By Temitope Onagbeso
Museums, in Nigeria, are cultural establishments concerned with the acquisition, preservation and exhibition of both natural and cultural objects for the purpose of enjoyment, knowledge and education.
In the past, museum had been misconstrued and their philosophies misrepresented by people and scholars. Those days, a museum was at best perceived as _fascinans_ et _tremendous_ (to wit, fascinating but fearful or tremendous) by people who had little or no knowledge of its purpose, while scholars were fascinated by it only as a resource center of cultural and scientific researches .
Consequently, there was little attempt by early scholars to properly situate it within the socio- cultural premise , let alone see it as an instrument for socio – cultural integration.
Generally, museums all over the world serve a wide range of useful purposes. Because they encapsulate man’s natural and historic objects, they form a repository of man’s cultural heritage. As a result, museums are firmly entrenched features of all civilized and informed societies the world over. As habitats for collection, preservation and interpretation of objects both natural and man – made, museum are veritable sources of information for research and reference. The attention given to cultural facilities the world over nowadays as a result of the quest for international tourism and its concomitant economic benefit, has resulted to the surge for establishment of museum as a form of investments.
As repositories of the cultures and histories of a people, museums are treasure troves of the human race . Their exhibited collections typically depict socio-cultural life of the people. Hence, they offer formal and non- formal education to the public by giving a unique opportunity to interpret appropriately different names of objects on displayed.
They act as catalyst to the process of information acquisition as their collection of authentic objects invite discoveries and help to connect the dots of loosely held knowledge by an individual. In the wise, museum are reliable avenues for international communication in a world of cultural plurality.
Due to the dynamism of societies and attendant cultural changes resulting from colonialism , many who have lost pedigree can seek solace in the artifacts gathered in the Museum. In the regard, a museum is a potent instrument of navigation, for the recognition of one’s cultural identity, providing a valuable sense of connection between the past and present.
Ready examples such as Nigeria’s discovery of cultural objects like NOK terra-cotta, Igbo-Ukwu copper alloy casting, Ife and Benin bronzes and carvings which are exhibited in the nation’s museum, serve as reliable aperture through which we know how our ancestors lived a life of painstaking skilled art and technology well over two thousand years ago.
Museums remain the only institution that make use of objects as a universal language of communication. As a result of this, they have become instruments of socio- cultural integration as museum all over the world are using objects in their custodies to speak to members of international community with a view to enhancing better socio- cultural understanding and offer more insights and reflection on their people. Expectedly, cultural objects of imperial Benin, Igbo-Ukwu and Ife had at one time or the other, corrected foreign misconception about Nigeria and her people. In other words, they had assisted in reconstructing international opinion about Nigeria.
The museums as a tool of socio-cultural integration was reflected in an exhibition titled _Treasure of Ancient Nigeria_: _legacy of 2,000 years_ which toured Europe and America for six years in the early 1990s.
Prior to this time, all African art works were derogatorily described by early European scholars as fossil. If anything, the exhibition not only captivated the attention of foreign visitors but actually put Nigeria on a global map. Similar exhibitions anchored by National Commission for Museums and Monuments included _Expo 92_ (Spain) _Expo 03_ South Korea (Tacjon) and the _Nigeria valley Exhibition_ in Paris. These exhibitions ,in no small way, showcased museums as instruments of socio-cultural integration.
If Nigeria were to reach such cultural pedestal as countries line France, Egypt, or Germany, the country’s museums have crucial roles to play . To this end , budgetary allocations to museums should be sufficient in order not to stagnate their operations. It is equally recommended that adequate provisions be made for trained personnel to man different posts in the museums with staffers constantly motivated and remunerated.
There must also be regular short – term and long – term trainings of staff to allow for professional dynamism. There must be effective preservative practice and storage facilities such as galleries to take proper care of collected objects , ranging from big relics to contemporary objects _d’art_ in the museums. Museums must cultivate direct cooperation with the private sectors with a view to encouraging them to host galleries within their companies. ‘Michelin Guiding’ as proffered by ICOM must be adopted by museum professionals and practitioners to wage war against theft, destruction and deterioration of cultural property.
Crafts villages are appendages to Nigeria’s national museums, be it in Lagos , Kaduna, Oron, Jos, Calabar, Akure or Aba to mention but a few. They are vehicles by which the museums provide opportunities to train unemployed youths in different vocational skills in the village curriculum, and by a single stroke make them self – employed and at the same time socio-culturally integrated into the society. It is expected of the managers of this cultural complex to galvanize it towards its assigned roles as a agent of socio-cultural development.
It is when all these are done that our museum can collectively play their roles effectively as instruments of socio-cultural integration.