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Security Of Nigerian Museums



Museum security is of most paramount importance for the protection of museum properties, which include the museum buildings, premises, collections, the staff, visitors and their valuables. According to Groves and Thomas (2005), Theft is not the only issue museums face in terms of security: vandalism; protest; fire; flooding; and terrorism threats are all significant issues in the museum context. The security challenges for museums are complex, and not only do they need to preserve and protect cultural material in their collections, but also to make it accessible and available to a range of audiences, each with differing needs. That is why it is often said that the security of museum is everybody’s business from the director-general to the cleaners.

Let’s use the Esie Museum as a case study.

National Museum, Esie, fondly called House of Images, was established in 1945 by the colonial government to house the soap stone sculptures that were brought to lime light in 1933 by H G Ranshaw, a CMS School Inspector for Oro Area.

The museum is located on the outskirt of the town, at the spot where the sculptures were said to have been accidentally discovered by Baragbon, a famous hunter and the leader of the migrants.  The site is about 1.4km Southwest of Esie town, which is located about 50km southeast of Ilorin, the Kwara State capital.  It houses well over 1000 soap stone sculptures. These sculptures are generally described as carvings of men and women presided over by a king (Oba Ere) and they represent the largest collection of stone carvings in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, Esie museum has had its own fair share of security breach and few cases of antiquity theft. Records have it that a German Explorer, Leo Frobenius visited Nigeria in 1910-1911. He was said to have visited Offa, a nearby town and collected some Esie stone figures. It was not clear whether Fobenius actually visited the site of the images but Agbo-Ooye (2002) records that he, Frobenius actually visited Esie and collected three heads of stone images. According to him, these objects are now donning the Galleries of Museum of Primitive Art, New York in the USA.

It is equally on record that the museum has witnessed three other cases of theft where objects have been carted away.

In 1988, a stone object was stolen but was later found by the fence of the museum later in that same year. Also in 1993, some objects were carted away. The last one was in 1995 when some seemingly “harmless” people visited the museum after the closing hour; only the duty officer and three museum security officers were on duty. The visitors could not have access to the gallery, but they stayed a while in the children playing ground. Through deception, they were able to disarm the officers on duty, took the key and made away with some stone objects and an Epa Mask.

Under the supervision of JD Clarke, a shelter was built in 1937 to protect the images but it eventually collapsed in 1944 as a result of poor maintenance. In 1945 an octagonal building of concrete and local lateritic stone with roof of corrugated iron was erected on the site with single entrance covered by a heavy wooden door fastened with a huge padlock, thus becoming the first Museum in Nigeria.

In the year 2012, an office building and a modern gallery were built where a permanent exhibition titled: ‘Indigenous Artworks as Indicators of Cultural Harmony’ was commissioned to complement the existing ones. The new exhibition contains exquisite artworks from all over the country.

Some of the measures put in place to prevent theft of the stone objects and which can also be used for other museums include:

Between 1988 and 1995, a perimeter fence around the museum building was built to checkmate unauthorised access to the vicinity of the museum. It was also during this period that the museum was connected to electricity in order to illuminate the premises at night.

Partnership With Police: Consequent upon cases of theft, arrangement was made that the keys to the gallery, shrine and store be submitted to the police station in Esie, later in Oro. Also there is an understanding between the museum and the police station in Oro that two armed police officers should join the museum security officers to guide and protect the place every night.

nsitisation of Law Enforcement Agencies: In addition, the museum, under different curators, embarked on sensitisation of security agencies on how to prevent illegal trafficking of antiquities.

Joseph, is an assistant chief antiquity protection officer.

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