Tuesday, May 04, 2021

‘Our Identity and Culture Are Priceless’----Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, DG. NCMM


 Prof. Abba Isa Tijani is the Director General/Chief Executive of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM). A former Head of Department of Fine Arts and coordinating Head of Department of Creative Arts, University of Maiduguri, he midwifed the collaboration between Universities of Maiduguri, Cape Coast, Ghana and Hildesheim in Germany and until his appointment, has been the Executive Board Director and Head of the DAAD-funded project SDG Graduate School- “performing sustainability; cultures and development in West Africa”. The professor of Museology and Anthropology was the immediate past Director of the Centre for the Study and promotion of Cultural Sustainability, University of Maiduguri.


Can we get to know you, Sir?

My name is Professor Abba Isa Tijani. I am the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) from the 1st of September 2020. Long before I took over the commission, I was a Director at the Center for Study and Promotion of Cultural Sustainability at the University of Maiduguri. I was the pioneer of that center because of the research collaboration we had with the University of Hamburg and Hildesheim in Germany and the University of Cape Coast, Ghana; so the collaboration actually got us the funding of first of its nature from Germany and Collaboration between German universities and developing countries where the casual schools. 7 graduate schools were funded under the DAAD and I was the previous Head of project in Nigeria. Prior to that, I worked in the United Kingdom and came back to Nigeria to oversee that position before I attained my current position as DG, NCMM.

Can you tell us about the mandate of the National Commission for Museum and Monuments?

Well, the mandate of NCMM is really huge because, a lot of people do not really know the wide spread nation of the commission. NCMM is the commission that is saddled with the responsibility of regulating our antiquities in Nigeria, looking after our antiquities and cultural heritage, preserving and displaying our cultural heritage for the public to see and appreciate. In carrying out this mandate, the commission established museums across the country in order to reach out to the public and currently we have 52 national museums spread across the country. Also as part of our mandate, the commission also identifies our historic and national cultural heritage that can be enlisted as national monuments and sites. We are the ones that identify certain monumental structures and natural environments that we feel has historical relevance to our people and we propose their declarations as national monuments and sites to the President(s) who gives the final approval. The commission is also saddled with the responsibility of interacting with international partners in relation to issues of restitution and repatriation of our cultural heritage that have been taking out of the country illegally or otherwise. As I said, we have a wide mandate which is really a huge task for us.

NCMM seems to be underreported by the media. As the new Director-General, how do you intend to change the narrative?

Well that is what it seems like but rest assuredly, We have started taking actions already. Some of the challenge is that the commission is under-funded resulting to it not duly presented in media platforms and is under publicized. We have taken it upon ourselves to reach out to the relevant Heads of agencies and Governments to present our position of lack of funding, so that our responsibilities can be recognized and our funding be improved. Most a times, we try to manually let people know that NCMM is not like other cultural sectors that have headquarters and zonal offices but we have actual museums in every state in Nigeria and in some states more than two. We also have 65 national monuments and sites which is another huge responsibility to maintain. With a proposal of over 100 national monuments and sites to be declared. We have two wall heritage sites in Nigeria - Osun-Osogbo and the Suko cultural landscape- among many others coming up. Another aspect is that I realized the bad conditions of some of our museums when I assumed office; so I decided we could not wait for the government to provide all the funding but had to reach out to the public sector, private sectors and individuals that are interested in promoting our cultural heritage so in doing that, we were able to get the museum of our first late Prime minister, Tafawa Balewa in Bauchi renovated by the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) and we are also getting assistance for some museums where individuals and corporate organizations are coming up. We are changing the narrative, we are creating the awareness of collaboration and partnership and also we are reaching out to the public through the media and recently you can see how the commission has been reaching out especially when we got some of our artifacts repatriated from other countries to Nigeria.

How is the commission handling its affairs amidst the Covid-19 pandemic?

The institution of museum as a public place is really being affected by the pandemic and our museums were on lockdown at the early stage of the pandemic so people were not able to visit museums to appreciate our cultural heritage. By the government circular, certain categories of members of staff were asked to stay and possibly work from home and when we deal with museums we need the physical presence of people to clean the premises and artifacts of our cultural heritage from time to time. So we were affected by the Covid-19 even in terms of revenue generation as it was difficult for people to patronize us.

Nigeria does not have a National Museum in Abuja, the Nation capital of Nigeria. What is your reaction to that?

One interesting fact is that many people do not know that we do not have a national museum in Abuja because people assume that the headquarters of NCMM is a reserve itself and I think the government should consider it a challenge for everyone because in any country of the world you visit, the first thing that would come to your mind is to visit the museum. All countries have national museums in their headquarters and in Nigeria somehow, that has been overlooked especially, the fact that having a museum in Abuja has not been reiterated. I had the privilege of interacting with some diplomats and they shared this challenge to us saying that every time they get visitors and officials visiting the country, they would want to visit the national museum because of the much publicity the cultural heritage has received over the years and to their disappointment, there is no visible national museum in Abuja. So, I am positive it is the right time for us to establish a museum in Abuja. However, we have come to know that there is a lot of agitation for repatriation of our cultural heritage so when they come visiting our great country Nigeria, we have a befitting museum where we can display them. It is high time for us as Nigerians and especially the media to publicize the challenge so that we will be able to tackle it. Just as a brief, the place we have now as the millennium tower is the place for the national museum, unfortunately there are still some challenges equipping and setting it up.

The commission itself is not appropriately located as a professional institution, what is your plan towards reversing that stance?

Thank You for this important point. This is part of the narratives to this issue of having a national museum because the commission here is handicapped. We do not even have an exhibition area or library although, we have our research and publication in it, we have archaeology, and we have our educational services. All these are educational based sectors which have to go to the field, do research and publish. We also have libraries in some of our museums but we need to have a central library too at the headquarters. So as it is now, the offices allocated here are not enough for the sector because we find that so many staff are stacked in one office with no desk or chairs which really affects them. We need to therefore have our own space and facilities to gain international respect as well as security. These are what I hope to do through the support of more firms and board of organization.

Recently, through your administration, so many looted and illegally transported artifacts were recovered. How do you intend to sustain this?

(smiles)Well, Nigeria is signatory to so many treaties on issues of illicit trafficking of cultural heritage so fortunately, many of these countries help us intercept cultural artifacts that do not have permits from the commission and they draw our attention to it, we identify the artifacts then the process of ownership would take place, and then we take possession of them. So our embassies at high commissions are actually helping us recover them because most of the times we are not physically there. However, there are individuals and institutions that are voluntarily coming out to return our artifacts in their position especially the ones taken for expeditions so we do have these cases and that is the cause of the current issue of repatriation.

For success to come about, there is need for cultural collaborations. What are your plans of collaborating to keep NCMM working?

Yes, collaboration is Key and as an academician, I actually participated in so many collaborative programmes. Coming here, the institution of museum is a global institution and there is no way one can survive without partnership from relevant bodies and institutions so we have partnership at different levels. We have various museums across the world that we wish to partner with and that also wises to partner with us because of the way we carry out our activities which is in line with global practices of museum. We have partnership with so many museums in terms of training of our staff and exhibition. We currently have partnership with the Berlin museum for some exhibitions; we also have partnership with some state museums. We also have partnership with some traditional leaders for palace museums and exhibitions. We also partner with the private sector for private galleries and more are coming up. The partnership especially with international community play so much roles and our experience as custodians of our artifacts plays so much roles too in any exhibition that relates to our artifacts.  The way they would present our artifacts would highly differ from the way we would present it.

What is the economic value of NCMM in Nigeria?

We are priceless. There is no way you can tag any amount on NCMM and that is what the government needs to know. The reason you cannot quantify us is that you cannot give value to any cultural identity. On the other hand, the artifacts that represent our identity and culture are priceless. That is why if you see some of our objects being auctioned when the issue of repatriation was not common, just one artifact could mean about millions of dollars. I could remember when the FESTAC 1977 was to take place, we requested for the Queen Idia staff as a symbol of our culture at the British Museum. The British museum said that we have to pay some insurance which was amounting to thousands of pounds which we could not afford so we had to do a replica. Presently, we have issues of insurance of our artifacts because of the values attached to them. Government sees the insurance premium for these artifacts as very high because we are talking about billions. So that is a big issue but we need to safeguard our artifacts and a lot of these issues disturb us. Generally the economic value is one that would positively impact Nigeria timelessly.

Can you give us a brief of some upcoming events in this commission?

Yes, every year, all over the world, International museum’s day which comes up May is celebrated and as part of the celebration for this event, we are going to launch a book written by one of our directors, Dr. Carolyn Ezeokeke, who is the Director of educational services. We would also have award nights where we recognize the contributions of some of our Nigerian Public officers that have contributed so much to our culture sector. Also, on the museum day, there would be lectures; we will get cultural scholars to present papers on that day so we are preparing for these. We also have series of activities. We had Ife Head presented to us last year and we will be having a similar one this year especially to celebrate the return of our artifacts because it is our pride to show Nigerians that our artifacts are coming back so that we all appreciate and recognize the facts and that will also ginger us to have a national museum.

As the Director-General of NCMM, what do you want to be remembered for after your tenure?

I want to be remembered as one who brought to limelight the richness and borders of our cultural heritage in a way that we are able to exhibit them in museums that are up to international standards be it at the national museum or across the country so that, we (Nigerians/Africans) would be proud whenever we go to a museum in Nigeria. That is what I am looking at aside having a national museum in Abuja.

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