'Missing' archival object sparks debate on museum decadence(First published Tuesday, October 07, 2008)
By Tajudeen Sowole
By Tajudeen Sowole
ONE of the relics and symbols of the nation's post-independence history was missing in action during the 48th independence anniversary last week.
That symbol of an evolution of a fragile nation and the bullet riddled official car of the late Head of State, Brigadier General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, who was assassinated during the botched military coup of 1976, was conspicuously unavailable at its usual spot, inside the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos.
Several hundreds of visitors to the museum were disappointed that on a day as crucial as the Independence Day, the historic car and other symbols of the Nigeria nationhood, which usually refresh visitors' memories of the nation's past, were locked up somewhere.
The car, a museum display of many years, was removed about two months earlier. For several years, the dilapidated state of the detached gallery, which houses exhibits about Nigerian governments – including the historic car – was not just a concern for observers, but an embarrassment to the nation.
Few months ago, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, during his visit to the museum ordered the demolition of the gallery and other huts in the premises. Shortly after the demolition, the curator of the museum, Ms Ronke Ashaye must have articulated the consequence of the non-availability of the car and other exhibits when she made a public statement to that effect. She said: "The vehicle has been relocated to a temporary and secured location on the Lagos museum campus. Don't worry, it will soon return to public viewing."
While noting that the car, for many years, had been a source of knowledge for visitors, particularly school children, Ashaye explained government's redevelopment plans for the museum.
"We have been busy looking for ways to make the museum more appealing, from the outside as well as the inside. You will notice several of the small huts near the Museum Kitchen have been removed and we recently were given permission to remove the gallery that held exhibits about Nigerian Governments," Ashaye explained.
|Bullet-riddled official car Murtala Muhammed|
But the response of members of the public who visited the museum during the Independence Day celebration showed that the government's information, particularly on the "temporary" relocation of the historic car did not get to the people.
Among the disappointed visitors were the Olaoja family; a group of four, including a man and his three children and a lady who raised another issue over the location of the car.
Mr. Olaoja, a civil engineer, could not hide his anger as he argued that the place of the car in the nation's history is so crucial that on a day like the Independence anniversary, it should still be made available to visitors wherever it is.
Olaoja chided the museum for what he described as lack of planning, saying that "the timing of removal is wrong, and yet, government could not inform the public about this development; what insensitivity!"
And when told that, the museum, in its last newsletter informed the public about the relocation, Olaoja argued that the fact that a lot of people came to the museum to see the car and other related objects proved that such medium was not effective.
The lady whose emotive reaction would not allow her to give her name punctured the museum's explanation that the car is relocated within the premises.
"I don't believe that the car is still within the compound here. I am sure they are deceiving the public. If the car is still here as the security men said, what is the big deal in allowing visitors see it wherever it is kept while the new house is being constructed?" she asked with rage.
All efforts to convince the lady that the car was still within the museum failed as she instantly won more converts of pessimists, among the visitors, to her position.
If there was any agency of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation that has suffered much neglect over the years, the Onikan edifice would top the list.
In her response to the disappointment of the public as regards non-access to view the car during the Independence Day, Ashaye stressed that the importance of the car to the visiting public was never lost to the management. Every effort, she argued, was being done to fast track return of the gallery.
On the possibility of making the car and other exhibits of importance available while the rehabilitation is going on, the curator said the temporary location of the object is not the best place to allow for such viewing by the public due to what she described as "not conducive." The car, she emphasised is still within the Onikan museum.
The ongoing rehabilitation, apparently, is not unconnected with the partnership the management currently enjoy with Ford Foundation to make the museum a befitting edifice.
Coincidentally, a team of volunteers working on the rehabilitation of the museum took a tour of the premises just about the period of the nation's Independence anniversary. The team, under the Developmental Initiative Network (DIN), included representatives from South Africa, Tanzania, Benin Republic, Ghana and the United Kingdom.
One of the members of that team, Prof. Perkins Foss of the Yale University, U.S., who spoke at a separate occasion, few days ago, stressed the importance of an international standard museum.
The current state of the nation's national museums, Foss noted, places the country in an awkward situation before the international community, particularly, on the issue of restitution of its controversial cultural objects in museums across Europe and in the U.S.
The development at Onikan on the Independence Day leads to a revisit of factors responsible for the general decadence at the edifice, over the years. The place of museum in the life of a people transcends a single occasion like the Independence Day Anniversary.
Nigeria is a member of the International Council of Museums, ICOM. The global body states: "A museum is a non-profit making, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of people and their environment."
Domesticating that definition led to the creation of the agency, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) to ensure that Nigeria is not left out of the global community.
Perhaps the most relevant forum, in recent times where the ministry had the opportunity to defend its activities in the last one year was the ministerial briefing held in Lagos last June.
Among other objectives of NCMM, the minister stated: "To raise the standard of all the existing National Museums in the country through provision of funds and adequate facilities; use tangible and intangible heritage of Nigeria to promote and propagate national consciousness, pride and cultural unity in lieu of diversity and heterogeneity."
From a its dilapidated structure which was recently deodorized with paint; poor preservation facilities for various antiquities; to inadequate library; poor information centre, the current rehabilitation exercise by the management, though long over due, is a welcome development.