In 1973, the Federal Government of Nigeria came up with the initiative of establishing museums across the country to promote unity amongst Nigerians. The idea was to showcase artifacts from different ethnic groups and educate them by providing context, utility and common ideals - a solid idea, especially in a country as diverse as this.
"We have a museum of unity in this city?" was the main question when I told my friends about it. There was a general air of surprise as you can expect, people expected to have at least heard about it. So I rallied up a couple of my friends and we made our way to the location, barely a few meters from the Aleshinloye market.
The museum ground is nestled in a lovely grove of trees (picture below) and has a serene atmosphere about it. The architecture is quite interesting as well, a series of hexagonal adjoining sections that isn't quite apparent from ground level - as a matter of fact, it looked quite plain until I saw it on the map. It wasn't difficult to find too, a simple google maps search led us there and there was ample parking and very cheap entry tickets - ₦500 per adult.
The museum staff here are stars I must say. I got a chance to speak to a few of them prior to starting the gallery tour and gathered quite a bit of information. I wasn't pleased to learn that "orders from Abuja" wouldn't permit me to photograph the exhibition however, more on that later.
Exploring the gallery felt like following a treasure map, but the plus side was that there was treasure around every corner. It's divided into sections that explore various themes that cut across the Nigerian cultures. Themes such as traditional spirituality, currency, textile, pottery, hairstyles, masks and masquerades, musical instruments, and this is just to mention a few. I was going to pick which exhibit fascinated me the most but there's simply too much to pick from. Our guide was a literal encyclopedia of Nigerian history and culture and she gracefully guided us through the superb collection. Be ready because there's a lot to see.
Despite the fact that there are so many ethnic groups in Nigeria, it's interesting to note that at the core of our existence there is so much common ground and I think more people need to be conversant with this fact. I think more work needs to be done in promoting this place, seeing as Nigeria has a wide audience of art and culture enthusiasts.
I also think the regulation of not being able to take pictures in a gallery is ludicrous. I believe art is a source of identity and limiting interactions with the artifacts defeats the purpose of the museum. I did however learn that it had been robbed for it's air conditioners before from this newspaper clipping from 1999 so it's possibly for security purposes, but regulation that hurts its nose to spite its face is not a solution.
Visitors of the museum are now allowed to take photographs of/with these ancient artifacts. Please enjoy my highlights below.
Artist and patron Prince Tunde Odunlade had kept the newspaper clipping above, from a time he played a part in restoring what was once an abandoned project. It tells an interesting story and highlights the importance of public - private partnerships in order to get where we need to be.
Out of the 4 commissioned museums across the country, only the one in Enugu and Ibadan are officially open, so there is a lot more work to be done. We can start by visiting the ones that are open and experiencing that there is much more that binds us together than separates us. They are open from Monday to Friday, 9am - 4pm!