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History Of Museum in Nigeria

The origin of Museums in Nigeria dates back to pre-European era during which cultural materials of religious, political and social importance were fashioned, conserved and preserved in traditional shrines and palaces of traditional rulers, shrines and sometimes caves.


The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) is an offshoot of a department in the then Federal Ministry of Works that was established in 1943. It was transferred to the Federal Ministry of information as the Department of Antiquities by ordinance 17 of the Colonial Government of 1953.

In both locations it was a civil service outfit in every respect as its functions were then routine, i.e. collection of objects, documentation of objects, research, and exhibition of collections, entertainment and education. These developments took place at a period during the colonial and post-colonial era when the subject of Africa civilization was in serious contestation. This led to carrying out sustained research into African Pre-Colonial Civilization.

In response to the contestation, the Federal Government set up a committee of seventeen (17) eminent scholars and intellectuals comprising Prof. K. Dike, Saburi Biobaku, Mallam Hassan Abuja and others. These intellectuals were scholars drawn from disciplines such as History, Creative Arts, Arts History, Sociology and Anthropology and other related disciplines.

It was acknowledged by the above Committee that the functions of the Department of Antiquities were hamstrung   by civil service environment which is characterized by bureaucracies hindering intellectualism, scholarship, and research.

The Committee’s recommendations corroborated that for the Federal Department of Antiquities to perform optimally, it needed greater autonomy to enable it to contain with the challenges of its mandate of a specialized institution that interfaces with relevant United Nations Agencies, Academic Centres and also to produce periodicals, publications and other research information materials.

In response to these overriding constraints of the Department of Antiquities and the recommendations of the Committee, the Federal Government created the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, (NCMM) as a parastatal, with the mandate to Collect, Document, Research and Exhibit objects.

History of NCMM

The origin of Museums in Nigeria dates back to pre-European era during which cultural materials of religious, political and social importance were fashioned, conserved and preserved in traditional shrines and palaces of traditional rulers, shrines and sometimes caves. Apart from housing these materials, these institutions served as monuments in their own rights such as caves. At that time the persons responsible for care and protection of these materials were heads of household, priests of various shrines. They acted more or less like curators.

However, the origin of modern Museums in Nigeria could be traced to the early 1930’s. The key actors then were K.C Murray, J. D. Clarks, B. E. Fagg, Hunt-Coole and Milburn who were colonial masters in Nigeria’s Education Department. They were invited to teach art in Nigeria at the instance of Chief Aina Onabolu, a European-trained Fine artist who persuaded the then Director of Education to allow qualified art teachers from the United Kingdom to take up teaching positions in secondary school and teacher training institutions in Nigeria. In K. C Murray’s view, contemporary art works should be taught based on traditional art. Unfortunately, there were no collections to learn from; secondly the uncontrolled way Nigeria’s antiquities were being shipped abroad was a great source of worry.

In their quest to preserve antiquities, they mounted pressure on the colonial government to legislate against exportation of cultural artefacts as well as set up museums. This led to the inauguration of Nigerian Antiquity Service on the 28th of July 1943 with K. C Murray as the first Director.

Clear-cut legislation to prevent the indiscriminate acquisition and exportation of Nigerian cultural materials were not instituted until 1953 when the Antiquities Ordinance No. 17 was passed. The bill provided for the creation of the National Department of Antiquities and charged with the responsibility of exploration, care and preservation of antiquities or works of art, and provided also for the control of exportation of works of art from Nigeria (Nzewunwa, 1984:102)

This metamorphosed to Antiquities Commission with Kenneth Dike as the first Chairman of the Governing Board. The Commission was charged with the responsibility of exploring, caring for and preservation of antiquities or works of art, and provided for the control of exportation of works of art from Nigeria.

In 1979, a comprehensive review of the legislation concerning cultural resources in Nigeria was undertaken with the promulgation of decree No. 77 dissolving the Antiquities Commission and the Department of Antiquities earlier established was replaced with National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). The NCMM saw to the establishment of museums and monuments in different parts of the country, such as Esie, Jos, Ile-Ife, Lagos etc. with more roles assigned to the Commission and more museums established and the need to give the Commission wider recognition, the decree 77 of 1979 establishing National Commission for Museums and Monuments was promulgated. This replaced National Antiquities Commission.

Presently the National Commission for Museums and Monuments manages and oversees fifty-three Museums and outlets spread across the country, sixty-five National Monuments and two World Heritage Sites.  The museums are basically ethnographic and archaeological in nature. Some are specialised such as the Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA) and Zoological Garden in Jos, while others are localized with collections from the immediate environments, for example Igbo-Ukwu, Ile-Ife, Nok and Benin. In Lagos and Enugu as well as many of our National Museums across the country, for example, reflect national outlook; the collections are from the different geo-cultural zones depicting the various art traditions of the country.  The Commission also manages museums that extol the good leadership qualities of our past leaders like the Tafawa Balewa Mausoleum in Bauchi State. It also runs interpretation centres at its two World Heritage Sites (Sukur and Osogbo) as well as a Rock Art Interpretation centre in Birnin Kudu.

These monuments comprise of historical buildings and sites, archaeological sites, technological and sculptured works, paintings, inscriptions, caves groves, temples, palaces and landscapes which are found to exhibit various values from the point of view of history, art, science, aesthetics, ethnography, anthropology, architecture and others.

The Commission as it is currently constituted is made up of six departments namely Departments of Museum; Research, Planning and Publications; Educational Services and Training; Monuments, Heritage and Sites; Finance and Accounts and Administration and Supplies. 

Past Directors – General and CEOs

1 Mr. Kenneth C. Murray Director Antiquities 1943 -1957
2 Mr. Benard E. D. Fagg Surveyor of Antiquities 1957 -1963
3 Mr. Kenneth C. Murray Director Antiquities 1963 -1968
4 Dr. Ekpo Eyo  Director of Antiquities 1968 -1979
5 Dr. Ekpo Eyo  Director General 1979-1986
6 C.O.O. Ugowe   Ag. Director General 1986 1987
7 Prof. Ade Obayemi Director General 1987-1991
8 Dr. Suleiman Bello Sole Administrator Sept 1987- Nov. 1991
9 Dr. Yaro Gella  Director General Nov.1991- July. 2000
10 Dr. Omotosho Eluyemi Director General Aug.2000 – Feb.2006
11 Barr. Joseph Akujobi Okoro  Ag. Director General Feb.2006- July. 2006
12 Dr. O. Joseph Eboreime  Director General Aug.2006- Nov. 2007 & Aug.2008- Aug.2009
13 Iranola Akingun-Robert  Ag. Director General Nov. 2007- June 2008
14 Dr. Ochi Achinivu  Ag. Director General June 2008- July 2008
15 Barr. Ozoboile A.S Alasan   Ag. Director General Sept. 2008 -Nov. 2008
16 Yusuf Abdallah Usman Director General 2009 – 2017
17 Barr. Emeka Onuegbu Ag. Director General Nov. 2017 – August 2018
18 Alhaji Abdulkerim O Kadiri (FCA) Ag. Director General Aug. 2018 – Feb. 2020
19 Abdul Lass Aliyu Director Overseeing the Office of the Director General Feb. 2020 – Aug. 2020

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