Published On: Tue, Jun 13th, 2017

Nigeria: Celebrating the International Archives Day with Decaying Archives

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Friday, June 9, 2017, is the International Achives Day. It is a day when archivists, record managers, historians and men and women of goodwill will once again bring to the fore the need to show understanding and do more for our archives. It is going to be celebrated with pimp and pageantry by many countries of the world.

The International Council on Archives has declared the theme for this year’s celebration to be: “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism.”

Archivists are expected to open their departments to the public, explain their work, raise the profile of professionals, and generally explain to the public how they can help them and their country’s institutions to organise their affairs.

Amid all these, archivists in Nigeria appeared helpless and disconsolate. Nigeria has consigned her archives to the dustbin of history. This country is being categorised as one of the countries of the developing world that has no respect for record-keeping and the preservation of important documents of the past. This is a monumental tragedy in a country that boasts of a treasure trove of documents and records of the past. For the past three decades, members of the Society of Nigerian Archivists (SNA) have belly-ached about the fate of the archives in Nigeria. Since the 1980s, our archives have fallen on bad times. They have been neglected and become so much debased and degraded.

Beginning from the 1950s when Nigerian Archivists helped to collect, supervise, organise, preserve and navigate our collections in diverse archives across the country, the country was made to see the value in preserving the records of the past. Many records relating to the pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial periods are today found in our archives. However, the appalling conditions of our archives, the bad treatment of our archivists and record managers and the lack of attention to the archives generally are areas of great concern to all stakeholders.
Today is therefore an auspicious day to once again reflect on the state of our archives and the fate of the people who run them. Nigeria has a remarkable trove of documents, letters, photographs, maps and other materials that are either badly preserved or not yet collected. There is a responsibility that comes with being an archivist. As the custodian of the mandate of taking care of our patrimony, they owe us a duty of drawing our attention to the decay, destruction and inaccessibility to important documents being neglected to our collective shame. Our basic disregard of the archives both in our official and personal capacities must stop. It is high time we began to collectively articulate our knowledge base and education so as not to mess up our future through the lack of attention to our past. We must now begin to think of our archives as tools of community and national empowerment rather than as irrelevant custodians of the relics of the past. More than ever, we now need to think critically and imaginatively about how to handle the archives in the 21st century. The long-term sustenance of the archives should therefore be our collective responsibility. Several state governments have now instituted efficient archives. Kudos must go to Logos, Sokoto, and Bayelsa in this regard. Conversely, the Federal Government must receive knocks for its bad treatment of the Nigerian National Archives. The National Archives today lies prostrate through poor funding. It is now imperative that governments at all levels, the National Assembly, the academia, the intelligentsia and members of the society must now demand the adoption of global best practices in the collection and preservation of our records. Those who keep the records must also be well treated. This is non-negotiable if we are to evolve into a vibrant and prosperous nation.
Preserving the archives demands diligence, tenacity, time and financial resources. Any investment in it is always worthwhile. Future generations will not forgive us for not leaving behind copious and well-kept records of the past. It is a sin that is unpardonable. There is, therefore, the need for all stakeholders to collaborate to collect and preserve these records. Nigeria has a lot to do to preserve the rich collections in the archives which are being depleted by poor storage and rough handling. The Society of Nigerian Archivists (SNA) will partner with governments and other organizations to rescue and preserve (through digitilisation) perishing and vulnerable archives, and encourage private collectors to turn them over to the official archives, where they can be accessed by scholars and other interested persons. The funding of our archives should be taken up as a matter of priority by relevant governments and non-governmental agencies. We must leave ample and well-preserved record for our progeny!
Prof. Olutayo C. Adesina
President, Society of Nigerian Archivists (SNA)

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