Northern Nigeria: precolonial documents preservation scheme (EAP087)

Aims and objectives

This pilot project targets endangered archival materials in the northern region of Nigeria, specifically materials in Kano. The project will be undertaken in collaboration with Arewa House, the research centre attached to Ahmadu Bello University, located in Kaduna, Nigeria. The archival materials being targeted include materials in 1) the Kano State History and Culture Bureau (KSHCB), 2) the private libraries of the emir of Kano and the merchant Alhaji Alhassan Dantata, and 3) endangered materials at Arewa House that relate to Kano. The focus on Kano provides coherence for the pilot project, although it should be noted that there are many endangered collections in northern Nigeria, and hence at some point a more exhaustive inventory will be required. The materials at KSHCB are in two large rooms, while the library of the Emir of Kano is probably as large, and the Dantata holdings considerably smaller but still substantial. The physical condition of materials ranges from Arewa House, where deterioration has been stayed, at least, while the materials in KSHCB are largely uncatalogued and lie in piles on the floor in a room without adequate climate control. The private collections of the Emir of Kano and the family of Alhasan Dantata are in a similar condition.

Most materials being targeted are in Arabic and Hausa, although there is colonial documentation in English that relates to the early history of the region that are in bad condition as well. Much of this material is based on oral traditions that would otherwise be lost. During the pilot phase, a full inventory of endangered documents will be undertaken, and where necessary emergency digitisation will be done, both to familiarize staff with the technology and also to produce concrete results that can be examined with respect to standardisation of technique for a larger project. Since the pilot project is focused on Kano, relevant documents that are in bad condition at Arewa House will also be included in the inventory.

The project will work closely with the staff at KSHCB and Arewa House, so that individuals can be trained in the use of the technology while inventories are being done. Hence, the pilot project has several very important components:

1: Educate archival staff in selected archives on how to digitise and preserve collections in line with the standards and expectations of the Endangered Archives Programme.

2: Evaluate the present state of conservation and provide an inventory determining the materials most in need of preservation through digital means.

3: Target specific materials to be digitalized immediately for deposit at the British Library, Tubman Centre, and Arewa House.


The pilot project recorded several achievements.

Firstly, it succeeded in laying the foundations for a future major digitisation project in Northern Nigeria, specifically by obtaining official support from the National Archives of Nigeria and other relevant public bodies.

Secondly, the endangered materials related to the precolonial history of Kano at the Kano State History and Culture Bureau (KSHCB) were identified and relevant Arabic manuscripts and colonial assessment and reassessment reports were copied. In the latter regard, records from the Secretary Northern Provinces offices, Ministry of Local Government, Kano emirate officials as well as Kano provincial and district offices were copied. Overall, the project documented 8 DVDS containing TIFF 2095 images/108 folders (Size on DVD: 18.13 GB). These materials have been deposited at KSHCB, Arewa House, Tubman Institute and the British Library together with accompanying listings.

Thirdly, relevant archival staff received training in the use of digitisation. At the conclusion of the training exercise the archival staff had a basic understanding of the digitisation and preservation methods promoted by the Endangered Archives Programme.

Fourthly, the pilot project led to a better appreciation of the state of conservation in Northern Nigeria and the challenges faced by document preservation projects in the region.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: