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A nation’s memory

The setting was historic: think the confluence of Niger and Benue rivers lapping against land while Frederick Lugard looks from his official residence on the…

The setting was historic: think the confluence of Niger and Benue rivers lapping against land while Frederick Lugard looks from his official residence on the heights of Lokoja’s Mount Patti.

That was in 1914—the same year he famously merged two protectorates, defying geography and language, to become today’s Nigeria.

One hundred years on, his official residence has fallen to less than a tourist attraction overgrown with weeds, but Nigeria, after shedding British colonial powers in 1960, is beyond protectorates. It has become a melting pot of more than 500 ethnicities, religions, affiliations.

It is those historical moments spanning eras before, during and after colonial rule that the National Library of Nigeria hoped to capture in a centenary exhibition last week, showcasing books and actors involved in making the country’s history.

It was billed to “expose Nigerians, by making available historical sources of immeasurable value as she celebrates the centenary of her existence as a nation,” said Habib Jato, director of the National Library.

He called it an opportunity to be informed of “where we were before the amalgamation, where we are now as a nation and to plan on where we desire and aspire to be in the future.”

Capitals have since changed from Lokoja’s growing urban sprawl to Lagos’ megacity to Abuja’s concrete jungle, yet Lugard remains a fixture.

But a more appropriate founder of Nigeria, George Taubman Goldie, routinely doesn’t feature in history books after he destroyed all records detailing his life and forbade his family to help in the writing of his biography.

Black and white

Walls of photos from the pre-colonial times capture a long line of workers loading groundnut from famous groundnut pyramids onto waiting lorries. The next photo is a painting of two Portuguese in sailor gear bowing before the monarch of Bini kingdom.

Black-and-white photos from colonial times, presumably shot on daguerreotypes detail ground-shifting moments in Nigeria’s political growth: the governor-general inspecting a guard of honour, sitting of the federal legislative council, opening of parliament presided over by the British monarch.

Public manners, pageants, state banquets, handshakes, garden parties, royal attendances and appearances of Britain’s princes and princesses all appear in black and white.

As Independence approaches, the pictures quickly evolve. The famous photo of the prime minister, one waving hand in the air, in the back of convertible captures the seminal moment.

In the next photo, his car is led by a gang of motorcycles leaving Tafawa Balewa Square after receiving the Instalment of Independence. They are followed by processions on Lagos’ Marina Street and around Idumota.

One post-Independence shot shows the departure of the retiring governor-general on 15 November 1960—a month and 15 days after Independence—on a boat chugging through Marina in Lagos.

Might and lost potential

Less than 10 years after, as Nigeria stood on the brink of a breakup in civil war, the photos don’t capture malnutrition and despair but the marvel of warfare technology that ironically demonstrate innovations that could one day save the country millions of naira in ammunitions purchase.

Tanks, warships and armoured personnel carriers emblazoned with the Biafran emblem come alive in photos from late ’60s to early ’70s.

In all, the historical expo “gives us a sense of who we are and how we got to be one of the most powerful countries in the world and the African continent as well as a regional power in the West African region,” said Jato.

“History also lets us know what we did wrong, so that we do not repeat our mistakes.”

Post-colonisation and after Independence, spots in history have been taken over by names of leaders that have made headlines, sold newspaper stories and filled history books in the last 50 years—alongside their first ladies.

Several photos down, the expo goes beyond dead presidents and late heads of state to royal fathers, and notable women in the country.

Digital disruption

The pictures on display come from electronic copies made over time, said Solape Oshile, head of the library’s information and communications technology.

“They form our conservation and preservation. Everything about Nigeria is what we have tried to capture electronically.”

Disruptive internet technology could also help the library keep inventory and lessen the pressure of flipping through gigantic bibliographies to search for the books it carries.

The entire centenary collection will remain on its website for longer. But it is also using its database of users to research areas of interest which will guide the matched articles it sends to readers. It will also guide subjects of interests that it will send to targeted potential researchers.

Gazettes from as far as 1913 on display could signal the National Library’s moment in modern-day book preservation.

In the 50 years of its existence, the library has stocked nearly 11 million books, serial, journals, monographs, government documents—in short, everything published in Nigeria, about Nigeria, or by a Nigerian.

Most are through legal deposits [think newspapers] or through paid acquisition and donations.

Historical documents and the country’s famous “bluebooks” are due for a digital makeover—a conversion of the old browned paper scanned as digital pages, said Gloria Matthew, director of National Library’s virtual library services department.

The plan, Matthew said, is to “digitize and bring them back with flip technology, such that maybe in another year as we celebrate 101 [years] of Nigeria, we will be able to flip through them and preserve the bluebook and preserve our mandate of the nation’s memory.”


A Nations memory in Pictures.

national library centenary expo biafra12
















Biafran tank--Lessons in war, promise of a future


Mounted procession near Idumota on its way to State House

A royal procession passes through the Marina

 Nigeria--a country beyond dead presidents

Consorts of dead presidents and late heads of state

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