A Walk Around Nigeria’s Lesser-Known Museums; 70 Years of Priceless Heritage

Nigerian Nostaglia Project
Featured Image: A Woman with a statue on her head, Otukp’icho village, Benue 1977. Vintage Nigeria. Courtesy of the Nigerian Nostalgia Project. Find more information on the project here.

The cultural heritage of Nigeria’s pre-colonial era is still evident, represented by numerous ancient monuments, artifacts and works of art. Nigerian Reporter has information on the country’s often overlooked museums that could offer every tourist an insight into Nigeria’s cultural significance.

By Pelu Awofeso

The museum in Nigeria turned 70 last December. And to commemorate that milestone, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has opened an exhibition at the Lagos National Museum, titled “The Nigerian Museum at 70—An Enduring Legacy”.

Hosted at the National Museum in Lagos, the exhibition showcases objects sourced from different parts of Nigeria, all grouped under six broad categories: Fathers of the Museum; Facial Marks; Use of Beads; Ancestral/Traditional Worship; Techniques of Production; and Masks.

Ivory from Benin City (courtesy of the Lagos National Museum)
Ivory from Benin City. Courtesy of the Lagos National Museum.

According to the introduction to the exhibition, “The museum and her collections have gone through several incidences, including war, theft, illegal trafficking and yet the collection has grown from just a handful at inception to over 40,000 objects in the Lagos museum alone.”

The objects on display range from the ancient Nok culture (500BC-200AD, NW Nigeria) through 9th century bronzes from Igbo-Ukwu (NE Nigeria) to 15th century terra-cotta figurines from Owo town (SW Nigeria). Also on show are rare statues depicting the monarchy in culturally and historically rich Benin City (SS Nigeria) and brass figurines from Ile-Ife (SW Nigeria); there is also the famed but rarely seen soapstones from Esie (Kwara State), where the first ever museum in Nigeria was sited in 1945.

“Nigeria’s cultural heritage is diverse in nature, origin and cut across various ethnic groups,” goes another text from the exhibition, which remains open until further notice. “Artifacts come in various forms and these exhibits are tangible living cultures of the people.”

Museum Object (courtesy Lagos National Museum)
Museum Object. Courtesy Lagos National Museum.

The section on masks is breathtaking, presenting some of the most awe-inspiring headdresses from across the country—from Boki and Ogoni country to Igala and Efik lands—made from wood, ivory and metal. Masks are usually worn by masquerades during traditional ceremonies in Nigeria.

Fittingly, the exhibition pays tribute to some of the men who have been instrumental to the birth and sustenance of the museum establishment in Nigeria: from the earliest British curators Keneth Murray and Bernard Fagg to their Nigerian successors Prof. Ekpo Eyo and Dr. Eluyemi Omotosho.

“These “fathers” who were in command at different periods during the seventy years collected objects directly and indirectly,” according to a commemorative statement on the NCMM website. “The accumulated objects are from various ethnic groupings yet when assembled they present common traits that can be instrumental to our national unity.”

There are at least 45 federal museums in Nigeria, including four museums of national unity; a couple dozen more are owned and funded by state governments and private or community concerns.

For more details on museum hours and exhibitions on display contact Museum Director Okalanwa Okechukwu. Email: Okechukwuokalanwa@yahoo.com.

Pelu Awofeso is designated travel guru for all things travel and art in Nigeria. Find more information about his travel tours @travelnextdoor.