11 ‘Hidden’ museums in Nigeria you need to see
By Pelu Awofeso
I visited a museum for the first time in 1998; to date, I have been in and out of 20, a few of them more than once. The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) manages 40+ museums nationwide, and there is possibly double that number of museums managed by individuals, groups, local and state governments, so you have an idea the variety that exists. However, there are a couple of interesting museums I have visited recently, off the beaten track and which visitors to Nigeria should know about. Read about them below:
- The CBAAC Museum: I take it that you have heard of FESTAC ‘77. What you probably don’t know is that most of the artworks displayed by the 50 participating countries at that epochal event are housed inside the CBAAC (Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation) Lagos office on Broad Street: and that includes the larger-than-life sculpture (up to 20 feet tall) Queen idia, the festival’s iconic logo, which is what you first see at the ground floor (just after the reception). Exhibits in the four galleries include prototypes of traditional architecture, textiles, figurines, and lots more.
- Odu’a Museum and Hall of Fame: I take it also that you know the Cocoa House (in Ibadan), the first skyscraper in Nigeria (1965). What you probably don’t know is that it is 25 floors high and is home to the Odu’a Hall of Fame and Museum (on the 24th floor), declared open to the public in 2013 by Nobel Laureate Professor Wole Soyinka. As the name implies, what you’ll find here are exhibits that promote the culture, history and heritage of the Yorubas—masquerades, musical instruments, fashion, and royalty, to mention a few. Prepare to be transported back to an era of atupa (oil-lamps) and vicious intra-ethnic wars from the 19th century.
- Zoology Museum: The University of Ibadan zoo is popular among residents and visitors to the ‘pacesetter state’. What most tourists don’t know is that just a few metres from there sits a well-stocked zoolog museum, which has a captivating array of specimens (wet and dry preserved; extinct and non-extinct) of the animal kingdom—from crabs and cranes (a type of bird) to mice and millipedes. The sheer variety of the exhibits will make you appreciate wildlife more. Prepare to spend roughly 90 minutes with the in-house guide.
- MOTNA: In full, that word means Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture. It is situated inside the Jos National Museum (Plateau State) and comprises life-size replicas of the building styles of different ethnic groups in Nigeria. To quote the NCMM, MOTNA “is not only beautiful but functional”. What also makes MOTNA a big deal is that it is said to be the only one of its kind in the world. When you have concluded your tour, you may stroll over to the Bight of Benin restaurant (another masterpiece of traditional architecture) for a snack or a meal.
- The POTTERY Museum: Another museum I will recommend highly is the pottery section of the Jos National Museum, which houses hundreds of earthenware (all shapes, all sizes) representative of almost every culture in Nigeria. Just so you know: pottery is not just for storing water; they serve other purposes, including ceremonial and traditional. Sadly, that awesome collection is losing its shine as a result of neglect; so go see it fast before the elements do more irreparable damage.
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- The Yar’Adua Museum: Officially described as the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Exhibition, this collection is housed in the sparkling Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre (Central Area, Abuja) and celebrates the life, personality and achievements of one of Nigeria’s under-celebrated heroes who died in 1997, aged 54. In one of the many tributes to the man (displayed in the first section), former president Olusegun Obasanjo says: “He lived for the ordinary people of this country. He lived so that this country can make progress. He lived for democracy. And he died for what he lived for”. If you’re like me, that’s the kind of man you should want to read about.
- The Slave History Museum: Commissioned a few years ago by the Cross River State government (at the Marina Resort), this museum sent chills down my spine the first time I took a tour of it. This is a museum that touches nearly all of your senses: aside from the graphic rendering of the slaves and their European masters, there is an audio-visual element to the exhibits (At the time I visited, the playback of screams by slaves in pain felt almost real). This museum is about the closest anyone in Nigeria can get to feel the torment of slavery.
- The Currency Museum: I was delighted to hear about the commissioning of the ‘money museum’ by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2009 as part of its 50th anniversary. Showcasing Nigeria’s currency evolution—from Manilas to the Naira—it is located in the bank’s Abuja office and requires visitors to apply in advance. I should see this when next I am in the FCT.
- Shyllon Museum of Nigerian Art: This museum is still in the works and is a donation by one of Nigeria’s best known collectors (Engr. Yemisi Shyllon) to the Pan Atlantic University (Ajah, Lagos). When the museum is eventually open to the public, it will kick off with 1000 pieces of art, including works by the likes of El Anatsui, Yusuf Grillo, and Bruce Onabrakpeya; quoting the donor, the Guardian describes the facility as a “one-stop-museum of ancient, traditional, modern and contemorary Nigerian art”.
- 10. Hubert Ogunde Museum: This museum, situated in the country home (Ososa, Ogun State) of the late pacesetting filmmaker officially opened in April 2015 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Ogunde’s death. In it you’ll find Ogunde’s personal effects, photographs, scripts and costumes from his stage and film productions, and the albums he released in his lifetime. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the entire facility, which includes Ogunde’s room, the rehearsals spot, multiple changing rooms and two of the vehicles which transported the group across the country.
- Aroko Green Museum: For environmentalists and anyone who is interested in the subject of recycling, this is the museum you should visit. Set up recently on the outskirts of Abeokuta (Ogun State) by artist Olanrewaju Tejuosho, Aroko displays works by Tejuosho, all made from domestic waste. The collection brightens up the dull surroundings really; and to hear the curator explain the inspiration underpinning them is to have a rethink about the trash we generate on a daily basis.