By Ahmadu M. Zekeri
Museum is an institution established for the purpose of collecting preserving, studying and exhibiting of mostly original objects that are of scientific, historic and artistic value of interest. Museums are educational institutions managed and staffed to instruct the entire world of the past and present events and occurrences.
In the early 1930s Kenneth Cross Murray an expatriate in Nigeria frowned at the rate at which art works and valuable artifacts are being locked abroad. He initiated the idea of establishing museums in Nigeria.
In 1979, the Federal Government of Nigeria with decree 77 of 1979 established the National Commission for museums and monument (NCMM) as a replacement for the Federal Antiquities Department to manage and protect the collections, documentation, conservation and presentation of the nation cultural properties to the public, for the purpose of research, education, enlightenment and entertainment.
Development of modern museums in Nigeria began during the colonial era. In 1927, Kenneth Murray, an art teacher in the British Colony was appointed to advice the government about the effect of colonial education system.
Cross Murray succeeded in building a permanent center for the preservation of cultural objects that metamo-phosed into the Federal Department of Antiquities in 1953.
The Department of Antiquities, however saw to the establishment of museums in Nigeria to preserve these cultural objects. In 1974, the antiquities degree was enacted to check the illegal exportation of cultural objects from Nigeria and in 1979, Decree No 77 was promulgated that dissolved the National Antiquities Commission and the Federal Department of Antiquities by earlier legislation. It created in its place the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) which was designated as a corporate body with power to generate funds and enter into contracts it also made fresh provision for the designation of national monument and ensured stiffer penalties for the destruction, unauthorized alteration and removal of the monuments in Nigeria.
Today, the NCMM administered about forty-eight (48) museums including the Federal Capital. There are six (6) department in the Commission presently which include Directorate of Museums, Education Training and services, Research Planning and Publication, Monument Heritage and Sites, Administration and supply, Finance and Accounts.
There are several ways museum professionals protect museum collections professionally which the Antiquity Protection Officers (APO) are expected to make themselves abreast with and also ensure that other museum professionals adhere to, for the collections to be adequately protected.
It is very important for you to know that, is the responsibility of Antiquities Protection Officers to ensure that object is given a unique permanent number or code which should be used in establishing and maintaining all records immediately it is brought into the museum. These marks should be placed conspicuous and inconspicuous on the object.
The inconspicuous mark will enable the objects to be in-dentified in the event of theft, the conspicuous one may be eradicated following theft. The essence of the identification marks is to make the museum identify and recover object back to the museum in the event of theft.
The Antiquities Protection Officers (APO) is to ensure that photographs of objects are taken as soon as they are brought into the museum. The object itself will dictate the number of camera angles as well as details to be photographed.
The visual records should be supplemented with a written description of what is not obvious from the photographs for example dimension, weight, materials, general construction technique and unusual treatment, decorative elements, markers marks and other indentifying insignia; these photographs and written records complement the identification mark in the area of identifying and retrieving any stolen or lost museum object back to the museum.
The APO are to also ensure that professionals responsible should adequately protect the above description records, thus the written records should be placed in a protective add free folder, the photographic records in mylar envelops with a locking mechanism, these folders and envelops will begin the accession file. Access to these records should be restricted, controlled and definite guideline should be established on who can add to or alter the record for example if there is change in the condition of an object the record can only be altered only by the authority of the curator or Director General.
When the cabinet housing these files are not in use, they should be locked and the lock checked at the end of each day. A microfilm copy of these records must be maintained in an alternate location, a bank, police station etc.
It is very important that the museum possess a master location register from where to determine at anytime the location of any object, for example, it is on exhibit, where exactly it is displayed, if in storage, where precisely it is stored. The master location register will enable museum professional to know if object is removed from where it is displayed, exhibited or stored, in order to report to the appropriate authorities fro the recovery and return of the object to the museum in the event of unforeseen circumstances.
Before any object is moved within the museum for whatever reasons – exhibitions, photographing, storage, conservation, study, a receipt must be filled out in duplicate, given the reasons for the move, the new location, the date involved the name and title of the person responsible and who authorized the movement, the original of this receipt should be kept permanently in the accession file to records its movement. This action will prevent the theft and unnecessary removal of museum objects from their location.
As the name connotes, frequent but unexpected inspection to verify the presence of the objects or collection should be part of determent and control program. The inspection should be part of decrement and control program. The inspection should be perform by museum professional, i.e APOs Documentation Officers, Exhibition Officers, Conservation Officers, and even the curator in change of a station to ascertain the present of collections in the museum and to prevent its theft which is the sole responsibility of museum professionals working for the commissioner.
At the entrance of each storage are a log book or register should be maintained to record name, time of entrance and exit and the purpose of all those entering the area. Each day the first person entering and the last person leaving the area should do a site check of the storage area and room. Search of persons going into the store and coming out is equally very imperative.
When an object is in storage it should be assigned a specific location, the entire storage area should be photographed and a systematic check list of all objects arranged by location when an object is moved from its original place often authorized receipt is completed, the duplicate copy of the receipt should be left at the location, as this states the date and the reasons for the movement and the new location. This movement should also be recorded on the checklist.
Zekeri writes from National Museum, Akure.