Archives Administration and Records Management in Nigeria: Up the Decades from Amalgamation
Alegbeleye, G. B. O., ARMA Records Management Quarterly
DEVELOPMENT OF RECORDS MANAGEMENT
While the humbler origins of the British influence in Nigeria are traceable to the first half of the nineteenth century, the initial step in the establishment of colonial administration was taken in 1861, with the acquisition of the Colony of Lagos. The Royal Niger Company was granted a charter to undertake trading operations as well as to exercise a certain measure of local administration along the upper reaches of the Niger and the Benue rivers. In 1899 the Royal Niger Company's Charter was revoked and the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was declared on January 1, 1900. In the meantime, the administration of the Niger Coast Protectorate passed to the Colonial Office, and the territory was renamed The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. By 1914 Nigeria became a single political unit as a result of the amalgamation of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria with the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. Our consideration of archives administration and records management in Nigeria starts from 1914 when the country became a single political unit.
Although the Public Records office (later called the National Archives of Nigeria) was established in 1954, the way to its establishment was long and painful. Prior to the establishment of the Public Records office, interest of the Colonial Office in the general condition of the nation's records, both current and non-current, was undistinguished.
As a demonstration of its "concern" for the perilous state of Nigeria's records, five dispatches were sent from the Colonial Office, London between 1914 when Nigeria was amalgamated and 1948. Although it has often been erroneously thought that the Colonial Office only showed interest in Nigeria's non-current records, there is abundant evidence that the Colonial Office was interested in both the current and noncurrent records of the nation.
The 1914 Colonial Office dispatch (the first of the five dispatches) was quite unambiguous in its interest in all of Nigeria's records. That dispatch requested a brief report on the existing arrangements in Nigeria for the custody and preservation of the older official records. Evidence of interest in current records was shown by the expectation expressed "that every care is already taken of those (records) which are more or less recent and therefore required for official reference."1
Two circular dispatches were issued by the Colonial Office in 1936. While the first of the two dispatches evidenced interest in noncurrent records and those of historical value and had sought to examine the organization of these records, the second dispatch focused attention on current records and their management. The dispatch considered specifically the value of account books and treasury records, requesting suggestions on the period during which each class of documents might be kept for practical accounting purposes and then destroyed or permanently preserved as appropriate. The Colonial secretary himself went ahead and prescribed retention periods for the various classes of account and treasury records based on suggestions from the Colonial Office. For purposes of illustration, the Colonial secretary prescribed a retention schedule of seven years for vouchers and counterfoils and sixty years for establishment service records since these might be requested for superannuation purposes. The few examples given above show the Colonial Office's interest in institutionalizing at least one of the basic elements of records management, namely the records retention schedule, in colonial administration.
The 1948 circular dispatch, which was also the last of such dispatches prior to the establishment of the National Archives, while underscoring the need for preserving Nigeria's historical records is significant in yet another way. The dispatch was accompanied by a memorandum and a questionnaire from Sir Hilary Jenkinson, the Deputy Keeper of Records (of England and Wales), to enable a survey of the condition of records in colonial territories to be undertaken. …