Vanguard (Lagos)

25 January 2013

Nigeria: Onikan Museum - Place Where History Comes Alive

It is often said that a race that forgets its past will sooner die, and that a glimpse of our past gives an insight into what we are today and even potential future. A visit to the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos recently brings to life all of the leaders that have one way or the other shaped the history of Nigeria.

The windshield and the body of the black Mercedes Benz were pierced with several bullets. The front windshield has two big holes from the gun shots just as the body carried the scare of almost ten holes on both sides.

From the bullets holes , one can confidently bet that the occupants could not have survived and truely they were not lucky. The death of one of the occupants has remained with the country since that faithful Friday, February 13, 1976.

Former Nigeria Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed, was on that day shot dead at Obalende on his way back from the Mosque ,where he had gone to perform his Jummat prayer ,by some soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Suka Dimka in an abortive military coup against the government.

Today, that black Mercedes Benz is at the National Museum, Onikan with the red leather upholstery, dashboard and steering wheel among others still looking elegant with the Nigerian flag and that of the Nigerian Army flying in front dotting the front of the sedan benz.

Seeing the Mercedes car my mind raced back to my childhood in Benin. I remembered as a child having to see my parents peep through our windows with light off looking at the army that took over the street of Benin City after the coup was crushed by forces loyal to the government.

Turning my eyes away from the car, I stood face to face with the picture of the coup leader, Lieutenant Colonel Dimka, sandwiched between officers that arrested him .The look on his face did not show that of a remorseful officer.

In the same hall were the pictures of former Nigerian leaders from Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa to the the current President, Good luck Jonathan.

The National Museum really provides a unique interactive experience of getting up close to things we usually only see in books, newspapers or on the television.

Seeing the late Head of State's car for example, is a totally different experience to seeing one of the several printed versions; the perception you get of something from a second-hand source is often completely different to the one you get when you see something with your own eyes.

As I made my way out of the exhibition hall in company of the museum guide, Omidire Olabisi, I pondered over the men of yester years who are still in government today. Still in that mood, the guide drew my attention to the colourful ladies in the pictures that looked like bill boards in the main court yard of the museum.

"These were pictures taken at an exhibition of lace materials in Lagos organised by the Austrian embassy here. You know Nigerian women travel there to buy lace materials."

Along side the pictures of the ladies with different colours of the lace materials are the pictures of some monuments in Nigeria like the Benin moats, and The Gidan Makama in Kano.

For many Lagosians going to the museum can bring to life what they have heard about old Lagos, like the old secretariat, race course , Kuramo beach where you have the Eko hotel today, the old Ikorodu road and what the Tinubu square looked like in the 40s among other monuments in Lagos.

For firsthand experience of the country's history, occupation and beliefs, the National Museum, Onikan can be an extremely valuable source for such information. As we made our way into the main museum, I was impressed by the sheer beauty of the place.

The voice of Omidire Olabisi brought me back to life again , "here we are in the section that contains objects for fertility and birth."

On display are hoe, wooden gong, Opa Ifa, black pot and osohin staff. He explained that in traditional belief, women must be fertile to give birth and if a woman is married and can not give birth then the Ifa must be consulted, "that is why you have opa ifa, osehin staff."

After the woman might have been treated and gives birth then you have the birth objects like a stood to be sat on by the new mother and hoe as well as the gong.

"In the some part of Nigeria, the woman will sit on the object to facilitate the delivery, if the child does not cry at birth they beat the hoe with a stick to awaken the baby and the gong to announce the birth of the baby.

"They use this black pot to bury the umbilical cord, if the child is not doing well in the future; they consult the umbilical cord as the pot does not decay."

There are various objects that take a tourist through the entire life of the child from naming in traditional Nigerian cultures to adulthood and even deaths.

In adults life the various stages from household, governance; occupation and religion are captured in the objects on display at the museum.

"We have here items for occupation like farming, palm wine tapping , fishing items, Blacksmith , weaving, carving as well as household items , religion like Sango , Oya, Obatala , Esu."

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