Archaeology is still a highly misunderstood subject in Nigeria, just as in other parts of West Africa. To the general public, including educated lay persons, archaeology is a government-funded triviality without any relevance to today’s challenges and expectations.
Government agencies like museums and state cultural centers are mainly responsible for financing archaeological operations in Nigeria. Their target is to conserve and preserve for posterity archaeological sites and monuments that dot the geo-polity. They are also to promote tourism – an industry that is yet to blossom in the country due to poor management policies.
The poor image of archaeology in Nigeria is a reflection of a wide communication gap between the practitioners as well as governments and the general public. In this connection, radio and television programs popularizing archaeology are important so that more people can begin to appreciate its relevance to practical issues.
Archaeologists in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole need to tell the public about their work in order to remove its current esoteric character.
While a few West African archaeologists are becoming worried about this situation and are advocating for a paradigm shift, many colleagues still believe that popular education in archaeology is unnecessary. They are satisfied with their own personal agendas. But archaeology is a dynamic subject reflecting the ever-changing human challenges and expectations in time and space. Therefore it is better to conceptualize it in two ways as follows:
Professional training – involving surveys and excavations as well as writing specialist reports. This is largely for members of the archaeological society.
Popular education – this entails writing jargon-free reports. This enables us to unlock the past so that it can serve as a source of fascination and education for a wider range of people.
The non-teaching of archaeology at the primary and secondary school levels also contributes to its unpopularity.
Only three universities in Nigeria, located in Ibadan, Nsukka and Zaria, have archaeology programs. However, these departments do not have enough modern facilities for both field and laboratory research.
More international exchanges are desirable to expand the frontiers of knowledge of staff and students. Nigerian archaeologists should be participating in international archaeological campaigns in countries like Britain, America, Germany, Italy, France and South Africa. Similarly, scholars and students from these countries should be encouraged to visit Nigeria to do joint research.
In addition, the teaching and practice of archaeology must be more socially and globally engaging as opposed to the current rigid mindset with respect to pedagogy. Modern archaeology in West Africa should include on-site re-enactment operations, constructing replicas of archaeological finds on sites. This is one of the pillars of ‘modern open museum’ enterprise. This can enable a ‘dead’ archaeological site to come alive – sites like Old Oyo, Birni Garzargamo and Igbo-Ukwu could be transformed into such tourist attractions.
But we need great commitment on the part of all the stakeholders. This includes partnerships with museologists, museum technicians and architects among others. This shows the multi-dimensional character of modern archaeology.