In the years leading up to the 2019 exhibition Caravans of Gold, Block Museum staff formed relationships with colleagues based at partner institutions in Mali, Morocco, and Nigeria. Chief among our collaborators was Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), the federal government agency which manages the collection, documentation, conservation, and presentation of Nigerian cultural properties. The generosity of the NCMM resulted in unprecedented loans of the nation’s cultural patrimony to The Block’s exhibition including treasures like the 14th-century sculpture from Ife known as the Tada Man.
The Block Museum has, in turn, welcomed the opportunity to champion NCMM’s important work. The Block’s Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and curator of Caravans of Gold spoke on behalf of the NCMM at hearings held by the US State Department to consider Nigeria’s application for a bilateral agreement with the US government to cooperate in protecting Nigeria’s cultural heritage under the 1972 UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage. Berzock was able to attest to the professional practices of the NCMM based on the Block’s experiences working directly with them. She also spoke to the strong interest of the American public in engaging with Nigeria’s cultural heritage. As a result of these hearings, the United States and Nigeria signed their first bilateral property agreement in January 2022 with the aim of increasing public awareness of Nigeria’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.
This spirit of institutional exchange has continued to motivate The Block and NCMM long after the Caravans of Gold exhibition closed:
How do archaeologists and museum professionals in Africa and the U.S. continue to work together in beneficial ways? Where lies the future of archaeology, museum practice, and cultural heritage in our different countries and regions?
These questions were on the table as The Block hosted a professional development summer residency for four leaders on NCMM staff. For two weeks in July, the museum welcomed a delegation including Pamela Otuka, curator/documentation officer, Ezinwanyyi Nwanchukwu, curator/documentation officer, Saint Damian Osiagwu, education officer, Maureen Enem, public relations officer, for an intensive two-week exchange of learning and collaboration.
During their time at the museum and on campus, the delegation shadowed Block staff members at their work, and held learning and brainstorming sessions with museum leadership including sessions with the engagement, communication, exhibitions, visitor’s services collections, and curatorial departments. The group met with Northwestern’s Office of International Relations, Northwestern’s Library staff, and Northwestern’s Office of Global Marketing and Communications to discuss shared issues and concerns. Multiple visits were made to Northwestern’s renowned Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies, which is among the top collections of its kind worldwide. The team each came with research questions from the NCMM collection and were able to use the Northwestern library resources to uncover information on works in their national holdings. During their time in Chicago, the visitors also met with leaders at The Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of National History. American museums are increasingly motivated to be in dialogue with the NCMM about approaches to the restitution of objects from Nigeria in their collections. The open lines of dialogue, inquiries and professional best practices raised in these meetings proved deeply meaningful to all participants.
Meet Our Guests from NCMM
I’m from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria. I work in the Abuja office. I do public relations at the Commissions, we’re interfacing with the media, doing press releases, writing speeches, editing publications, and a whole lot of other things that are related to media services. I’m also an archeologist who does excavation from time to time for the commission, where we excavate artifacts for exhibition and mapping out other sites of cultural significance.
Saint Damian Osiagwu
I am an education officer and, my department is called educational services and training. I work as an intermediary between the museum and the public. We are the ones that receive visitors, tour guide, work with children, families, young adults, and all kinds of educational work. Then, for our skill and sensitization program, we go to law enforcement agencies, like the police and the army, the civil defense, to teach them about identifying real objects and replicas, preventing the trafficking of our cultural objects to other parts of the world.
I’m the head of collections in the National Museum, Lagos. We have well over 47,000 objects in the National Museum, Lagos and we work with virtually every department there to make the object lifespan last longer.
I’m a curator and assistant director in National Museums, Abuja. Right now, we don’t have a museum in Abuja, but then that doesn’t mean that we don’t have work to do. Some NCMM collections do come through Abuja, and I’m in charge of these collections. As you all know and have read, there are lots of repatriated objects coming into Nigeria now, so I’m in charge of documenting them and taking them to a safe haven where they would be stored.
It’s really pleasure for us to be here. Our coming here has not been wasted, we have learnt quite a lot. We always look forward to the next day because everyday is quite interesting. Most especially what we have learnt this time around, we have learned about relationships: meeting our true colleagues, learning from them and learning how they operate.
We have quite a lot to learn from each other. So we are grateful to be here. It wasn’t just one-sided, it’s been two ways. We are learning from you, you are also learning from us, and the museum is a community, all one family.Pamela Otuka, Nigerian National Commission of Museums and Monuments
Kathleen Bickford Berzock congratulates the team during a ceremony to present certificates of completion for the program on our final day together.
About the NCMM
The National Commission for Museums and Monuments with its headquarters in Abuja, manages more than 50 outlets spread across the country. These include National Museums Aba, Abakaliki, Abeokuta, Akure, Asaba, Bauchi, Benin, Birnin Kudu, Calabar, Damaturu, Enugu, Esie, Hong, Ibadan, Oko, Igbo-Ukwu, Ile-Ife, Ilorin, Jos, Kanta, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Koko, Lafia, Lagos, Lokoja, Maiduguri, Makurdi, Minna, Nok, Ogbomosho, Oron, Osogbo, Owerri, Owo, Oyo, Port-Harcourt, Sokoto, Sukur, Umuahia, Uyo, Yenagoa and Yola.
There are also two UNESCO World Heritage Sites namely Sukur Cultural Landscape in Adamawa state and Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove in Osun state. The NCMM also has the Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA); a Zoological Garden and the Centre for Earth Construction Technology (CECTECH) as well as the Institute of Archaeology and Museum Studies all in Jos, for capacity building of different categories of its staff and others outside the Commission. In the past years, sixty-five (65) National Monuments and Sites have been declared, while a hundred (100) additional ones were being proposed for declaration as National Monuments to mark Nigeria’s Centenary.
NCMM is the representative of Nigeria at International Cultural bodies like the International Council of Museum (ICOM), the International Centre for the Study of the Restoration and Preservation of Cultural Properties (ICCROM), West African Museums Programme (WAMP), the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) the African Council on Museums (AFRICOM) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO) among others.