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A Museum of Colonial History and National Identity: Lokoja and the Nigerian Situation Regarding Preserving the Past


By Amirikpa Oyigbenu

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 76 (Winter 2014/15), pp. 72-84]

Forget the Past, Forfeit the Future

Wole Soyinka, 2006


I have been a friend of Jos Museum since my undergraduate days in the 1970s when I used to be invited by the museum authorities during holidays to organize activities for the then Jos Museum Arts Club; a children’s holiday creative and cultural engagement programme. As a dramatist and theatre artist, I am a cultural purveyor, a cultural conservationist, a chronicler and an ardent friend of the cultural, social and geographical environments. The unfolding national and global morphologies and configurations in the areas of the abrasive erosion of national cultural values in the name of modern civilization, modernism, westernization or globalization are worrying. Nigeria is by no means an exception.
A lot has been written about the role and functions of museums in national development, and museums in a globalized and fast changing world. But here I will be focusing on one case study; that of Lokoja in Nigeria’s Kogi State. This practical approach has been informed by several visits to the numerous heritage sites in Lokoja that have been abandoned and neglected by both the Federal and State governments over the years.
As Nigeria celebrates the centenary of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, it is instructive for us to revisit the significance of Lokoja in the evolution of the Nigerian state vis-à-vis the activities of early explorers, traders, missionaries and colonial rule which collectively made Lokoja one vast museum site of colonial heritage. Historical and cultural activities urgently need to focus on the state of decay and abandonment of the historical sites with a view to rehabilitating and reclaiming them for historical understanding.

A Brief Geography and History of Lokoja

Lokoja is the only city and State capital in Nigeria that is squarely situated at a confluence of West Africa’s major rivers, the Rivers Niger and Benue, where both rivers merge and flow southwards into the Atlantic Ocean. The town is located at the foot of Mount Patti that glides gently down to the confluence bank of the rivers Niger and Benue, whose beauty is further accentuated by the cascading canopy of layers of foliage. This peculiar geography of Lokoja is largely responsible for its unique political and economic position in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial developments of Nigeria as a country. This unique location therefore gives Lokoja the sobriquet of ‘Confluence State’.
Chief W.B. Sadibo and Alex Attah Jacob in a joint publication on Lokoja entitled The Making of Nigeria: Niger-Benue Confluence Connection describe Lokoja as a town that is ‘sandwiched between the slopes of a hill range, called Mount Patti, and the confluence of rivers Niger and Benue.’ Sadibo and Attah also describe the town as ‘a refuge for those fleeing for safety, which Mount Patti offered, and as cross-road of navigable waterways.’
Historically, Lokoja’s advantageous location made her a host to numerous and notable European explorers, missionaries, trading companies and successive colonial administrators. According to Sadibo and Attah:

European penetration into Lokoja in the early nineteenth century created significant landmarks in the history of the town. Inspired by the journey of Mungo Park, who in 1775 explored the Niger on behalf of the African Association, British explorers embarked on various explorations. These were aimed, primarily, at exploiting the rich confluence resources, as well as finding viable outlets for the growing European manufactures. (21)

What developed from all these activities was an inter-play of symbiotic political, economic and cultural networks that precipitated the eventual political evolution of Nigeria as a British colony. The British government granted several British firms charters to operate on the Niger. Among these were the Miller Brothers, the West African Company, the Central Africa Company and James Pinnock. As time went on, these companies assumed different names under different holdings and authorities that culminated in the suzerainty of the Royal Niger Company that was granted political power by the British government in 1886 to administer the area north of the confluence on her behalf. In the annals of Nigeria’s political and economic history, United Africa Company (UAC) and the Royal Niger Company are familiar as agents of British colonial multi-national corporations that plundered the resources of Nigeria and other colonized African nations in the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial eras.

General Overview of Museums
Activities and Challenges of the Lokoja Museum

Similarly to the set functions of museums the world over, the Curator of the Lokoja Museum, Mr. Solomon Ibejigba, confirmed to the researcher that his organization undertakes among sundry functions; educational and schools’ visits, conducting tourists and visitors around the arts gallery through guided tours and research on relevant areas. Another academic function of the museum is that it periodically organizes workshops in conjunction with other museums in the country and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Abuja.
The museum also is responsible for the maintenance of all heritage and historical sites in the town that are under its jurisdiction. In order to avoid overlap of roles and possible crisis, the Museum works closely with the Kogi State Tourism Board in the promotion of tourism in the state. It helps in the promotion of the traditional cuisines of the diverse ethnic nationalities that make up the state through a fleet of restaurants that are leased out to private operators, but closely monitored and supervised to ensure quality and hygiene. According to the Curator, the Museum also encourages cultural activities like drama production and the annual observance of World Heritage Day.
In the view of the Museum Curator, funding is, and has been, the biggest challenge faced by the Museum. Although the Museum is a subsidiary of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, which itself is an organ of the Federal Ministry of Culture and Tourism, funding is not, and has never been, adequate to enable it carry out its statutory responsibilities. Against this paucity of funding, often the museum is directed by the authorities in Abuja to source external funding to augment the meagre budgetary allocation from the capital. In the opinion of the Curator, even the external funding drive has never been encouraging or successful because of the lacklustre attitude of patrons to the promotion and preservation of the arts, culture and heritage of the people. More often than not, most prospective patrons see the museum as essentially a repository of pagan artefacts and practices that are antithetical to their religious beliefs.
Aside from the challenges of inadequate funding to the museum, other difficulties faced by Lokoja Museum include lack of vehicles for transporting tourists and staff, insufficient working materials such as stationery and furniture, as well as inadequate office accommodation for staff which has necessitated the staff occupying the gallery. The Curator has also made a special appeal in the area of staff training and re-training to enable them to acquire new skills, ideas and knowledge in the management and administration of museums in conformity with global practice.
On the question of whether the museum has a functional library, the Curator gave a half-hearted answer which implied the absence of what one might call a library like those that exist in the Jos, Lagos, Benin City and Kaduna museum libraries. The stock of publications in the reading room is meagre, to say the least. What is more, the museum does not run an in house news bulletin. Against this backdrop, it is logical therefore to assert that at present no serious academic or intellectual engagement goes on in the Lokoja Museum. But the problems and challenges that the museum faces are not peculiar to it. They are symptomatic of a wider national crisis confronting museums and most public institutions in Nigeria.

Lokoja: A Museum of Colonial History and National Heritage Site

Historically speaking, the Lokoja Museum was established in 1993, but it was officially commissioned by Alhaji Idris Ibrahim, the then governor of Kogi State on 30th June, 2006. Before this official commissioning, the heritage sites were overseen at different times by the governments of northern Nigeria, defunct Kabba Province, old Kwara State, and old Benue State, before the creation of Kogi State by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1991.
The history of what constitutes modern-day Nigeria was conceived either by an act of commission or omission in Lokoja. The special place that Lokoja occupies in the history of colonial and post-colonial Nigeria is profoundly emblematic and symbolic in the general understanding of the political forces that shaped the Nigerian state. The strategic location of the town on the confluence of the two great rivers Niger and Benue at a time when waterways were the sole means of transportation and movement of people and goods around the world meant Lokoja provided a key location for European missionaries, explorers, adventurers, traders and colonial administrators.

Lokoja both as a community and a geographical environment is one huge museum of colonial history and heritage. As a result of its position, Sadibo and Jacob record that:

By 1860, a permanent British settlement under Dr. Balfour Baikie was established and the machinery for the smooth exploitation of the local potentials was set up. The British settlers built warehouses, stores and factories along the Niger. The steamers made fortune through the shipment of trade goods. (21)

The ruins of these colonial warehouses stand visibly along the river bank in Lokoja today; easily identified by their unique ancient architectural nature. Some of them have been taken over by local traders.
The declaration of the Northern Protectorate in 1900 by the British colonial administration consummated her political sovereignty over the entire Nigerian area, with Sir Frederick Lugard as the first Governor of the new protectorate whose capital was Lokoja. As a result of this political control of the Northern Nigeria area, the symbol of the new colonial authority and control had to be established through the imposition of the British flag and the lowering of that of the Royal Niger Company. This act marked Lokoja as the first capital of Northern Nigeria. The location of this place which marks the taking over of the land and its people remains a historic site for historians and tourists.

Among the numerous historic and heritage sites that abound in Lokoja is the Bishop Crowther Holy Trinity Primary School; unarguably the first primary school in Northern Nigeria. It is said to have been founded by Bishop Ajayi Crowther in 1865. The original school building is still standing, although corrosively neglected. Despite these derelict conditions, a cursory visit reveals that the old unattended-to building still serves as a classroom where pupils are taught lessons today. The building reveals the general untoward attitude to national monuments and public buildings that are often referred to as ‘no man’s property’.

At a corner within the Holy Trinity Church compound is the tomb of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, and the ‘Iron of Liberty’. A tour guide from the Kogi State Ministry of Culture and Tourism explained that with the abolition of slave trade in the late nineteenth century, Lokoja became a collection centre for slaves who were seized from resistant slave raiders and merchants. To ensure and secure their freedom, the slaves were made to run and touch the ‘Iron of Liberty’ as signification of their freedom.
Lokoja is also home to what officials of the museum describe as the largest European cemetery in Nigeria. Actually, there are two sites of the cemeteries in the town, along the old Lokoja-Okene road. Sadibo and Attah’s account has it that some of the notable personalities that were buried in these cemeteries included the major colonial administrators and entrepreneurs; William Fell, Mr. Bedford, pay-master Maxwell, Mr. T.V. Robins, Lt. George White and Evangelist Thomas Walker Bako. Some local accounts also assert that the explorers, the Lander brothers were buried in Lokoja.
Lord Lugard’s military observatory and shooting site, as well as the Armoury, were located on the flat plateau of Mount Patti overlooking the Niger and Benue rivers and the entire Lokoja town. From this vantage point, colonial soldiers under Lugard’s command were said to monitor from afar the approach of slave raiders and merchants, who were fired upon from this point using military cannons. The slaves aboard these vessels gained freedom once they touched the ‘Iron of Liberty’.
Among the array of colonial relics that abound in Lokoja is the first prison yard in the old Northern region. It was said to have been built in 1902 by Lord Lugard and used to detain persons who were sentenced beyond six months of imprisonment (Sadibo and Attah, 47). Overlooking the prison is the warders’ observatory where prisoners were constantly monitored to ensure they did not escape. Both the prison and the observatory are located in the premises of Kogi Hotels and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, but ironically both are in such a state of neglect and near-collapse that they no longer attract visitors and tourists.

Related to the prison yard are the tombs of deposed Northern Nigeria emirs and Islamic scholars who fell foul of the colonial dictates as a result of their failure to carry out colonial mandates that had to do with the collection and management of taxation. These ‘recalcitrant’ emirs were taken to Lokoja and kept under close watch by Lugard’s administration. Inevitably, quite a number of them died while in exile and were buried there. Notable among them were the emirs of Kano, Zazzau, Gumel, Bida, among many others. These tombs constitute heritage sites and national monuments worthy of preservation both for their historical significance and for tourism purposes. In fact, members of the families of the deposed emirs and the Islamic scholars followed them into exile, thereby constituting the early presence of Hausa migrants into Lokoja. Today, the Hausa community has gained political and administrative recognition and prominence with the appointment of a title paramount ruler as the Mai-gari of Lokoja who is a member of the Kogi State Council of Chiefs.
The most disturbing experience of this writer was the visit to the site of the first military hospital in Northern Nigeria; unarguably, the first modern-day hospital in the north, that was built in 1904. From 1991 when Kogi State was created, the old hospital buildings housed the Kogi State Council for Arts and Culture. A former Director of the Council, Jonathan O. Okpanachi , told me in an interview that the old hospital buildings were renovated and given a face-lift without tampering with the original aesthetics and architecture. This reasoning explained why the buildings were retained and used as cultural and historical monuments for the promotion and preservation of the history, art and culture of not only the immediate community, but also a re-telling of the history of the evolution of Northern Nigeria. With this status, the buildings received some level of attention under the administration of an arts-and-culture patron governor of Kogi State, Prince Abubakar Audu. However, at my last visit to Lokoja in the course of this research in the first week of May, 2012, the old structures were pulled down and replaced with ‘modern’ structures that convey no meaning for the past; a classic case of the obliteration of history in the name of modernization.
The Lokoja Club, popularly referred to as ‘Club 1901’, is believed to be the oldest club house in Nigeria. It was used exclusively by Lord Lugard and his European lieutenants for relaxation and recreation. Africans were excluded from patronizing the club. The club has undergone so much reconstruction and retouching here and there that it has lost its national heritage status.
What astonishes a first-time visitor to the Lord Lugard Senior Staff Houses is the line-up of uniquely prefabricated wooden structures that stand on solid steel with concrete pillars as a base, most of whose open spaces serve as offices for official business because of inadequate office accommodation. Sadibo and Attah conjecture the dates of construction of the structure to be ‘not earlier than 1900, when Lord Lugard was sworn in as the First Governor of the Northern Protectorate, and not later than 1904, when he moved his administrative headquarters from Lokoja’ to Zungeru in the present day Niger State, before the final transfer of the colonial administrative capital to Kaduna. All the structures are very strong and fully in use today, serving as Upper Area Court 2, Nigeria Union of Journalists Press Centre, Museum of Colonial History and Headquarters of Hotels and Tourism Board.

Museums, Heritage Sites and National Identity

V. I. Ekpo asserts that the concept and practice of what constitutes a museum incorporate not only the designated buildings where works of art are kept and preserved, but also includes such matters as ’libraries, archives, private collections, research and cultural centres, natural parks, aquariums and related institutions’ responsible for the preservation of human heritage and national identity and pride. These preoccupations underscore the reason why many nations, especially in Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle Eastern countries have preserved their national monuments and museums over centuries as indicative of their history and civilization.
With the exception of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya, many African countries do not seem to attach a high premium to museums as signifiers of national heritage and civilization. For instance, the destruction of world heritage sites that date back more than one thousand years that is going on in Mali is as primitive as it is shameful, all in the name of Pentecostal Islamist militarism. Ekpo sums up the problems of museums in developing countries to include:

...lack of or inadequate national legislation and resources (controlling laws and enforcement capacities, management and security of museums, national monuments and sites, funding, inventories, publicity) due to the governmental perception of issues of heritage preservation; lack of or inadequate control and regulation of the trade and exportation of cultural property items, including inadequate enforcement strategies, sanctions and penalties; and alienation of the communities due to modernization, poverty and corruption, which aid theft and illegal trafficking.(18)

Nigeria is culturally well endowed by every standard of comparison and definition. As a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation, the histories and civilizations of the diverse ethnic nationalities that make-up the Nigerian state are yet to be researched in-depth. From Lagos area to Calabar, Oloibiri to Maiduguri, Benin to Sokoto, the heritage sites and national monuments tell similar stories of neglect and abandonment to those that characterise Lokoja. For example, Lagos (Badagry) is home to the first multi-storey building in Nigeria while Oloibiri is the community where petroleum was first discovered in 1956. Yet, Oloibiri is a story of desolation, neglect and abandonment. The story of Calabar is synonymous with the story of Mary Slessor and the Hope Wadell College. But how many Nigerians of the present generation know or have heard about this angelic Scottish woman who gave her life so that millions of twins could live, or the story of one of the earliest grammar schools in Nigeria that was built by the Christian missionaries around 1895?
As far as the colonial history of Northern Nigeria is concerned, Lokoja occupies an unparalleled position that should be celebrated beyond the town and the region, because the history of the town is by extension the history of modern Nigeria. Lokoja’s colonial history could be said to shape the history, political and national heritage of the Nigerian nation. In fact, Nigeria’s colonial history, civilization and heritage remain a cornucopia of cultural diversities that should be celebrated because in this diversity resides the strength of a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural people. Unarguably, a nation without identifiable and cherished national identity, preserved common civilization, history and national heritage sites loses its self-esteem, pride and identity.

Museums, National Heritage Sites and Nigeria’s Culture of Neglect

The Federal Government of Nigeria established the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in 1979, with the objective to, among others, ‘administer national museums, antiquities and monuments’. In addition, the Commission is expected to ‘establish and maintain the national museums and other outlets for or in connection with, but not restricted to the following: antiquities, science and technology, arts and crafts, architecture, national history, and educational services’ (Nigeria Handbook, 178).
The general attitude to preservation and protection of all that constitutes national museums and heritage sites in Nigeria is a caricature of what obtains in other countries. Nigeria boasts of a wide array of museums, monuments and heritage sites in all the six geo-political zones of the country, but to what extent can one say with certainty that these museums and monuments justify their establishment and existence? To what extent have museums in Nigeria met the objectives for which they were established? In a globalized, fast changing and competitive world, have our museums devised the necessary survival strategies that will make them relevant and resilient to the vagaries of digital technologies? In short, are they moving with the times?
The story of abandonment and neglect of colonial monuments and sites that abound in Lokoja is symptomatic of a wider miasma. The Mount Patti site of Lugard’s military observatory and armoury, the cemeteries of European explorers, missionaries and colonialists, the tombs of deposed northern emirs and Islamic scholars, the first northern Nigerian prison yard/observatory, the first military hospital in the north - all these tell debilitating stories of neglect and abandonment.

Challenges before the National Commission for Museums and Monuments

The challenges before the National Commission for Museums and Monuments are enormous. With museums in virtually every state of the federation, the problem of funding must be addressed because the production, protection, preservation, keeping of correct and up-to-date inventories of museum artefacts and crafts, monuments and heritage sites is capital intensive. The problems that have earlier been highlighted with regard to Lokoja museum are not peculiar to the Lokoja; they constitute national challenges.


From the foregoing analysis, one can conclude that the state of museums and national monuments in Lokoja and elsewhere across the nation which constitute historical signposts and national identity for Nigeria are in dilapidated state of neglect and abandonment due to government disregard. As such, it is the opinion of this paper that all the sites in Lokoja should be rehabilitated because they constitute early history and national identity of Nigeria.
State governments where these museums and heritage sites are located should make budgetary allocations for their funding as this will complement the efforts of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments. In addition, individuals and non-governmental organizations that are friends of culture, history and tradition can also intervene to save the situation because our collective identity as a people is in grave danger of extinction.
There is also the need for the government and concerned organizations to re-direct attention in the area of institutionalization of the abundant national museums and monuments that will add value to Nigeria’s history, civilization and cultures. Moreover, as tourism destinations, museums, national monuments and heritage sites across the nation are capable of generating the much-needed revenues for national development, as opposed to the current overdependence on oil as the sole source of national revenue.


Ekpo, V.I. Museums and Universal Heritage: The Right to Ownership. Lagos: Centre for Black and African Civilization, (CBAAC), 2007.
Nigeria Handbook: All You Want to Know About Nigeria. Abuja: Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, 2009.
Okpoko, Alex Ikechukwu. Fundamentals of Museum Practice. Nsukka: Afro-Orbis Publishing Co. Ltd, 2006.
Sadibo, W.B. and Jacob, Alex Attah. The Making of Nigeria: Niger-Benue Confluence Connection. Nigeria: National Commission for Museums and Monuments, 2006.
Soyinka, Wole. “Forget the Past, Forfeit the Future”. Keynote Address Delivered at “The Humanities in Africa in the 21st Century: Prospects and Challenges” Conference. Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University, 2006.


Ibejigba, Solomon. Curator, Lokoja Museum, 7/11/13.
Okpanachi, O.Jonathan. Former Director, Kogi State Council for Arts and Culture, Lokoja, 21/11/13.


Amirikpa Oyigbenu is a poet and English scholar. His most recent volume of poetry, Cascades and Flakes, was published in 2012. He is currently the Dean of Student Affairs at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria.

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