pro­fi­ciency and pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

While point­ing out that there can’t be drought of pro­fes­sion­als in the mu­seum to pro­vide the needed job, the for­mer Deputy Ed­i­tor of The­guardian, said,“we went to the ex­tent of in­struct­ing man­age­ment not to re­trench staff even in the face of eco­nomic ex­i­gen­cies like SAP, so that those ex­perts could de­velop their ca­pac­i­ties fully and build new gen­er­a­tion of pro­fes­sion­als. The man­age­ment un­der Dr. Yaro Gella con­formed.”

To­moloju, how­ever, blamed strin­gent but counter-pro­duc­tive gov­ern­ment poli­cies as bane of proper func­tion­ing of the in­sti­tu­tions in Nige­ria.

He listed the long years of ex­ci­sion of his­tory from the school cur­ricu­lum as one of them. He said, “the years must have had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the abil­ity of stu­dents to ap­pre­ci­ate their na­tional her­itage.”

His­tory was re­turned to the school cur­ric- ula in 2016-2017 ses­sion.

“What we have to ad­dress as a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion is the mar­ketabil­ity of the mu­seum and in­no­va­tive­ness of the ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­hance its rev­enue base and open up job prospects,” he noted.

He con­tin­ued, “we have to iden­tify the symp­toms and em­bark on the resti­tu­tion of the in­her­ent value of mu­seum ac­tiv­i­ties par­tic­u­larly in terms of ed­u­ca­tion and tourism.

“At the mo­ment, we have enough to take care of our ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­quire­ments, and we are pre­pared to en­gage many more, as the op­por­tu­ni­ties are given.”

His words: “In our days at NCMM, we com­pelled mem­bers of staff of the ed­u­ca­tion unit to con­duct out­reach pro­grammes in schools and or­gan­ise ed­u­ca­tional tours for schools on a weekly ba­sis. It didn’t end there. They had to show the at­ten­dance reg­is­ter to man­age­ment for eval­u­a­tion pur­poses. Like I hinted, there is also the prob­lem of per­cep­tion, es­pe­cially by re­li­gious big­ots who dis­cour­age mem­bers of the younger gen­er­a­tion from pa­tro­n­is­ing cul­tural events. They slam the la­bel of fetishism on cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions like the theatre and mu­seum, whereas their coun­ter­parts abroad are ac­tively in­volved in her­itage mat­ters for their ed­u­ca­tional val­ues. We need a full dose of cul­tural re-ori­en­ta­tion in Nige­ria to right these wrongs. After­all, some of the most renowned schol­ars in African stud­ies like Bo­laji Idowu, Lu­cas, Jeje and my grand un­cle Awolalu were cel­e­brated cler­gy­men.”

One may also add that vis­i­ta­tion to mu­se­ums should be ag­gres­sively pur­sued as a ma­jor co-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­ity of schools and mar­keted as such by the ed­u­ca­tional unit of the in­sti­tu­tion. The press also has a cru­cial role to play in this re­gard. In The­guardian of the 80s and early 90s, I did em­ploy a grad­u­ate of His­tory; for­mer Miss Ye­tunde Ad­joto (now Mrs. Od­juba) to cover the Mu­seum beat. She won an award while her se­nior col­league in charge of the me­dia; Mr. Bankole Ebisemiju also won an award on the same beat. I just have to men­tion this as a trib­ute to The­guardian in open­ing up and nur­tur­ing new beats, which had hith­erto been con­fined to the obliv­ion, and bring­ing them alive to pub­lic reck­on­ing. We should not leave the pro­mo­tion and prop­a­ga­tion of mu­seum cul­ture to the ad­min­is­tra­tors alone. The me­dia can help in no small mea­sure to gen­er­ate pub­lic aware­ness and in­ter­est in it.”

To­moloju said at a cer­tain stage dur­ing their ten­ure, they un­der­took a fa­cil­ity tour of the Na­tional Mu­seum, La­gos and were shocked by what they saw at the large store that looked like a ware­house. The store was filled to the brim with an­tiq­ui­ties of all kinds jum­bled, in­fested, gan­grened and un­kempt like a for­est of an eye­sore. Thou­sands of them. “It was a cul­ture shock. We called the at­ten­tion of the man­age­ment to it. This was be­fore Abacha dis­solved all the boards of fed­eral paras­tatals. At that time, a new mul­ti­pur­pose Mu­se­ums House - a high-rise was un­der con­struc­tion. We were con­soled that af­ter com­ple­tion those an­tique ob­jects would be moved into large ex­hi­bi­tion spa­ces with con­ser­va­tion artists work­ing on them and cu­ra­tors doc­u­ment­ing and set­ting them up for pub­lic view­ing like you have in the mu­se­ums of the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tutes in the USA. But, alas, that high-rise struc­ture was sold to a pri­vate prop­erty de­vel­oper and turned into a mall. So where will con­ser­va­tion­ists and cu­ra­tors show their skills in the modern sense. Even the sale of the ed­i­fice con­firms cor­rup­tion, as you have rightly ob­served, and a philis­tine ten­dency by peo­ple in gov­ern­ment. So, what can the com­mis­sion do? Fight the gov­ern­ment? Ex­cept, of course, if the stake­hold­ers protest re­lent­lessly as is the case with the Na­tional Theatre. But for the Mu­seum House, it is too late.”

The train­ing in­sti­tu­tion of the Com­mis­sion, which started as a UNESCO cen­tre for train­ing of mu­seum of­fi­cers in Africa, has been re­duced to a shadow of its old glory.

Aside from the fact that the cur­ricu­lum has re­mained the same since 1989, African coun­tries have stopped reg­is­ter­ing in the in­sti­tu­tion for some years now.

For­mally known as Bi Lin­gual train­ing Cen­tre (BTC), it is a UNESCO es­tab­lished in­sti­tute for the train­ing of mu­seum tech­ni­cians in Africa and it’s lo­cated in Jos, Plateau State.

Fol­low­ing the with­drawal of UNESCO and hand­ing over of the Cen­tre to the Fed­eral De­part­ment of An­tiq­ui­ties, Nige­ria gov­ern­ment has been sad­dled with re­spon­si­bil­ity of run­ning the in­sti­tu­tion.

In or­der to pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive train­ing in ar­chae­ol­ogy, two grad­u­ate train­ing schools were opened in 1990. These are the Cen­tre for Mu­seum Stud­ies for a di­ploma course and the In­sti­tute for Muse­ol­ogy & field Ar­chae­ol­ogy for post­grad­u­ate di­ploma in these fields.

The pro­gramme of this cen­tre is now pat­terned for the award of di­ploma cer­tifi­cate and now runs a two-year pro­gramme. The cur­ricu­lum of this cen­tre is po­si­tioned with the Na­tional Board for Tech­ni­cal Ed­u­ca­tion for stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and ac­cred­i­ta­tion.

The Com­mis­sion at the mo­ment has signed an MOU with the Univer­sity of Jos for the af­fil­i­a­tion of these two schools to the de­part­ment of Ar­chae­ol­ogy and Her­itage Stud­ies un­der the Fac­ulty of Arts.

The cur­ricu­lum, af­fil­i­a­tion fee and other nec­es­sary ma­te­ri­als have also been sent to the Univer­sity of Jos and the in­sti­tute is po­si­tioned for fi­nal af­fil­i­a­tion to the univer­sity. “We are ac­tu­ally do­ing a lot to po­si­tion that In­sti­tute to cater for the needs of the mo­ment,” Onuegbu said.

Old Res­i­dency Mu­seum Cal­abar, which served as ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre for the Oil River pro­tec­torate and later the South­ern Nige­ria Pro­tec­torate

Egbo Egbo Bassey House also called Ekpo Ekpo Bassey House was where the first Catholic mass held in Cal­abar on Fe­bru­ary 4, 1903. The mass was con­ducted by Rev. Fa­ther Lena.

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