Biodun Onayele

The Lagos State Records and archives Bureau isa state agency established for permanent custody, regulation and control of records and archives of the government of Lagos State Government and other archives or historical records of entities operating in the state. Its Director General, Mr. Biodun Onayele in this interview with Mary Ekah, explains how the organisation’sproper records and archives management can assist in finding sustainable solution to the menace of corruption and insecurity in Nigeria

What exactly do you do at the Lagos State Records and Archives Bureau (LASRAB)?

This institution is an establishment of government and our main objective is to keep records for Lagos State. We are interested in regulating, preserving and disseminating accurate records on Lagos State and of course anybody that needs information on Lagos State can come here. We function as a one-stop shop for anybody shopping for information on Lagos State and also as a back up for Lagos State government institutions and for them to keep records with us.

You talk as if you are so accessible to the general public for people to access information from you.  How possible is that?

There are two ways. Anybody can come here and ask for information and use our facilities and to do that you get registered and we charge you for our services, depending on what you want to do. And for government agencies, as a databank, they must have kept information with us; all they need to do when they need such information is to write a formal letter. And sometimes they want to take decision, and need data to take informed decisions and so we provide them the data they need.

How long has the establishment been running?

By law, we came on board in 2007 but I was appointed as the DG in 2014 but before then I was the Bureau Secretary.

Would you say this organisation has been able to achieve its aims?

To a large extent it has even though we still have room for improvement. You see, knowledge is power and when you need information to take certain decision, sometimes the time frame between getting the information and taking that decision is so short and rather than start running around to get the information, you have here a one-stop shop where you can get the information you need as long as that information is not classified. And we have been able to create awareness that something like this actually exists and that people can come.  And we have also been able to educate people on the importance of keeping records even for their personal development. People generally believe that keeping papers can be very troublesome and so they just throw them away but we have been able to make people know that even for your personal growth, you have to keep records because at one point or the other, you would need them to do one thing or the other.

How do you keep these records?

Most of these records come in paper form and some of them are fragile but right now, most of them come in electronic and digital forms.

What particular challenge do you face trying to keep the records as desired?

In Lagos State, we pride ourselves as Centre of Excellence and we have to live up to that billing and that poses a lot of challenges on us. First, we have this culture of secrecy where you seek for information and people demanding why you want to have that information. And that is not a challenge peculiar to government information only but to people generally.  We also have issues on preservation, funding and most importantly, lack of reading culture because when you have so many documents and people are not interested in coming to make use of them it becomes an issue.

What efforts have you made to ensure that some of these challenges are overcome?

We do that through various means. From time to time, we organise exhibitions meant to showcase the various aspects of Lagos State so as to stimulate interest and attract people to this place.  We also encourage facility tours by secondary school students, tertiary institutions where they come in here and we show them around while they ask questions which we answer and that also stimulate interests. And of course, we have this international programme which we hold every June 9, a day being set aside by the International ArchivesDay, which is organised by the International Council on Archives (ICA); it is an international event but we are the only organisation in Nigeria that observes it and we have been doing that since 2011. The aim of the yearly event is to sensitise people on the importance of records and archivesmanagement. And what we do here on that, are to source for erudite scholars to talk on contemporary issues and we invite the public to come and listen to these people and then know how records and archives can be used to solve certain threatening issues in the nation. For example, the theme for the last year’s event was, ‘Corruption and Security Challenges in Nigeria: The Place of Records and Archives Management’. This theme indicates that the way out of this seemly hopeless situation we have found ourselves in the nation today requires concerted efforts of both the government and the people.  It also indicates how proper records and archivesmanagement can assist in finding sustainable solutions to the menace of corruption and insecurity in Nigeria. When people keep and access available records in our archives, the corruption and insecurity in the nation will be curbed to certain extent.

What is your vision for LASRAB in few years to come?

My vision is to see an institution that would meet all the needs of not just Lagos State but the nation as a whole in terms of information for people who want to do serious scholarly work. An institution like this is meant for demographers, historians, researchers, journalists and all that. But most times the cost and effort to put in trying to access information in doing honest job, is so much that sometimes they are discouraged.  So my vision is to be able to meet everybody’s needs, so that when they get here, they can get all the information they need to do their jobs very well. Right now we are regarded as the new face of records and archives management in Nigeria but we want to go beyond that, we want to be ranked amongst the best internationally and that is why we are setting standards for ourselves, we are constantly challenging ourselves on best practice.  So I’m envisaging a situation where people will be coming constantly to this place so that we might need to expand. And one of the things that we have been able to achieve as fallout of our 2016 International Records and ArchivesDay deliberation was the resuscitation of History as a subject in the school curriculum. For whatever reason, it was removed but after our deliberation, we were rightly informed that government has returned it to the curriculum.

How significant is your organisation to the growth of the nation?

I must first stress that as an institution of Lagos State government, our duty is first to keep records for Lagos State.  We are interested in keeping records and also discouraging people from the erroneous view that Lagos is no man’s land. People, who don’t know their past, cannot appreciate their present and then project for the future. And the importance of keeping records cannot be overemphasised. It promotes good governance and accountability, it serves as evidence of the past and recent actions or activities, it helps in taking informed decisions, it help in identifying rights and responsibilities, it engenders patriotism, create jobs and also it serves as societal or organisations’ memory in terms of innovations, experience, history, culture heritage and so on.  And that is why all government agencies are mandated to keep their records with us at LASRAB. Our job is to regulate and ensure that all government agencies keep records according to international standard records keeping and to do that, we have to set standards for them through regulations and we have to ensure that we enforce those regulations on these government agencies.