The museum which is regarded as a place where objects of historical, scientific or artistic interest are kept helps people (both old and young) to learn about their origin, appreciate work of art and make researches in various fields. However, the knowledge of the museum is not widely accepted in Nigeria as some people still think objects kept in the museum are fetish.
To confirm if the museum is generally serving its purpose, ENCOMIUM Weekly visited the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, where we spoke to the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Okechukwu Okalanwa who took us round the gallery from Nigeria Art in Circle of Life with 7 segments namely fertility and birth, initiation, adult life, external influence, wisdom and learning, re-incarnation, death, burial and funeral, to temporary exhibition hall where artworks displayed temporarily, to Nigeria Government where we have portraits of various Nigerian leaders (both past and present) and the state car in which former Nigerian Head of State in the military regime, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed was assassinated, to the export permit where permits are issued to take artworks out of the country.
In this interview with ENCOMIUM Weekly, he spoke extensively on the belief of Nigerians about the museum and on how things are run there…
Of course, yes. The museum is very much serving its purpose, even as the economy is in bad shape. If not that most schools are on holiday, you would have seen what I am saying. You know, the museum cuts across arts and culture, tourism, research, education and entertainment. so, people come here for so many reasons.
What kind of people come here?
Students come here, students of various levels. The primary school students come on excursion, secondary schools also come here to learn about so many things. Even higher institutions come for research for their projects and sometimes when they are given assignment.
The knowledge of museum is not widely accepted among Nigerians. Some think objects are fetish which is not so. If that was true, then priests should be managing here.
Do foreigners visit here too?
Yes, foreigners also visit here. Even parents bring their wards here. If you want to write about Nigeria’s history, you need to visit the museum for proper research. People also come here for exhibition to appreciate the work of art.
What impact do you think the museum has on its visitors after their visit?
It depends on the purpose of such visitor’s visit and his commitment to what he has come here to do. But I am quite sure that with the quality of the materials we have here, because we have over 40,000 pieces of artwork that can serve the purpose of anyone’s visit. If you are committed and you come here to be educated on artwork, we have tour men who would take you around and explain things to you. Some don’t even come here to learn, they just come for relaxation. But the museum is more than just that, it cuts across so many things.
Is it possible to know the number of people who come here on a daily basis?
Like I said earlier, schools bring their students/pupils here on excursion and at an average 10-15 schools come here. At times, each school can have like 50 students. Now multiply by 10 to 15 schools in a week, not to talk of a month. You can see we have huge figures. And aside students, other people come here. We have those that keep the record downstairs.
What are the procedures for gaining entrance into the museum?
The museum is for everyone. I can’t tell anyone not to come in here because what we have inside here is not my father’s property. It’s for everyone in the nation. If I stop you from coming in, you have the right to sue me. But to have access to all the work of art here, for children the charge is N100, adult N200, foreigners N300. Though we don’t allow people to touch, carry or snap the sculptures.
The reason we don’t allow people to take pictures is to prevent people from duplicating them. When things get missing, you won’t know because they would have been replaced with the duplicate. To avoid this, we don’t allow people to take pictures.
If people want to come here for exhibition, they would have registered and be assigned date. If they are too much, we might have to split them and then the tour men would take them around. We have various sections here. We have the library, exhibition hall, Nigerian art in circle of life, Nigerian government, yesterday and today, and so on.
How do you maintain this place?
To take care of this place is not so easy. We have the finance aspect and human maintenance. Taking care of the museum is not just to come and sweep the floor and start business for the day. It is more than that. Most of the things here have been here for years. We have those that handle these things and keep them in good shape.
What do you think the government can do to promote the museum to the standard of the world class?
Well, the government has really been trying. But you know the situation in the country, the monopoly of the economy. The country depends solely on petroleum which is not meant to be. The world definition of the museum is that it is a non-profit unit. If it is was to be a profit making unit, with the amount of artwork and other historic items that we have (over 40,000 of them), the museum would be able to stand on its own. But when the case is not like that, it means we rely on the government for a lot of things. Look at the situation now, there is no light and light shouldn’t be a problem here. There was a guy that came here from STV and he was sweating. I told him that it is one of the challenges we face here. The government should provide e-library for researchers. If this can be done, I’m sure it would take the library a long way.
-AZEEZAT KAREEM and SHUKURAT ALIMI