First ''Aso Rock" in Nigeria still stands tall

The Old Residency Museum, the First Aso Rock in Nigeria that housed the offices of Lord Lugard and other early administrators and colonial officials of Nigeria is still intact in Calabar, the Cross River capital

The Curator of the Museum, Mrs Evelyn Osuagwu in this interview, gives an insight into the historic building, challenges and the way forward to sustain the monument

Can you tell us about the museum?

This building is a prefabricated building, made from Britain in 1884 and shipped down to Nigeria in same year by the Royal Niger Company. During the period of scrabbles for Africa, the British government used this building as their administrative headquarters. The building is called Old Residency because the colonial master resides here and also used part of the building as their administrative offices. Because of the historical importance of the building, because this was the first administrative headquarters of Nigeria after the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914, the National Commission for Museum and Monument declared it a National Monument in August 1959.

When the capital of Nigeria was later to move to Lagos, the building then served as the ministerial guest house. When the South-Eastern states were created, the building also served as the administrative offices to the newly created states. This building, apart from housing the museum, is also a National Monument.
The collections in the building are about the story of the Old Calabar due to their early encounter with the Europeans during the period of the global slave trade. This building is the first Aso Rock in Nigeria. Credit is given to Prof. Eyo Ekpo, the first Nigerian who became the Director of Antiquities of the Commission and later Director General in 1968 to 1986 by which time it was opened to the public. He influenced the retention and upgrade of the Old Residency to present national status. The Pioneer Surveyor of antiquities at the commission, a Briton, was Mr Kenneth Murray from 1943 to 1968.

What are some of the items that tourists see when they visit the museum?

What we have in this museum is mostly historical collections. The museum tells the story of Old Calabar and that of Nigeria. When you want to know about the history of Nigeria, the museum will help you in that direction. The museum also showcases the culture of Nigeria and historical artefacts. We keep antiquities and ancient things that have values. We collect things that have values and that include educational, scientific and ancient values. We also have a research department whereby we research into people’s culture and showcase to our visitors.

Looking at this building, do you believe it has a replica somewhere in Nigeria?

I doubt, this building is a pre-fabricated building. It is made of wood from Britain. It was shipped down to Nigeria and assembled here in Calabar. It is difficult to have any of this kind of building again because for you to have this type of wood today will be difficult. Since 1884, the building has remained like this. The main wood have not been eaten by insects, everything is still intact.

What is the level of traffic into this museum?

Actually, people have been coming but the traffic has drastically reduced since two years ago. The barricade at the entrance of the museum has really affected the number of people coming into the museum. Hardly do you see people coming in here again because the mentality here in Calabar is that the museum has been closed down, but is has not. The security men at the entrance don’t prevent people from coming into the museum. But, the fact that the barricade is there, when people are passing and they see the barricade and security men, they would not like to come. No tourist will like to come into a place where he or she will want to be asked too many questions. Once in a while people normally come here; but the barricade had affected us negatively. Sometimes, in a whole day, we won’t even record any tourists coming in here to visit. During the 2018 Calabar carnival, no single tourist came to the museum unlike during the period of former Governor Donald Duke where the museum was booming with tourists.

Is there any partnership between the museum and the Cross River government on funding to drive the state tourism agenda?

As the name goes, `National Museum’, it belongs to the federal government and not the state government. Previously, Governor Donald Duke usually supports the museum adequately. But in the present government of Gov. Benn Ayade, the support has not been forthcoming.

What are the immediate challenges you have within the museum?

We have a lot of challenges. The first is the low influx of visitors into the museum due to the barricade. It is a very big challenge to this office. This is because; our revenue has drastically reduced because we don’t record visitors here anymore. The federal government is talking about increasing the revenue drive, but down here, we don’t have visitors anymore. Before, this compound used to be busy. We usually have weddings here and other occasions, but for the past two and half years now, this compound is almost like a dead place because of this same barricade. Another challenge is the government not funding the office. For sometimes now, subvention is not coming. It is difficult to work without resources. The government looks at the tourism and culture sector as a place where they cannot generate revenue; hence they pay less attention to the industry. But, in other countries, the tourism and culture sector is the main stay of the economy.

Our leaders in Nigeria don’t even visit the museum, but when they travel to American and other countries, the first place they visit is the museum. When Donald duke was the governor, there is no visitor that will come to the government house that will not visit the museum; I give that gentle man the credit because he had the interest of tourism at heart. Another challenge is power supply, our plant in the museum uses diesel which we know is costly, and when we don’t have revenue, it becomes difficult to power it and because of the design of the building and the exhibition, you need light to take the visitors around the gallery.

Are you also charging the present state government to look inward and develop the museum to complement the state tourism drive?

My answer is yes. When Cross River State came up with this idea of tourism, during the period of Donald Duke, this was the first tourism site in Calabar. It was our late first Director General, Prof. Eyo and others that came on board to develop this place. Prof. Eyo and others were the one that sold the state government the idea to develop the Marina Resort that now tells the story of the slave trade. I advise the present federal and state government to look inward and see how they can support the museum.

Did you partner with local communities in the state during cultural festivals?

We have series of event that we attend and participate. One of them is the Yakurr Festival popularly called the `Leboku Festival’. During the time of Governor Liyel Imoke, we usually take part in most festivals in the state. Also, the Etomobong festival in Calabar usually invites us and we do attend.

Is there any plan to also bring children on board to visit the museum and inculcating the awareness in them?

We have educational outreach programmes were we go to schools and introduce the museum and our activities to them. Just last week, we were at Tender Heart Nursery and Primary School, Calabar, to enlighten the teachers on the need to bring the children to visit the museum. We have long holiday programme were we teach children on bead making, beaded shoes, bags, hat making, soap making, bakery and others. This initiative is to empower them with a skill to grow with.