DG, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Mallam Yusuf Abdullah Usman (left); Gov. Ambode, Information & Culture Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe at the unveiling of the New Museum in Lagos
It was a gathering of ‘who is who’ in the Nigerian arts and culture sector recently, as the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, unveiled plans to transform some iconic spaces and buildings around the Onikan axis, with the hope of making Lagos a major tourism hub.
Held at the Grand Ball Room, Eko Hotel & Suites, Victoria Island, the event was the formal unveiling of a design for The New Museum, a world-class edifice that will replace the existing colonial one at Onikan. A partnership between Lagos State and the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, the project is in line with the overall strategy of Lagos State to become self-sufficient with the hope of securing its future prosperity.
While addressing the gathering, Ambode commended stakeholders in the arts and culture sector for their role in promoting and sustaining Nigeria’s heritage through their works.
“In this room today, we have the custodians of the Nigerian culture and tradition. We also have other stakeholders and people, who are interested in preserving the heritage of our country. Nigeria is blessed with very rich culture and heritage; this is the foundation on which all our social institutions and interactions are built.”
Ambode, however, lamented the state of the Nigerian arts and culture sector, insisting: “We’ve neglected our culture and tradition to our own detriment; our youth today do not have strong appreciation of our history and how we got where we are today. Every society must cherish its historical antecedents because they serve as source of inspiration for succeeding generations to discover, appreciate and take pride in their identity.”
He stressed the imperative of taking a step back to revisit the country’s history with a view to renewing efforts to preserve and protect the history and the historical artifacts, adding that all over the world, museums preserve historical heritage and serve as reference points for knowledge and research.
“In many places, museums are a vital part of the tourism promotion industry, thereby creating economic opportunities for the government and the people,” he stated. “With all these in mind and our strong desire to develop the tourism industry in our state, the Lagos State government has taken the project to revive the museum in Onikan, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, especially with the honourable Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed.”
Recently, Governor Ambode visited the National Stadium in Surulere, with a view to reviving it and reclaiming Nigeria’s lost glory in sports. Earlier, he was at the National Theatre to see for himself the level of decadence of one of the city’s major monuments. All these are part of his plans to prepare Lagos as a major tourism destination in Africa.
“Our conviction to spearhead the construction of the brand new, contemporary museum in the state is an integral part of our overall strategy to become self-sufficient and secure the future prosperity of our dear state. As a government, we’ve decided to lead the process that will deliver a world-class museum that will showcase to the world the priceless treasures of Nigeria. This project will be funded partly by the Lagos State Government and other well-meaning donors, interested organisations and individuals, but will serve the generations of Nigerians now and the future.”
In fact, Lagos State is making bold plans to harness the potentials in the abundant rich cultural heritage to drive tourism. The plan will see the Onikan axis where the museum is situated and the Marina axis upgraded as world-class tourism and entertainment hub. Within this axis also is the old Presidential Lodge, Marina, which was recently handed over to Lagos by the Federal Government. This lodge, according to the governor, would be redeveloped into the Lagos Heritage Centre for Leadership.
In addition, Lagos House Marina will be transformed into Lagos Historical Centre, while JK Randle Archade will be remodeled into a world-class recreation/tourism centre as well. Largely, the new museum will complement and be an important part of the structures being planned for the Marina-Onikan axis.
According to him, “We intend to regenerate this axis and the museum into an iconic structure that will invoke deep sense of pride in all Nigerians. This is a new possibility that is being presented to all of us in the tourism sector and all Nigerians. On our part, our commitment is unshakable and we are eager to make this dream a reality within the shortest possible time. Given the mega city status of our state, we believe this is the right way to go in order to optimally harness the state’s tourism potentials for wealth creation and sustainable growth.”
While commending Buhari for the fatherly role he has played in the partnership, Ambode is confident that through this effort, the state would soon realise the huge possibilities that flow from the preservation and showcasing of the country’s natural heritage to the world.
“We want to leave the present museum the way it is, to say the story of who we are. Then, the new museum takes you into the future. So, you actually have the price of two for one in the same place. The minister has offered us 6000 square metres of land so that the two can be situated alongside each other.”
In his remarks, the Minister for Information & Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed described Lagos as most ready for tourism and creative industry today, commending the Governor for his foresight.
As he noted: “The things you need for tourism to survive, Lagos State has done a lot in that regard. One of the things we have done successful in this government is that we’ve been able to tame the rather very difficult terrain of visa regime. Today, for the first time, we have the policy of visa on arrival for a category of people. If you go to the website of the Immigration, you will see how you can apply and get visa on arrival.”
The minister also hinted that the ministry has taken steps to ease pressure on tourists visiting Nigeria by removing the usual bureaucracy at the airports.“We’ve compressed the number of forms you fill at the airport today from three to one,” he informed. “Before now, you filled a separate form for Immigration, another one for Customs and another one for Health. We’ve compressed all that and they come in only about 15 questions. So, we are trying our best because we realised that you can’t drive the creative industry without good security, infrastructure and people being able to get their visas easily.”
IN his remarks, the Obi of Onitsha Igwe Alfred Nnaemeka Achebe Agbogidi, who described art as life, thanked the Lagos State government for taking up an initiative that would benefit the entire nation.
As he put it, “Big countries patronise art, small countries patronise art. Why can Nigeria not patronise art? People talk about money; go to Ghana, go to Senegal… they’ve got very interesting and functioning artistic institutions that they enjoy and a lot of the world come to their countries. So, why can’t we do that? It’s possible if we can think about it.”
According to the royal father and art collector, the Arts Council of Britain has done studies to demonstrate that museums and art galleries actually contribute to the national economy of Britain. He urged Nigeria to look in that direction, too.
“They’ve done calculations to that effect and when they removed entrance fees to the museums and galleries, the contribution grew even more. People come in from all over the world to enjoy these things and they spend money. They spend money on taxis; they spend money in motels and they eat food… It’s all part of the economy. These people that generate income contribute to keep the museums and galleries going because they bring in traffic. So, there are examples all over the world that show the need to sustain our culture for our own benefit, education, enjoyment and for the world to come and see.”
On the quality of works currently in the Lagos Museum, Igwe Achebe said, “Look at these impressive works; think about the finesse and quality. Then think back when they were created in history; you could see that our civilizations in this country are miles ahead in those days. Our people didn’t create them by accident; they were conscious; they left a legacy for us. What legacy are we creating today?”
While moderating a session on ‘The Museum as a Tool for Driving Tourism, Arts and Culture,’ contemporary art curator, Bisi Silva, thanked Lagos State government for the initiative, adding, “I remember when I met the governor, I was telling him that I’m really impressed and happy that culture is being taken seriously. This is a viable and important option for Lagos state and Nigeria.”
For art collector, Mr. Omooba Yemisi Shyllon, who is currently building a new museum at the Pan African University to house some of his collections, museums are important in terms of attracting traffic. He, however, sued for a positive, attitudinal behaviour towards the museum.
“In this audience, one would wonder how many people have visited the Lagos museum. We don’t really promote our culture. We don’t relate with our culture the way it should be. I believe that, in addition to what the governor is doing, which is very commendable, we should ensure that we promote our culture right from the crèche.”While also commending Ambode for the initiative, Shyllon urged the government to put in place measures that would help sustain the investment.
“Yes, museum attracts traffic, but museums are not self-sustaining. I was the guest of American Government in 2009, under the American Visitors Leadership Programme and I was taken to museums like the Metropolitan Museum. One of the things I learned is that, we must be careful; building a museum is one thing, ensuring that the museum sustains itself is another thing. Our great governor has started a movement of ensuring that our creative minds and critical minds are harnessed for the growth of our state and our nation, but we must ensure that we put in place measures to ensure that this museum outlives the initiators. What do we do to ensure that what our governor does is sustained and developed with a view to promoting our culture?”
Also, Chief Nike Okundaye of Nike Art Gallery said, “This is the first time ever I will see a governor who is an art lover, art promoter and also renovating our museum. We are sitting on a treasure; I want Nigerians to know. When the King of Morocco came to Nigeria, after seeing the president, the first place he came was Lagos and he promised to spend one week. When he came, the first place he went was my gallery. This treasure we are sitting on, we are going to create a festival.”
Okundaye noted that Nigeria is big enough to institute a festival with the aim of creating awareness on the treasures in the museum and give the youngsters the opportunity to know about their own culture and tradition.
“We thank the governor for giving us this opportunity and I know there’s no more going back; we will continue to move forward. And we are going to promote this heritage that you started; we will put the right people in the right places. And to the minister, who is in charge of everything culture in Nigeria, please, we need you to work with our governor because he cannot do it alone. You have to work with him as a team to get Lagos to a greater height.”
FOR the Director General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Mallam Yusuf Abdullah Usman, the new museum would set the tone for the return of stolen works from Nigeria from around the world.
According to him: “Each time we make a case for the return of those works back home, the question they always ask us is, ‘where do you want to put them?’ Your Excellency, I thank you for giving us a befitting place to put the works!”
Earlier in her welcome address, the Acting Commissioner/Special Adviser to Ambode on Tourism, Arts and Culture, Adebimpe Akinsola, noted that the history of Lagos State is not complete without the past being preserved in a dignifying museum, adding that museums provide shelter for cherished, valuable works of arts and other objects of permanent value, which represent a people’s heritage, culture and history.
“The current administration is highly committed to this, as demonstrated through some tourism-related strategic infrastructure development projects in the State,” she added. “The state recenly unveiled the statue of King Ado, the first King of Lagos, and the legendary Prince Olofin, the first settler in Lagos. As we speak, the Badagry Heritage Museum is under renovation, the Vlekete Slave Market Museum in Badagry is almost completed, while the Point of No Return Edifice at Gberefu, Badagry, will soon be delivered. All the above-mentioned forms part of the state tourism development projects meant to enrich the experience of visitors and tourists to the state.”