By Tajudeen Sowole
A Federal Government of Nigeria-Ford Foundation project aimed at remodeling of National Museum Onikan, Lagos, worth $2 million dollar was suspended by the foreign donor due to the inability of the government to provide N500 million counterpart funding.
The botched project which included a conservatory laboratory was launched in 2009, but suspended about three years ago by the Foundation.
However, the 2016 budget, according to Director-General, National Commission For Museum and Monuments (NCMM), Yusuf Abdallah Usman, is inclusive of a conservatory laboratory being built in Ogbomoso, Oyo State. The canceled FG-Ford Foundation laboratory, if built, would have served the entire West Africa in area of restoration and conservation of artifacts as well as general works of art, particularly of African origin.
For over seven years, the Ford Foundation part of the funding, according to investigation was available. But the project could not take off as the then Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation under the last administration "failed" to provide the counterpart funding.
However, as the title of the exhibition “All Is Not Lost”, organised in 2009 for the launch of the $2million dollar project suggested then, the Ogbomoso laboratory is, perhaps, something to fill the gap of what would be the first of its kind in West Africa. During an exclusive chat, few days ago, Usman said: "The contract for the construction of Heritage Conservation Laboratory Centre was awarded to Messrs Yewenu Nigeria Limited, in 2011 in the sum of N125, 630, 888.25 million." The contract, he added, comprises of laboratory /Office Complex, Antiquity Store, Fence work and Gate House.
With over 70 percent of the project yet to be completed, Usman disclosed that the 2015 budget did not capture the deficit.
"So far a total sum of N41,130, 932.06 million representing 33 percent completion," the DG explained, has been expended. "No provisions in the budget last year. A proposal to complete the project this year has been included in the proposed 2016 Budget estimates."
Until 2009 when the joint effort of Ford Foundation and NCMM was launched in Lagos, the state of Nigeria's number one museum at Onikan was widely described as deplorable and worrisome. The museum, which for decades, used to be an attraction for both local and international tourists has gradually slid into the state of disrepairs.
Recalling details of the Ford Foundation-Federal Government project for the Onikan Museum, Usman said "the remodeling of the museum and construction of the conservation laboratory was truncated due to the unavailability of counterpart funding to the tune of N500 million." Perhaps the project could be revived if NCMM raises the counterpart fund now that there is a new government. The D-G responded, saying "I doubt if the project is still under consideration by Ford."
Commending Usman for what he described as the DG's frantic effort that got the MoU signed between Nigerian government and Ford, Mr Innocent Reg who is the Foundation's representative in Nigeria disclosed that the foreign aid fund has been moved to Mali. "The Director-General, Mallam Usman tried his best and got government to sign the MoU with us," Reg stated during a telephone conversation. "Unfortunately the Nigerian Ministry of Culture was unable to provide the counterpart fund for the conservatory lab." Reg recalled the fund was still available when he took over in 2013, but it was later moved to Mali where it was needed." For the Mali project, the fund, he said was used to rehabilitate a heritage site destroyed by terrorists during insurgency in that country.
The non-realisation of the remodeling with conservatory lab for Onikan museum was like two misfortunes recorded for the colonial-inherited monument. During the administration of president Olusegun Obasanjo, a presidential intervention for rehabilitation of museums across the country generated over N700 million naira. Unfortunately, till date no one seemed to know what happened to the fund. In fact, during the opening of Nigerian museum management's 70th anniversary exhibition, late last year, Usman briefly revisited the mysterious fund. Speaking about the challenges of the museum, Usman, like most observers, could not explain what happened to the money before he became DG. "N750 million was allocated in the past to rehabilitate the museum," he recalled and added that the result "is a story for another day."
During the 2011 Ben Enwonwu Distinguished Lecture Series, held at Nigerian Institute of External Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, the incident that led to the presidential intervention fund was narrated by former Secretary of Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaokwu. He recalled how former President Obasanjo tried to set up a committee under the leadership of the former Director of National Museum, Ekpo Eyo, to rehabilitate museums.
But at the point of accessing the funding, of which over N700 million was said to have been approved by the Presidency, it was revealed that the exercise ran into a hitch due to certain complication.
On what led to that committee, Anyaoku said that he ran into the decaying state of the national museum in company of his foreign visitors. He explained: " Three years ago, I had visitors from Canada and I thought it would be right to take them to the Nigerian Museum. I took them there and what I saw was a shock to me. It was in my view, a national disgrace. When I got home, I called the President and he reacted immediately by setting up a committee. He called Ekpo Eyo to head the committee saddled with the responsibility of rehabilitating Nigerian museum. That committee produced a report, which before the end of the tenure, gave a budget for the rehabilitation of the museums."
For the Onikan museum, it wasn't exactly a case of total disappointment whilst the FG-Ford Foundation partnership lasted. Between 2009 and now, regular visits to the Onikan museum showed that rehabilitation works have been carried out in areas such as reconstruction of the Murtala Muhammed Gallery, temporary and permanent exhibition galleries. Other assistance from Ford included renovation of computer room, board room, public toilets and repair of generator house, reconstruction of the Murtala gallery.
In the area of capacity building, the aid was extended to training of staff in conjunction with British Museum both home and abroad. Other renovations done included painting of the perimeter fence and repair of the roundabout in front of the museum entrance; purchase of new air-conditioning system and rug for the main office and the research office, and of the old administration building as well as sponsorship of two exhibitions – “All Is Not Lost” and “Life Cycle.”
However, the relationship between NCMM and Ford Foundation is still active, according to Usman. He said “at the moment they (Ford) are printing the catalogue to National War Museum Umuahia and they have helped re-designed our website.”
In 2012, it appeared that the collaboration was yielding the target goals: the gallery in which the exhibition, “Nigerian Art in the Cycle of Life” was mounted wore a new look. From the flooring to the room dividers, basements and spot lighting, a new dawn beamed on the presentation of the vast collections of the Lagos museum. During the opening ceremony, Representative of Ford Foundation (West Africa Office), Dr. Adhiambo Odaga disclosed that “the gallery was not actually part of the initiative.” She explained that the need to expand the gallery space led to its inclusion in the list of Ford Foundation’s assistance for the museum. So far, she declared “we are encouraged to continue the ultimate goal.”
Ford Foundation Vice President on Education, Creativity and Free Expression, Darren Walker noted that the “unique feature of Nigerian culture is most manifest in the collections of the museum.”
(First published in The Guardian Nigeria on Wednesday, February 17, 2016 as
For Onikan Museum, rescue mission remains elusive)