For the price of a bottle of coke, a pupil at N100 or an adult at N200 is granted access to Nigeria's premier and leading gallery of history and culture, the National Museum at Onikan, Lagos State. Save for the small signage affixed to the museum's main building and the little crowd of those initiated into arts and culture affairs, the site of Nigeria's largest collector of artefacts may well be mistaken for a graveyard.
Tomorrow, thousands of Lagosians would troop into the main bowl of the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), for the inauguration of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu as the governor of Lagos State. A thriving city mall separates the museum from TBS, yet only a handful of the crowd would be aware of the museum's existence.
On the average, according to the curator of the National Museum, Lagos, Mrs. Omotayo Adeboye, there are between 10,000 to 12,000 visitors every year. "We have our low and peak periods. The highest visitors to the museum are students and March is our peak period when the pupils are about ending their second term. We have a lot of iconic works, which are part of the school curriculum," she said.
With the low turnout of visitors and the paltry amount being charged, there is even a sense that culture enthusiasts are shortchanged with the discovery that only about a mere 300 collections are on display at the library, while more than 47,000 works of priceless arts are locked up in the store and are at risk of being damaged due to the poor maintenance of the museum.
When The Guardian visited last week during the occasion of the International Museum Day, it was observed that the three wings of the gallery set up in 1957, had leaky roofs with water dripping on the floor following a downpour. The library, which has thousands of books, was also not left out of the rot. The trio of the archival, library and museum sections were yet to be digitalized.
A tour guide, who preferred anonymity, said many complaints had been sent to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, its supervising agency, but nothing had been done. He said: "It is unfortunate that what is cherished in other climes is neglected here.
"We have about 47,000 collections kept in the store that cannot be displayed because of space. Many of the works are prone to destruction because they need not just space but the right humidity to preserve them, with an air conditioning atmosphere 24/7 but where can we get that with the power situation in the country."
He however dismissed the claims that stored artefacts risk being stolen and smuggled abroad. According to him, "to have access to the store, it will be on a special request. You will be registered with security, searched when going in and when coming out because some objects are tiny and can be put in the pocket.
"Ordinarily, if we have the luxury of space, all the collections would be displayed and exhibited. We should at this level have a high-rise gallery that students and the public will be visiting regularly instead of going to the beach, Shoprite or KFC. Sadly, the number of collection on display are not up to 300 while you have more than 47,000 pieces in the store."
One of the attractions to the Lagos museum is the Nigerian Government: Yesterday and Today quarters, which houses profile of Nigerian leaders from pre-independence till date as well as the official vehicle of the assassinated Head of State, Gen. Murtala Muhammed, battered with bullet holes.
He was brutally killed in the attack on that fateful Friday of February 13, 1976 on his way to Dodan barracks, the seat of government, alongside his ADC, Lt Akintunde Akinterinwa. The lone survivor and orderly to the head of state, Staff Sergeant Michael Otuwu, sat in front with the driver, Sergeant Adamu Michika. The vehicle is parked in all its majesty in the room, which walls have all been taken up by portraits and profiles of Nigerian leaders.
The room, which eagerly begs for attention is already choked up and would need extra space to display portraits and profiles of Nigerian top three leaders after May 29, 2023, when the current administration would end its tenure.
It was also observed that no special mention or recognition was reserved for the June 12, 1993 election hero, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, let alone his picture. When asked about this, the tour guide noted that while the contentious issue of June 12 has been put to rest with the recognition of the day by President Muhammadu Buhari, "as a public servant, if order has not been given by your boss, you cannot carry out any directive. Despite the fact that Abiola has been recognized, we should await the time when directive would be given to the museum to exhibit him in our collection of Nigeria leaders," he said.
The International Museum Day is held on May 18 every year, and is coordinated by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). This year's theme: "Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition", was meant to focus on the new roles of museums as active actors in their communities. The occasion was used by some stakeholders to call on the Federal Government to resuscitate the nation's museums across the 34 states of the federation to keep pace with their international counterparts.
The stakeholders who spoke in separate interviews in Lagos said museums across the world are the first point of call for every tourist and should be well-maintained to attract tourists. Mrs Adeboye said apart from the museum not be adequately funded by the Federal Government, the mentality of the public is averse to historical details.
"We need a reorientation to appreciate our heritage and history. The museum is still seen to most people as a fetish centre. Even some staff members at first reject their letters of appointment when they are posted to the museum, but it is a relaxation and educative centre."
Dr. Kolawole Oseni, Director, Records & Archives, Lagos State Records and Archives Bureau, advocated the need for total restructuring of the Nigerian museum system. "For example, in many of the museums, there may be up to six accountants and seven auditors while there will be no curator, archaeologist, or any other relevant professionals in the museum.
"I have visited museums in other parts of the world, it is usually the first place that my host would take me. Those museums are like a compass or GPS. They give orientation to the history of the country and the community, they tell stories about the ancestors' struggles, travails, and triumph; they show the pride and confidence of the present generation; and they provide clarity about the aspirations of the society. Does any of our museums in Nigeria demonstrate these qualities? No. Those foreign museums I am talking about have more curators than accountants, more education officers than auditors, more community outreach specialists than clerical staff. This is why they are able to live up to their responsibilities."