How many Nigerians know that an old Northern Nigeria postage stamp sells for as much as $63,250.00 (about N47 million)? Or that there has been a hunt for a 1975 one kobo coin with the asking price of one million Naira in the coin market? How many people are aware that Nigeria’s rich history makes its archival materials one of the most hunted across the world; yet because we know little about our history, our treasures are taken away daily without us knowing their value?
In the last 10 years, the founder and Director-General of the Centre for Research, Information and Media Development (CRIMMD), has been running the first Private Archival/Museum of Nigerian History with over 45, 000 photos and many artefacts and memorabilia, including Nigerian currencies dating back to 1910, magazines from the 1920s; newspapers and books and classified documents and reports, Nigeria postage stamps from 1900, books on the Nigeria Civil war; biographies of Nigerians. Record LP of Nigeria Music, bottles of brands of drinks in Nigeria and many others.
In this piece, James submits that Nigeria’s archival materials are hidden treasures that should be mined.
The land that is geographically defined as Nigeria had existed long before 1900 when it became a colony of the British Empire. Before then, there were several ethnic nationalities and kingdoms some of which dated back to 800 BC and far before. Like the NOK people and their culture, the Nri kingdom, and the Benin kingdom. All these kingdoms are older than America and they were people of diverse ethnicity, each of them had their own history of migration and settlement. Unfortunately, the geographical area now known and addressed as Nigeria kept little or no record for proper identification. Interestingly, it is never too late, now is the time to start to document our history and tell our stories accurately for the younger ones coming after us.
In 1849, John Beecroft, the Governor of Fernando Po became the British consul agent for the Bights of Benin and Biafra. In 1890, he moved the headquarters of the British Agent for the Bights of Benin and Biafra from Fernando Po to Calabar. If you go online and even in some history books, the story is that Calabar was the first capital of Nigeria. This is not correct, since by 1890, there was no Nigeria. Nigeria came into existence, so to say, in 1914. It was even in 1900 that Britain took over the business empire of George Goldie.
Archiving Nigeria’s history with facts is a task that must be done and some of us have taken it as our responsibility, to protect and preserve records; legitimise and sanctify most of the historical documents while we provide access to the information for growth for the nation.
Last two years, the National Library in Enugu was broken into and all the old newspapers were stolen overnight, it was not in the news because we must have concluded they were just newspapers, but the truth is that millions must have been stolen without our knowledge.
Not only that, foreigners come to Nigeria and visit most of our shrines and loot the objects of worship there that they have made us feel are devilish and yet they take away and display them in their own museums abroad and make plenty of dollars. This has been a reoccurring act from back in the years. Recently, as we may recount, Germany agreed to return to Nigeria priceless artefacts that were stolen during the colonisation of Africa. British troops looted thousands of artworks known as the Benin Bronzes from the Kingdom of Benin, in 1897.
At the railway station at Yaba lies the remains of the train that Queen Elizabeth rode in, during her visit in Nigeria before independence. How many know that this train, if well refurbished and used as a tourist attraction, can make millions of Naira in return? And yet we place no value on it.
The statue of Bishop Ajayi Crowther in his home town was recently stolen, and the villagers woke up to discover that it was gone. In the same vein, the tree that the young Ajayi was tied to before he was sold into slavery is just there with no value and importance attached to it; meanwhile, it is meant to be a money-making tree.
The burial site of Queen Sheba, if properly harnessed and backed up with more historical facts can become another Jerusalem of Christian pilgrims from across the world, but it is just there in Ogun state almost in the midst of a forest.
If we know our history and value it, the incident of ‘Ori Olokun’ – the Yoruba Culture Symbol, in Ile Ife would not have happened. The original ‘Ori-Olokun’ monument was discovered in the early 20th century by German explorer Leo Frobenius, who claimed then that Ori Olokun was a lost Atlantis of the Greeks and that Olokun, was the same god as the Greek Poseidon, Leo paid for it and took it away, though the report has it that he was forced to return it which he did and yet the original Olokun still went missing.
Marcus Garvey wrote that “A people without knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” and I add “a people without accurate knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without taproots”
As you read this write-up, wherever you are reading it from, I am sure you know your house address and will return home at the end of the day, if it so happens that you have memory loss and are unable to return to your house, that is the case of a man without history. Most of Nigeria’s challenges today are because we don’t have accurate knowledge of our history as such, we may not be able to return home from wherever we are.
Let me illustrate it thus. Our history teachers in primary and secondary schools told us that Mungo Park discovered the Niger River, but this is not the truth. Mungo Park never claimed that he discovered the Niger River. As far back as 1550 the Niger River was written about by an Italian Leo Africanus in his book ‘Della descrittione dell’Africa’. Mungo Park set out in June 1796, almost 246 years after Leo wrote about it. Park in his memo, wrote that he set out to discover the ‘source’ of the river Niger. The word ‘source’ is the major word, even with that, he died while trying to achieve that and the source was discovered by the Lander brothers, it took another 25 years, in 1830, when Richard Lander and his brother became the first Europeans to follow the course of the Niger to the ocean. Again in 1946, three Frenchmen, Jean Sauvy, Pierre Ponty and movie maker Jean Rouch, became the first to set out to travel the entire length of the river, from the beginning of the river near Kissidougou in Guinea to the ocean on March 25, 1947.
Another example is this very damaging one for Nigeria, in Ikot-Abasi, a town in Akwa-Ibom. There is a building that has been claimed to be the Amalgamation building of Nigeria. By virtue of the fact that we don’t keep records, we all accepted that fact without verifying it. Even a team of the Federal Government accepted it as Nigeria marked its first centenary anniversary in 2014. I became inquisitive to know how the amalgamation house is located in Ikot-Abasi when Lugard never lived there. He lived in Zungeru, Lokoja, Kaduna, and Lagos. How could it be that Lugard left his base for a town in the olden days part of Opobo, the same town whose leader, Jaja was sent to exile, to go and live there?
The question is at what point did Lugard live in either Calabar or Ikot-Abasi? Lugard lived in the North all through his stay, until he left in 1906. On May 9, 1912, he was recalled to Nigeria and was appointed Governor of Southern and Northern Nigeria. He did not resume in Nigeria, rather he resumed in the Colonial Office in London but visited and went back without staying for more than 30 days at any given time. He remained in London until May 9, 1913, one whole year to fine-tune the document of amalgamation and he submitted it to Hon. Lewis Harcourt Sec. to the Colony. After submission, he stayed in London waiting for approval until November 22, 1913, when it was approved and signed into law. So, the amalgamation was signed to order on November 22 and was announced to us on January 1, 1914. There are photos in history books as well as online showing Nigeria’s amalgamation of 1914. These are not true for there was no ceremony yet documented and the photos you see are from the 1906 amalgamation of the Colony of Lagos and Southern Protectorate.
Yet another example. For lack of accurate information, most Nigerians claim that Taiwo Akinkumi, the man who designed the Nigeria flag, also designed the Coat of Arms, but when I interviewed him, he told me he had no hand in the coat of arms design. It baffled me that Nigeria as a nation had no record that was accessible to the public on who the designer was until when my Archival/Museum discovered it from London in September of 2020, 60 years after Nigeria’s independence – Messrs Beverly Pick and Associated of 118 Charing Cross Road, United Kingdom.
The spot the Nigerian flag was first hoisted, for the first time on October 1st, 1960, was a mystery until recently. The story behind the Aba Women Riot of 1929, was falsely presented to us.
How many Nigerians are aware of the fact that Senator Nwafor Orizu was acting President of Nigeria for 92 days, almost the same time as Chief Ernest Shonekan?
It is high time we started to keep records, we should stop throwing away books, magazines and old newspapers that have vital historical information that we may never find online. We should also start interviewing our elders while their memories are still sharp to help us document accurately. We can only tell the world who we are when we know ourselves better.