Report of a Survey Tour to Northern Nigeria
March 3 - 19, 2007
The State of Arabic Manuscript Collections in Nigeria
Angel D. Batiste, Ph.D
Area Specialist, Sub-Saharan Africa
Table of Contents
On March 3-19, 2007 I was awarded a U.S. Department of State Speaker
and Specialist Grant to undertake a speaker program in northern Nigeria.
Additionally, I was invited by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S.
Embassy Abuja to deliver a keynote speech at the International Symposium
entitled “Preserving Nigeria’s Scholarly and Literary Traditions
and Manuscript Heritage.”The conference, held from March 7th -
8th, was organized by The United States Embassy, Abuja, Nigeria in collaboration
with Arewa House Centre for Historical Documentation and Research, Kaduna,
Nigeria to raise awareness of the importance of preserving Nigeria’s
rich and unique corpus of Arabic manuscripts. Most importantly, the conference
may be viewed as a first step in assessing the current state of northern
Nigeria’s Arabic manuscript collections and setting future goals
to ensure that the invaluable treasures are preserved for posterity and
made accessible to the rest of the world. Prominent personalities and stakeholders involved in
the event included high ranking government officials and important dignitaries,
traditional rulers, scholars, and directors and curators of important
Islamic manuscripts collections in Nigeria.
The opening ceremony was
officiated by the Executive Governor of Kaduna State, His Excellency
Alhaji (Dr.) Ahmed Muhammad Makarfi, who served as the Chief Host; the
Executive Governor of Jigawa State, His Excellency Alhaji Ibrahim Saminu
Turaki, the representative of His Excellency the Governor of Kano State,
Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau, His Eminence the Sultant of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad
Sa-ad Abubabar, who served as the Chairman of the occasion and represented
by His Royal Highness the Emir of Zazzau, and Alhaji Shehu Idris, the
Sarkin Zamfara Anka. The ceremony was also graced by the vice chancellor
of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Professor Shehu Usman Abdullahi, who
delivered a welcome address. Delegations from the Adamawa Fombina Palace
Museum, Kano History and Culture Bureau, Sokoto History and Culture Bureau,
British Council Kano, and the National Archives, Kaduna were also in
attendance. Members of the Diplomatic Corps in attendance included the
United States Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency John Campbell; the
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Abdulilah Ali Al-Abdali;
and the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt was represented by a
delegation from the Egyptian cultural center, Kano. Other special guests
included one of Timbuktu’s leading manuscript experts, Abdel Lader
Haidara, Islamic scholar and curator of the Mamma Haidara Library (Timbuktu
Mali). Also in attendance were representatives from the Association for
the Safeguarding and Valorization of Arabic Man scripts (SAVAMA), Timbuktu,
Mali, the British Council, Kano, Nigeria, the Ford Foundation, Lagos,
Nigeria, and ALUKA, a U.S. based not-for-profit organization whose mission
is to build a digital library of scholarly resources from and about Africa.
Considerable press coverage of the event, particularly
local TV and radio stations, served to extend awareness campaigns to
people throughout the Northern Nigeria region.
The symposium officially began with remarks delivered
by the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris who represented His Eminence,
the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar. U.S. Ambassador,
John Campbell, delivered an opening keynote speech, and Professor Shehu
Galadanci gave an opening keynote address entitled ‘The Scope and
Significance of Arabic Manuscripts in Northern Nigeria’which gave
an account of the introduction of Arabic manuscripts into Northern Nigeria,
and the subject matter of those manuscripts. The earliest manuscripts
presumed to be introduced included (a) copies of the Holy Quran brought
from other Muslim countries by merchants, and visiting scholars, teachers,
and Jihad leaders; (b) standard primary books dealing with acts of devotion
and religious observation laid down by the Sharia; and, (c) poems praising
the Prophet and the literary output of scholars treating a wide range
of disciplines and themes. Paper presentations were given by 20 invited speakers (including myself).
Dr. Murray Last, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University College
London and internationally reknowned scholar in the field of the study
of Arabic manuscripts in the Northern Nigeria region, presented a paper
on “The Book in the Sokoto Caliphate”and the Islamic tradition
of learning. Over 200 people, representing libraries, archives, museums,
and government agencies gathered to hear the papers and to discuss the
issues of preserving Nigeria’s manuscript heritage and making use
of digital technologies. Paper topics included the following sub-themes:
•Legal Framework for the Protection of Arabic Manuscripts and
Cultural Property Heritage in Nigeria
•Preserving Africa’s Ancient Written Tradition in the Twenty-first
Century: Aluka’s Partnership with Timbuktu Libraries
•The Preservation of Africana Resources in the Library of Congress: Issues
and Challenges to Building Digital Collections
•Kundi Book Legacy in Pre-Colonial Hausa
•Continuity and Change in the Literary Tradition of the Sokoto Caliphate
•Manuscripts Learnability & Indigenous Knowledge for the Development
of Hausa Ajami in Historical Context
•Major Arabic Manuscripts Authored by Estako Scholars of Edo State and their
Northern Nigerian Connection
•Islamic Literary Traditions and the State of Manuscripts Collections in
•Arabic Manuscripts Collection, Cataloguing and Preservation: the Sokoto
•An Overview on the Medicinal Arabic Manuscripts of the Sokoto Calphate
•The State of Arabic Manuscripts in Nigeria
•A Position Paper on Research Activities in the Centre for Islamic Studies,
Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto
•The Linguistic Value of Manuscripts and the Necessity for their Preservation
•Place of Weather & Climate in the Preservation of Scholarly and Literary
Trditions and Manuscripts Heritage
•The Case of Microfilm Collections in the National Archives ofNigeria and
the University of Ibadan Libraries
•The State of the Kano State Archives
Additionally, the conference program showcased an impressive exhibition
of Arabic manuscripts from northern Nigerian libraries and cultural repositories,
as well as, demonstrations of traditional bookbinding, paper restoration
techniques, and Islamic calligraphy.
On the second day, attendees broke up into five small groups to brainstorm
on five topics -- scholarship, preservation, cataloging, Ajami-Arabic
text, and digitization. I was invited to provide consultation to the
digitization working group on digital preservation planning and management
issues. Each group consisted of a facilitator, a recorder/reporter, and
ten or twelve group members. The groups met in private sessions for ninety
minutes. After the discussions, the attendees reconvened, and each then
had fifteen minutes to share the results of their discussions.
All the working groups agreed on the following three points: (1) a consortium
of member institutions should be established to provide for the care
and conservation of Nigeria’s significant and valuable manuscript
collection; (2) Arewa House has a role to play as a Secretariat or coordinating
institution to mobilize experts and partnerships with libraries, archives,
universities, cultural institutions, research centers for Islamic and
Legal studies, linkages with libraries and research centers abroad, political
networks, and donor funding from agencies such as the Kuwait Foundation,
Faisal Foundation, Forkan, Carnegie, Ford, Rockefellers, UNESCO, etc.,
and (3) a five year rolling plan should be developed outlining preservation
and conservation programs and projects, research teams, time lines, and
Arriving in the city of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory,
I met with United States Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, Counselor
for Public Affairs Officer, Atim George and U.S. Cultural Attache, Mr.
Henry Mendelsohn. During my trip, I met with a number of traditional
rulers, government officials, university and educational leaders, as
well as scholars from Nigerian universities, research centers, and cultural
bureaus. My tour included formal presentations at the Chief Bole Ige
Information Technology Information Center and American Corner in Abuja,
Nigeria; presentations to the combined faculties of Islamic Studies and
History Departments at the Usmanu DanFodio University, Sokoto; and presentations
to the combined faculties of Islamic Studies, History, and Library Science
at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. Additionally, at the invitation
of Ms. Victoria Okojie, President of the Nigerian Library Association,
I made a brief presentation at the annual general business meeting of
the West African Library Association (WALA). I also met with Dr. Linus
Ikpaahindi, the new Director of the National Library of Nigeria>
The cultural assets of Nigeria’s Northern Region are amongst the
most fascinating in sub-Saharan Africa. I had the opportunity to visit
the Tombs of Usman Dan Fodio and his daughter Nana Asma’u, the
Emir’s Palace of Sokoto, the Waziri Junaidu History and Culture
Bureau, the Uthman Dan Fodio University, the Central Mosque within the
walls of the old city of Kano, the Emir’s Palace in Kano, and the
National Mosque in Abuja, the new federal capital since 1991.
Context: the Northern Nigerian Environment
From the late 9th through to the 15th century, the area referred to
today as ‘Northern Nigeria’has served as a nexus of immense
cultural and economic activity. Exchanges of language, commerce, and
religious belief and thought established this vast region’s strategic
importance throughout the Islamic world. During medieval times, Northern
Nigeria had contact with the great African empires of ancient Ghana,
Mali, Kanem Borno, and Songhay and with countries of the Mediterranean
region and beyond. Islamic influence was firmly established by the end
of the 14th century, and Kano was famous not only as a center of Islamic
studies but also as an important commercial center of the states and
societies in the Western Sudan. The creation of the Sokoto Caliphate
in the jihad (holy war) of 1804-8 brought most of the northern
region under a single Islamic government. The complexion of Nigeria today
continues to be determined by influences originating in the 19th century jihad.
As traders from the traditional centers of Islamic learning, such as
the Maghreb and Egypt, developed contact with the people of Sudanic and
Sahelian Africa, Hausaland and beyond, important centers of Islamic learning
and scholarship emerged. These learning centers not only served to facilitate
scholarly exchanges between traveling scholars, but also to cultivate
vast numbers of indigenous scholars, who composed manuscript works written
in Arabic and in the traditional Arabic script known as A’jami
(Hausa, Fulfulde, Kanuri, Nupe and other Western Sudanic languages works
in the Arabic script). In conjunction with producing some of West Africa’s
most important religious treatises, historiographies, literary and scientific
works, these areas were also the home of advanced book arts and crafts,
including illumination, binding and calligraphy.
Current State of
Arabic Manuscripts in Northern Nigeria: Provenance, Antiquity and Intellectual
Content of Manuscript Collections
Dating as far back as the 11th century, the Arabic manuscript heritage
of Northern Nigeria is a vast treasure trove of invaluable source materials
on the period of the Islamic revolution in the West Africa sub-region
and shows also the contribution of African scholars to Islamic heritage
and world civilization. The manuscripts provide a written testimony to
the skill of African scientists, in astronomy, mathematics, chemistry,
medicine and climatology in the Middle Ages.
In Nigeria’s Northern states, aspects of the historical, social,
and economic life of various peoples are documented and preserved in
the Arabic language or script. The greater percentage of these documents
are in manuscript form. Apart from the personal libraries of scholars
and individual families, several collections of Arabic manuscripts of
interest to researchers can be found in public libraries and research
centers in the North and in the nation at large; as well as, in neighboring
countries. These include the following institutions: Arewa House Centre
for Documentation and Historical Research, Kaduna; Nigerian National
Archives, Kaduna; Library of the Lugard Memorial Hall, Kaduna; Nigerian
National Museums and Monuments, Jos; Centre for Arabic Documentation,
Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan; Kenneth Dike Library,
University of Ibadan; Bayero University Library, Kano; Kano State History
and Culture Bureau, Kano; Library of Aminu School of Islamic Legal Studies,
Kano; Borno College of Legal and Islamic Studies, Maiduguri, Centre for
Trans-Saharan Studies, University of Maiduguri; Centre for Islamic Studies,
Usumanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto; Sokoto State History Bureau, Sokoto;
and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Arabic manuscripts of the Northern
Nigeria region can also be found scattered in repositories in Asian,
American and European countries; notably, the Bibliotheque National,
Paris, the British Museum, London, the Library of the School of Oriental
and African Studies, University of London, and Northwestern University,
United States. In a collection development context, it is important to
note that many of the Arabic manuscript collections at one institution
complement and enrich resources at other institutions.
The Arabic manuscript collections in Nigeria constitute works produced
in the principal centers of power and Islamic learning i.e., Borno, Sokoto,
Katsina, and Kano. Conceptions of Arabic manuscripts may also be extended
to include documents in other languages of Nigeria, such as Hausa, Fulfulde,
Kanuri or Yoruba which are written in a version of the Arabic script
known as Ajami (or Ajamiyya).
The manuscripts can be classified into three forms; namely, originals
(which can either be on parchment, papyrus, or paper), photographic reproductions,
and microfilms. Their content contains discourses on various areas of
socio-economic, cultural and political interest, including mathematics,
chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, medicine, Islamic sciences, history,
geography, the traditions of The Prophet, government legislation and
treaties, jurisprudence, logic and philosophy, as well as poetry and
literature. Some of the manuscripts, particularly the Quranic ones, are
beautifully illustrated or illuminated with different motifs that are,
largely, informed by the cultural background of the individual scholars.
Intellectual works include those of notable leaders of the 19th century
Jihad in the Northern Region of Nigeria, including Sheikh Uthman-Dan-Fodio,
his brother, Abdallahi Dan Fodio his son, Sultan Muhammad Bello of Sokoto,
and the works of the Nana Asma’U, daughter of Uthman dan Fodio,
scholar , poet and scribe. Additionally, there are works of scholars
from North Africa, Timbuktu, and Mauritania.
Current Repositories, Main
Collections, and Intellectual Access
Islamic intellectuals, clerics, and information professionals estimate
that hundreds of thousands of Arabic manuscripts can be found scattered
throughout Nigeria’s Northern Region and in other locations in
West Africa. This large and important world intellectual resource is,
tragically, in great danger of being damaged or even lost forever. The
critical nature of the neglect of Nigeria’s Arabic-Islamic intellectual
heritage is summed up by Professor Bunmi Alegbeleye, Dean, Faculty of
Education, University of Ibadan:
...:“Today, most of our cherished documentary resources are either
totally destroyed or in extreme jeopardy. Although, there has been a
measure of success in the preservation of the built and natural heritage,
there has been no parallel development on a national scale for collections
of art, history, literature, information and science housed in our museums,
galleries, libraries, archives and associated organizations and private
collections held by individuals and corporations ...”.
During my visit to Northern Nigeria, I had the opportunity to informally
survey the physical condition and present state of some of the Arabic
manuscript holdings in the Arewa House Centre for Documentation and Historical
Research and in the National Archives in Kaduna. In the Northern city
of Sokoto, I surveyed the manuscript collections of the Waziri Junaidu
Culture and History Bureau. In Kano, I surveyed Arabic documents in the
Kano History and Culture Bureau. Unfortunately, plans to examine manuscript
collections of private holders could not take place due to lack of time.
Zaria: Arewa House Center for Research and Historical
Documentation, Ahmadu Bello University
In the Arewa House Center for Research and Historical Documentation of the
Ahmadu Bello University, a considerable collection of Arabic manuscripts in
form of correspondences, jurisprudences, history and poetry are housed in the
Center’s archives. Some manuscripts consist of photocopies or photo reproductions
of items from other collections; namely, the University of Ibadan, National
Archives, Kaduna, and the Jos Museum. In addition to important collections
of artefacts of historical and aesthetic interest housed at the Center’s
museum complex, Arewa House serves as the custodian of the official records
of the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the first premier of the Northern
Nigeria region from 1954-1966, a source material uniquely indispensable to
the study of contemporary Nigeria.
Kaduna: Nigerian National Archives
At the Nigerian National Archives of Kaduna, the majority of the holdings are
original Arabic manuscripts (dating back to the 12th century A.D). There
is no form of conventional classification for the various collections; however,
a two-volume handlist containing some 1600+ manuscripts in the National Archives
has been published by the Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, London.
An “Authors Index of Arabic Manuscripts, 1959-1973" which lists
some 1200 items, giving title, author, location (province/box/item) and number
of pages is also available. Another major index entitled “A List of
Similar Manuscripts grouped together, vol. I, 1959-1976" consists of
a simple list of titles or best-known names of books and arranged alphabetically.
A estimated 4,380 items are listed. (NOTE: Other significant collections
at the National Archives complex include legal ‘Shari’a court
records of the region (dating from 1918 to 1929 and written in Arabic), handwritten
records of Sir Frederick Lugard who was the Governor-General of Nigeria 1914-1919,
and colonial government official publications).
Kano: State History and Culture Bureau
In the Kano State History and Culture Bureau, a substantial collection of Arabic
manuscripts are held in two large ‘unsecured rooms’without adequate
climate control. Largely uncatalogued, most of the materials lie in piles
on the floor. Holdings include an interesting collection of letters, several
with English summaries, from the private archives of the Wazir of Sokoto
and the Emir’s Palace.
Sokoto: Center for Islamic Studies, University of Sokoto
The established Centres for Islamic Studies in the Usumanu Danfodiyo University,
Sokoto (and also in Bayero University, Kano) have among their main functions,
collecting, classifying and cataloguing the writings of Islamic scholars
of Nigeria from the 17th century. The collection in the Center for Islamic
Studies, University of Sokoto is a mixture of originals, locally-published
versions or reproductions of manuscript copies, and photocopies. The estimated
number of items is some 500+. Both institutions have each produced some kind
of cataloging, however, the methodologies can be improved upon. Currently,
they are stored in envelopes listing author’s name and title (in Arabic),
and placed in envelopes of leather-covered slip cases. The material is cataloged
according to the following scheme: class/box/item. To a large extent the
collection replicates the manuscript collection of the Sokoto State History
Board which consists mainly of the writings of authors of the Sokoto region.
Sokoto: Waziri Junaidu History and Culture Bureau
The Arabic manuscript collection of the Waziri Junaidu History
and Culture Bureau in Sokoto numbers is an extremely rich resource of
more than 1,000 originals items. The manuscripts are kept in envelopes,
marked on the outside with author and title, in Arabic, and reference
number. The envelopes are kept in leather-covered slip cases. There is
a basic list of holdings which includes author/ title/ remarks. All manuscripts
are numbered and are generally in good condition. The collections consists
mainly of the writings of authors of the Sokoto region.
Ibadan: Kenneth Dike Library and the Centre for Arabic Documentation,
Institute of African Studies, Ibadan University
The Arabic manuscript collections of Sokoto were collected from individual
scholars from Sokoto, Jos, Borno, Ibadan, Oyo, Iwo, Ujebu-Ode, Lagos, Agbede
and Auchi. In addition, some were collected from institutional libraries in
the Northern Nigeria region and from the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and
the Bibliotheque de l‘Institut de France, Paris. At present, many of
the manuscripts are at advanced stages of deterioration. In its efforts to
disseminate information on the manuscripts, The Ibadan Centre for Arabic Documentation
established a Research Bulletin in 1965 in which they give annotated descriptions
of the materials collected. The last issue of the Bulletin appeared in 1980/82.
In addition, a catalogue has been compiled which provides a listing of authors,
titles, numbers, and sizes of folios of the originals, arranged according to
accession number. It is important to point out that due to lack of modern preservation
techniques, the Ibadan University Library Collection of more than 1000 titles
of Arabic manuscripts on microfilm are completely damaged and irretrievable.
Kano: Bayero University Library
During the 1970s, a considerable collection of Arabic manuscripts, mainly of
a literary nature, were assembled in the Department of History. Manuscripts
were borrowed from their owners and photocpied and the originals return.
This collection was subsequently transferred to the University Library, where
they are currently housed in a special documents collection together with
other photocopies Arabic manuscripts obtained since then. In the early 1980s,
a six-volume catalog, which includes abtracts or summaries of some of the
items was prepared. The catalog is in Arabic.
Generally speaking,I found the Arabic manuscript collections in Northern
Nigeria to be covered with thick harmattan dust, mold, moisture, and
damaged by insects very badly. Frayed or ragged pages, water and coffee
stained pages, and damaged bindings were also observed. A few manuscripts
have been damaged by attempts at ‘first aid’repair. For example,
several manuscript copies have been wrapped in protective paper covers,
but the covers have been attached to them by adhesive tape or staples.
In addition, many documents have been laminated in plastic. There have
also been attempts to restore leather bindings by the traditional method
of using thread to sew them.
The collections are a mixture of originals and photocopies of varying
degrees of legibility. Most of the items are in Arabic, but a few are
in Hausa, Nupe, or Fulfulde.
In most cases the present storage conditions
of the documents are quite unsatisfactory. The manuscripts are kept in
wooden or metal trunks, and often they are exposed to extreme light,
heat, and humidity exposure. No equipment is available to measure temperature
and relative humidity. No air conditioning units are available, and fans
generally do not run due to erratic electricity supplies.
At present, the libraries and research institutes in Northern Nigeria
which house Arabic manuscript collections lack the human resource and
technical expertise capacities, as well as financial resources, to manage
and preserve these collections with any degree of efficiency. The brittle
condition of the manuscripts, the termites, insects, weather, and the
piracy and selling of these treasures poses a serious threat to the future
of these invaluable collections. ‘Unless a rescue operation is
taken in the immediate future, many of these priceless manuscripts will
be lost’. An exhaustive inventory is urgently required to identify
endangered materials and to target those materials most in need of preservation
It is important to note that a number of scholars and research workers
both within Nigeria and outside have done a great deal of work in collecting
and documenting these Arabic manuscript collections. Additionally, Nigerian
governments at both state and federal levels have made their contributions
to the collections and cataloguing of these documents at national archives
and research centers. In the 1960s there were efforts in Nigeria to collect,
classify and catalogue both Arabic and non-Arabic manuscripts by some
institutions such as the Centre for Arabic Documentation, Institute of
African Studies, University of Ibadan, the Northern History Research
Scheme, Ahmadu Bello University, the Centre for the Study of Nigerian
Languages, Bayero University, Kano, National Archives, Kaduna, National
Museum, Jos., etc. Similarly, in the 1970s, other institutions such as
the Centre for Islamic Studies, Usumanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto,
Waziri Junaidu Bureau of History and Culture, Sokoto, followed suit and
established collections. Besides these are private libraries such as
Waziri Junaidu’s library, the Gidan Uban Doma library, and the
Abdulkadir b. Mustafa Salame library in Sokoto State.
The fruition of these efforts produced a number of scholarly works
which are now used as reference tools in many research centers. The most
comprehensive reference source produced is the second volume of Arabic
Literature of Africa, compiled by John Hunwick, Hammidu Bobboyi, et.
al. Its main purpose is to provide “a bio-bibliographical account
of the Arabic literature of Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa”.
Existing translations and analysis of Arabic manuscripts in Nigeria
include the studies of H.I. Olagunju (1986), M.G. Hasan (1986), A.F.
Ahmed (1983), and the work of Umar Faruk Malumfashi (1989). Studies have
also been carried out by contemporary scholars of Islam, both within
and outside Nigeria, in dissertations, theses and journal articles.
Observations and Recommendations
The priceless Arabic manuscript collections in the Northern Nigeria
region represent one of the most important sources of documentary heritage
of the African Islamic world. The manuscripts, particularly those generated
by Nigeria’s indigenous scholars, greatly aid the ability to understand
local, indigenous knowledge systems and the dynamics of intellectual
discourse in the spheres of religion, politics, economics and culture
in the West Africa sub-region from earliest times to the present day.
Despite the historical significance of the Arabic manuscript collections
in Northern Nigeria, they have been largely neglected. Limited attention
is paid to the fact that these valuable manuscript holdings are important
cultural property requiring appropriate management, preservation, and
conservation measures. At the governmental level, there is an immediate
need to strengthen the country’s laws and regulations to facilitate
the protection of its intellectual and cultural heritage. Due to a variety of competing economic, social and political priorities,
libraries and archival repositories in Nigeria face exceptional challenges
in implementing preservation and conservation programs.
There seems to
be a general lack of awareness and understanding of the critical need
for protecting the integrity of Nigeria’s Arabic manuscript collections
and of preservation and cultural property issues, both in the public
and private sectors. The convening of the international conference on
Preserving Nigeria’s Scholarly and Literary Traditions and Arabic
Manuscript Heritage at Arewa House from March 7th to 8th, 2007 provided
an important opportunity for major stakeholders to get together under
one umbrella and to begin formulating plans for future preservation action
and programs to improve national capabilities to address the preservation
needs of Nigeria’s rich and vast Arabic-Islamic manuscript heritage.
Based upon my onsite visits, my preliminary assessment of the present state
and conditions affecting the Arabic manuscript collections in the Northern
Nigeria Region are that current arrangements are totally inadequate for their
safekeeping. Suitable protective measures and urgent preservation action is
needed, particularly special care and archival quality housing. Environmental
conditions (including the lack of air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and security
and fire protection systems) and the lack of conservation treatment supplies
and equipment pose a great threat to these rare and valuable primary source
There is an immediate need that grants be sourced internationally and
locally to engage a conservator, preservation librarian, archivist, or
other appropriate consultant to conduct a full preservation/conservation
assessment; and also, to help draft a long-range plan to ensure that
the manuscript collections are available and accessible for generations
to come. Specific professional advice is needed to address the following
•collection disaster preparedness and response plans;
•environmental monitoring of collection housing and storage areas;
•care and handling of manuscripts
•reformatting of brittle materials (including digital reproduction);
•assessing conservation treatment needs of selected ‘high priority’items
in a collection.
Major donors, from both private and public sectors, that might support
Nigeria’s preservation initiatives include the following organizations:
Carnegie, Faisal Foundation, Ford, Forkan, Kuwait Foundation, Rockefeller,
UNESCO, petroleum companies, etc.
Support is needed to send staff members who work with manuscript collections
to workshops, training courses, and meetings that focus on basic preservation
conservation techniques (including the care of collections) and the development
of preservation programs
Support is needed to facilitate the construction of a state-of-the art
working collections conservation laboratory devoted to conservation care
Nigeria’s Arabic manuscript collections are scattered all over
the country in libraries, research centers, national archives, privately
owned libraries and with individuals. Few people have access to them.
At present, there is insufficient knowledge on the actual numbers of
manuscripts, where they are, what the intellectual content of the manuscripts
are, who their authors are, and under what circumstances they were written.
Projects that seek to catalog, index, arrange and describe the various
collections for research, education, or public programming are essential.
There is a very large number of valuable Arabic manuscripts in various
designed centers in different parts of the country; however, this is
only a meager percentage of those that are available for collection.
More efforts are needed to collect the manuscripts and save them from
the risk of destruction or loss.
Almost all of the cultural and research institutions in Nigeria which
house Arabic-Islamic manuscript collections lack the financial resources
to function effectively; and also, lack the human resources and technical
expertise to manage and utilize these manuscripts with any degree of
efficiency. As previously mentioned, it is not unusual to find manuscript
housed in dust laden rooms, kept in wooden or metal trunks or closets or which
are hardly accessible; or in unsecure places where they can easily be stolen
or places that not have adequate protection against fire and other hazards.
They are generally exposed to excessive light and humidity, and to termites
and other pests.
There is a need to develop workshops for local scholars, Imams, and
people involved with manuscripts to sensitize them to the importance
of preserving these rare, unique and fragile documents and promoting
increased access and use.
In terms of researching the contents of Northern Nigeria’s Arabic
manuscripts exceptional progress has been made and the works have been
studied by Arabic and Islamic scholars and historians in Nigerian Universities
at Ibadan, Kano, Ilorin, Sokoto, Jos, Maidugur, Zaria and Lagos. Many
of the manuscripts have also been studied in Britain, France, Germany,
Egypt, Saudi Arabic and Morocco. It is important to note that a comprehensive
survey is still needed to update our knowledge on the state of Arabic-Islamic
manuscript collections in Nigeria. The non-availability of an up-to-date
catalogue of Arabic manuscripts in each of the various locations in Nigeria
has caused them to be inaccessible. Projects that seek to catalog, index,
arrange and describe the various collections for research, education,
or public programming are essential.
It is the current policy of the Nigerian government to implement strategic
project activities aimed at establishing a coordinated program for the
development of a national information infrastructure, at national, state,
and local levels. In this context, several Nigerian institutions have
some existing information technology infrastructure and digital technical
capacity, either in terms of trained IT/ICT staff or in terms of some
basic equipment such as computers, servers, scanners, etc. Institutions
that stand out include the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Bayero University,
Kano, Usman dan Fodio University, Sokoto, the Centre for Information
Technology and Development (CITAD), Kano, and the University of Ibadan,
Ibadan. Additionally, the. Nigerian National Universities Commission
is developing a National Virtual (Digital) Library Project for universities
and other institutions of higher education.
At present, no one institution in Nigeria appears to have the ICT, institutional,
and necessary technical skills capacity to manage and make digital initiatives
fully operational at this time. Professional expertise is needed to raise
the level of awareness and expertise of digital preservation issues.
Professional expertise is needed to raise the level of awareness and
expertise of digital preservation issues.
The state of the Nigerian National Archival institution in Kaduna is
in critically poor condition. Existing constraints of the institution
include peeling pain, dust, weak or not enough shelving, defunct equipment
and facilities (not a single microfilm nor xerox machine was working),
air conditioners have completely broken down, and there is an acute shortage
of properly trained staff. In addition, there is little or no budgetary
support to cater for its operational activities.
There is a need to reflect critically on the role of the archival centers
in Nigeria given that they are the national repository libraries legally
responsible for the preservation and management of the nation’s
Given the resource requirements and challenges of digital preservation,
mechanisms that link into a collaborative or consortium partnership of
all the various institutions in Nigeria that manage Arabic manuscript
collections should be explored.
Public and private sector donor support is a critical priority for a
long-term sustainable institutional preservation program (including a
digital technology infrastructure). Potential funders that might support
Nigeria’s preservation initiatives include the Carnegie Foundation,
the Faisal Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Forkan Foundation, the
Kuwait Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and UNESCO.
Selected Reference Sources
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Ati, Ojoingu Friday. “Place of Weather and Climate in the Preservation
of Scholarly and Literary Traditions and Manuscript Heritage”.
International Conference on Preserving Nigeria’s Scholarly and
Literary Traditions and Arabic Manuscript Heritage. Arewa House, Ahmadu
Bello University, Kaduna, Nigeria, March 7th-8th, 2007.
Bivar, A. D. H. "The Arabic Calligraphy of Nigeria." African
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Freeman-Grenville, G.S. P. “Summary of a report on a conference
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1965". In Ibadan, Nigeria. University. Centre of Arabic Documentation.
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Hunwick, John O., Roman Leomeier, Hamidu Bobboyi, Razaq Abu Bakre. Arabic
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Kensdale, W.E.N. “The Arabic manuscript collection of the library of
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____”National Archives Kaduna: manuscripts of West African auathorship”.
Ibadan, Nigeria. University. Centre of Arabic Documentation. Research
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____”Northern Nigeria Manuscript Books in Ahmadu Bello University:
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____ "The Arabic Literary Tradition in Nigeria." Nigeria Magazine
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