Archives and nation-building: The Lagos example
An archive is a collection of historical documents or records of a government, a family, a place or an organisation, or the place where these records are stored. It is a place where people visit in search of information. It affords the user the opportunity to gather firsthand facts, data and evidences from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings and other primary sources that were generated from time earlier.
Generally, archives consist of records that have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation on grounds of their enduring cultural, historical, or evidentiary value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines for which many identical copies exist. This means that archives (the places) are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organisation, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.
Although archives are created primarily for use by government, their rich stores of material are available to all: historians interpreting the past, journalists researching stories, students preparing term papers, tribes pressing claims, and persons tracing their ancestry or satisfying their curiosity about particular historical events.
In government, important records are mostly found in the local, state or national level. In developed nations such as the USA, UK, Canada, etc, they caught the vision of preserving their documentary heritage for future generations earlier on in their existence. It is often said that a nation that does not know its past cannot plan for its future. America has one of the largest archives in the world. The National Archives in Washington DC, called the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), holds billions of materials which come from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. NARA retains the correspondence files of past US presidents and previous directors of federal agencies. This has greatly helped the US in shaping policy and planning for the development of the country, hence the rapid growth of its economy over the years.
In Nigeria, the national archives presently operate under the provision of the National Archives Act of 1992. They keep only those federal records that are judged to have an enduring value, about 2 to 3 percent of those generated in any given year. They locate, assemble and rationalise the documentary source material of the country and preserve them permanently for research and other purposes. Their other functions include enhancing efficiency and economy in the running of government ministries and departments by developing and advising on methods for the elimination of non-current records and for their eventual transfer to the federal records centres and the national archives, restoring and preserving historical records through conservation activities, serving as information bank for government documentary source materials, publishing guides and historical materials for the benefit of the people, and educating through training the citizenry on the importance of records and their documentary heritage.
Archive services have both administrative and cultural functions. The vast quantity of records now produced by large organisations in many formats need to be managed under the guidance of qualified archivists and records managers. Effective records management is essential to good governance and, of course, to making records accessible to the public. There is no gainsaying that any nation that wants to excel must make the institution of archives a priority.
Here in Lagos, the state government is taking a cue from the developed nations on the importance of preserving our records. Consequently, the state government under the leadership Babatunde Fashola commissioned the Lagos State Records and Archives Bureau (LASRAB) on February 28, 2012. The Bureau, located in the serene and quiet ambience of Magodo GRA 2, is the first of such to be established by a state government in the country. LASRAB, a World Bank-assisted project under the State Governance Capacity Building Programme, has been on the drawing board of the state government since 1995 but was brought into being by the Fashola administration in 2008. With the vision to be a world-class information repository and data bank on Lagos State, LASRAB is set to meet international best practices and new frontiers in research. This assertion is predicated on the belief that records and archives management aims to ensure that the right information is available to the right person, at the right time, and at the least possible cost, by the right person or agency.
Prior to the establishment of the Bureau, Lagos State operated poor public service records management culture with the ravaging impacts on urbanisation and the absence of social memory in the state. This saw varying degrees of records decaying in public establishments such that old files and important records (physical plans, government White Paper, etc) were lost, endangered or destroyed.
Undoubtedly, good records management enriches and preserves Lagos culture, tradition, heritage and family histories. We live in a highly urbanised and information-rich society, yet Lagos State has from time immemorial remained hooked to value system, culture, tradition and family histories. Lagos State’s records and archives are part of its cultural heritage and development resources. They are thus essential elements in helping the present and future generations to understand, improve, manage and preserve their patrimony, lest the physical and cultural discontinuity of urban change obliterate the historical milestones of development, for there can be little or no sustainable development without preserving cultural continuity.
Thus far, LASRAB has been serving as information warehouse for knowledge, value sharing and growth. It provides opportunities for researchers, students, historians, journalists, anthropologists and indeed policymakers to have access to authentic, accurate and reliable past records like reports, business/industrial records, family history, wills and probate, judicial records like judgments and evidences, public organisation records, etc. Also, records such as company profiles, multinational companies, international agencies working in Lagos, available raw materials and natural endowments, institutional records, treaties, multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreements are readily available and also accessible and retrievable for prospective foreign investors and donor agencies.
With the setting up of an agency to take the responsibility of preserving and managing records, Lagos State has become a pioneer in the establishment of records management system in the federation as well as a reference point for other states.