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Folu Oyefeso

Getting lost at the National Archives of Nigeria, Ibadan

While the internet offers a treasure trove of information, there are moments when the hum of digital screens can't compare to the hush of a quiet archive room. The virtual world offers convenience, but when it's time to unravel the tapestry of history, nothing beats the experience of turning centuries-old pages.


Recently, I took a trip to the National Archives in Ibadan, seeking a deeper understanding on certain topics that are buried within these time-worn pages. I was pleasantly surprised to see the wealth of resources available to me, and I wanted to know more about how the archive came to be.


The National Archives of Nigeria, Ibadan - The first in a series of archives that house important data about Nigerian history.
The National Archives of Nigeria, Ibaadan - The first in a series of archives that house important data about Nigerian history.

Starting in 1951 and spanning 3 years, a man named Kenneth Onwuka Dike ran a survey on public records in Nigeria. Based on his findings, he thought it wise for the country to have an office of public records, a place where historical data can be housed and protected for future generations to use. This brilliant idea was the genesis of official archiving in Nigeria and today, there are archives all over the country that house historical documents that date far back.


Kenneth Dike was an educator and historian, so he understood the value of this information and knowledge sharing. He was the first Nigerian vice-chancellor of the country's premier University (University of Ibadan). He foresaw the importance of safeguarding these records so that people like us can have historical breadcrumbs to follow.


Kenneth O Dike - Founder of the National Archives. Kenneth Dike Library, Ibadan is  named after him
Kenneth O Dike - Founder of the National Archives

The Federal Government provided £51,000 towards the project and by 1959, the first archive building was opened in the University. Today, there are 15 National archives across the country, but the 3 major ones are in Ibadan, Enugu and Kaduna.


Before you have a look at the documents, you need to register as a member and this costs N5,000 per month. You will be paired with a guide who will show you the different sections and teach you how the archive works. There's so much information in the building, so it is helpful to pay attention to the system in place for keeping track of everything.


Section of the National archives showing the categorisation methods for keeping track of records.
Section of the National archives showing the categorisation methods for keeping track of records.

Despite the guide, I still felt overwhelmed at the outstanding volume of text available. Entire rooms were dedicated to Nigerian newspapers alone and spending a few minutes in this section, you start to notice that history really repeats itself. You wouldn't believe how political higi-haga from the 40's holds eerily similar themes in today's day and age. This begs the question of why history is not taught in our schools. Perhaps we will learn a lot from our fore-people's mistakes if we were intentionally taught about Nigerian history...


Among the infinite rows and shelves, you can expect to find maps, official documents, military records, photographs, government correspondence, biographies, hand-written colonial letters and much much more. You are only limited by your imagination, and if you seek it, they most likely have it.


A glimpse of the National archive library, showing rows of books and journals.
A glimpse of the National archive library, showing rows of books and journals.

A hand-written letter from the 1800's, most likely written on papyrus.
A hand-written letter from the 1800's, most likely written on papyrus.

Map of the Abeokuta and Ijebu provinces
Map of the Abeokuta and Ijebu provinces

It felt quite astounding to visit this data bank, especially after hearing about it for years. I was able to conduct my research in a depth that internet sources couldn't provide and we left the archives feeling like we had just unlocked a new level in the game of life.


I would encourage everyone to embark on their own journeys of exploration and discovery, no matter the subject. We should seek to get lost at our local libraries, archives and historical sites because they give us invaluable insight into our communities and our heritage. It is important for us to ask questions, to inquire into the past, because not only do we stay connected to our roots, we also make informed decisions for our future.


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