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Archives: Most important monuments of a nation’s past



A LOT of people may not know the importance archives in a country or state like ours.

L.G Gwam in a publication, Ibadan, a Journal published at University College Ibadan, No. 7, November, 1959, revealed that “the first permanent block of the Federal Department of National Archives on the campus of the University College was formally opened on 9th of January 1959, by Lord Evershed, Master of the Rolls. Lord Evershed’s principal office as a Justice of Appeal in the High Court of England was well known”.


Time has come for us to preserve our records in such forms that they cannot be damaged by fire, rats, chemicals, e.t.c.

The author informed that forming and development of the department was very largely the works of one man, Professor K.O Dike, who was then the Director of this organisation. Following the representations he made to the Nigerian Government in 1950, he was commissioned to undertake a survey of Nigerian Public Record in 1957. He submitted his findings to the federal government in 1953, under the title of ‘Report on the Preservation and Administration of a Public Record Office in Nigeria’. The publication insightfully reported that “this report which was published as a sessional paper in 1953 constitutes the intellectual foundation of the Nigerian National Archives.”


Now, a question might rightly arise. What are archives?

L.C Gwam, also revealed that “the immediate reaction to the word ‘archives’ is for one to think of antiquity, cobwebs and dust”.

Accordingly to him, the only justification for this reaction appears to be that an ancient name has been given to a modern science which dates from the French Revolution. An archive is a word of Greek origin (archeion). Later, Latin writers propagating the same idea used the word archivum. The Oxford Dictionary, he pointed out, followed the idea propounded by Roman jurist consults, defines archives as a place which public documents are kept” and a historical record or document so preserved.”


This definition, he continued, has been considerably narrowed down by modern usage. Sir Hilary Jekinson, in his Manual of Archives Administration (1937 edition) p.11, defined archives in the following words: “ A document which may be said to belong to the class of archives is one which was drawn up or used in the course of an administration or executive transection (whether public or private) of which it has formed a part, and subsequently preserved in their own custody for their own information by the person or persons responsible for that transaction and their legitimate successors”.


Sir Hilary went on and said that “archives were not made in the first instance to be read and evaluated by scholars: they accrued naturally in the course of executed business transactions. The records which are generally classed as archives are non-current written materials which have accumulated by a natural process during the conduct of business of any kind – public, private sector or ecclesiastical.


They may take the form of files, registers, parchments, rolls, cards, books or plans. He revealed that “a written material need not be ancient before it can acquire archival quality”. Therefore, artificial collections- whatever their intrinsic interest, are not archives, but museum pieces.”


In this connection, encouragement of establishing archives is of great importance to any country, state and community, especially as we journey from the 21st century and beyond. The importance of archives therefore, cannot be over re-emphasised.


Writing in a book: Lagos, the Development of an African City, in a topic, a Bibliography, A.Olugboyega Banjo, informed that “from the beginning of Modern Nigerian history, Lagos has been a hub of commercial and administrative activities.


More recently, it has developed into the leading industrial and urban centre in Nigeria.” To him, “it has been the traditional centre of newspapers and party political publications. There is therefore a wealth of archival, as well as published material on the city of people of Lagos. The range of materials included official and private records and documents, newspapers, books, pamphlets, periodical articles and theses”.


In this connection therefore, this bibliography provides a directory of   significant archival collections and a subject list of books and articles followed by alphabetical lists of theses, official publications and newspapers published in Lagos, both current and retrospective”.


For example, the publication revealed that “various documents and private papers about Lagos exist in many archives and libraries in Nigeria and Europe. Most of these collections have been described, inter alia, in : Mathens, N and Wainwright , M.D. Camp.


A guide to manuscript and Europe and documents in the British Isles relating to Africa, London, O.U.P, 1971, Carson, P materials for West African history in achieves of Belgium and Holland, London, Athlone Press, 1682; Materials for West African history in French archieves , London,  Athlone Press, 1968; Gray,R. and Chambers,D. materials for West African history in Italian archives, London, Athlone press, 1965.


Writing on the same topic, the National Achieves of Nigeria, L.C  Gwam informed that under the defensive measures- “like the Public Record Office, it is  accepted in the Nigerian National Archives that our activities are broadly  divided into primary and secondary function.


To him, our primary function may be defined as the “Moral and physical defence” of archives. The implication of this definition is that an archival institution is perpetually defending its holdings against certain moral and physical enemies.


The moral enemies of archives are such human failings as theft ,forgery, falsification, carelessness and forgetfulness can count as moral enemies. The fact, however, is that the loss or ruin of a document through carelessness or forgetfulness is as serious as the loss of the document by theft. The learned scholar warned that  “it is therefore important that vigilant measures should be maintained in all our repositories for the purpose of ensuring the integrity of the records in our charge”.



L.C Gwam in: Ibadan – a Journal published at University College, No 7, November, 1959, insightfully noted that “ the physical enemies of archives are the same as William Blades’s “ Enemies of Books” : Fire, water, gas, heat, dust, neglect, ignorance, fungus, insects, and other Venom.


To him, since our stack room construction and equipment are specially designed to provide protection against the physical enemies of documents, the storage of a document, in our repository is a qualified guarantee that the document is permanently preserved. However, one of our greatest problems arises from the fact that most documents are received in our repositories in an unsatisfactory physical state”.


The tendency to neglect records which are no longer needed for the conduct of day to day business is universal in all public and private institutions. In practically every case, neglect provides golden opportunities for agents of destruction- rats,insects,fungi and damp to do their work on non-current records occasioned by neglect. The need to combat the neglect of non-current papers in public and private institutions has come to be regarded in some circles as one of the main justifications of the archival profession”.


The call to encourage archival materials is for the posterity of our country and state governments and our children who will definitely need them as reference materials for study and other useful use.


Therefore, L.C. Gwam, rightly pointed out that “the importance of archives is implicit in the definition of the word. The non- current records of any institution are the memories of that institution. When the archives of the various institutions that comprise the multifarious activities of a nation have been assembled, it becomes at once a written monument of that nation’s past.


Archives are the most inexhaustible source for the increase of knowledge; they are reliable because they are not mere truthful witness of the events they portray, but are also an actual part of the events themselves: they are universal because there is no form of human activity which may not produce them or to which they may not apply, they are inexhaustible because the human activities which produce them are an eternal process”. The learned scholar emphasised.


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