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Nigerian Historians And Their Contributions To Modern Arts And Cultural Preservation

Rev. Samuel Johnson (24 June 1846 – 29 April 1901)

He was an Anglican priest and historian of the Yorubas.
Born a recaptive ‘Creole’ in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Johnson was an Omoba of the Oyo clan as a descendant of the Alaafin Abiodun of Oyo. He completed his education at the Church Missionary Society (CMS) Training Institute and subsequently taught during what became known as the Yoruba civil war.

Johnson and Charles Phillips, also of the CMS, arranged a ceasefire in 1886 and then a treaty that guaranteed the independence of the Ekiti towns. Ilorin refused to cease fighting however, and the war dragged on. In 1880, he became a deacon and in 1888 a priest. He was based in Oyo from 1881 onward and completed a work on Yoruba history in 1897. This event is said to have been caused by him fearing that his people were losing their history, and that they were beginning to know European history better. Ironically, this work was misplaced by his British publishers.
After his death, his brother Dr. Obadiah Johnson re-compiled and rewrote the book, using the reverend’s copious notes as a guide. In 1921, he released it as A History of the Yorubas from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate. The book has since been likened to The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

Moyo Okediji

Moyo Okediji is an art historian, painter and artist whose works contains a number of icons and signifiers of the deep aspects of Yoruba culture. He was part of Ona, an art movement at Obafemi Awolowo University. Okediji was born in Lagos in 1956; his family hails from Oyo town, in Oyo state. His parent moved to Ile-Ife when Okediji was young and he spent most of his adolescent years in the ancient town. In 1977, he completed a degree in painting at the University of Ife, thereafter, he worked as a graduate assistant in the Faculty of Arts at the university. Okediji later earned a master’s degree at University of Benin and returned to the University of Ife as a lecturer.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Okediji,along with Kunle Filani and others were part of the art movement called Ona, the movement sought to reference Yoruba adages, proverbs, and visual concepts in their art works adjusted to modern Nigerian realities of the twentieth century.

Akiga Sai (1898–1959)

Akiga Sai was an early Nigerian autobiographer and historian known for History of the Tiv. His Tiv language manuscript was edited and translated into English by Rupert East and first published in 1939. In 2015 a full edition was published and several other articles published about him (by Fardon, Pine and Bergsma] among others).

Fardon (2015: 572) citing the Tiv historian Atah Pine accords Akiga Sai the following Tiv “firsts”: “the first Tiv man to be baptized as a Christian, the first Tiv man to read and write, the first Tiv man to write a letter, first Tiv parliamentarian, first Tiv newspaper editor, and first Tiv man to write a book.”
In Sklar’s book on Nigerian political parties he is listed on p 515 as a Benue state member of the National People’s Congress for 1958.

Jacob U. Egharevba (1893–1981)


Jacob U. Egharevba was a Bini historian and traditional chief whose writings specialized in the history of Benin Kingdom. Egharevba was born in Idanre, Ondo State, His father was related to Ohenmwen, Iyase of Benin. Egharevba spent part of his early childhood at the residence of his aunt in Idanre. His education was brief and irregular, he spent a year at St James’ CMS School, Ibadan in 1899 and then an interval where he was out of school. He returned to studies at St David’s School, Akure in 1911 before moving to St. Mathews, Benin.
In 1922, he began trading goods in Benin and Sapele. During this period, he became close to the family of Oba Akenzua II. His friendship with family allowed him access to senior informants who had knowledge of Benin’s oral history.
Egharevba’s most famous work is A Short History of Benin published in different editions, it has major differences in some paragraphs between the editions. His books which documented the oral history and culture of Benin cut across different disciplines but the main content deals with issues, events, institutions, practices and personalities in Benin history. A lot of his early writings from 1934 to 1948 dealt with documentation of oral history, folklore and customs to instill moral values in young people. Afterwards, he included commentaries about contemporary issues and personalities in Benin history in his writings.

Dele Jegede

Dele Jegede is a Nigerian-American painter, art historian, cartoonist, curator, art critic, art administrator, and teacher. Jegede is a Senior Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, (1995). He taught at Spelman College, Atlanta as Visiting Fulbright Scholar (1987-1988), when he curated the exhibition, Art By Metamorphosis. He was Professor and Chair of the Department of Art (2005-2010) and Professor of Art (since 2010) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Jegede is recipient of the Distinguished Africanist Award of the University of Texas. Dele Jegede was born in 1945 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria and earned his first degree in Fine Arts from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria, in 1973. From 1979 to 1983, he studied art history under Roy Sieber at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, where he received his MA and PhD degrees. His doctoral dissertation, Trends in Contemporary Nigerian Art (Indiana University, 1983), was the first ever to focus solely on contemporary Nigerian art. Jegede is widely acknowledged as one of a corps of African scholars who have continued to shape the direction of the field through their innovative scholarly research and curatorial pursuits. His strong critique of Jean Pigozzi’s collection, which is described as the world’s largest collection of contemporary African art has drawn a sharp criticism from Thomas McEvilley, who believes that Jegede’s criticism lacks credibility because he has spent too much time away from Africa.

Tekena Nitonye Tamuno

Tekena Nitonye Tamuno (28 January 1932 – 11 April 2015) was a Nigerian historian and Vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan. He was the President of the Board of Trustees of Bells University of Technology. Tamuno attended St Peter’s School in his hometown of Okrika for primary education. Upon completion he attended Okrika Grammar School. From 1953 to 1958 he studied history at the University of Ibadan before leaving the country in 1960 to continue his studies at Birkbeck, University of London and Columbia University. In 1962 he joined the Department of History at the University of Ibadan where he remains as Professor Emeritus.
In addition to his administrative and teaching career, he is an author and has chaired public service commissions. Tamuno died on 11 April 2015 in Ibadan, aged 83.

Nwando Achebe

Nwando Achebe was born in Enugu, eastern Nigeria to Nigerian writer, essayist, and poet, Chinua Achebe, and Christie Chinwe Achebe, a professor of Education. She is the wife of Folu Ogundimu, professor of journalism at Michigan State University. Nwando Achebe, is a Nigerian-American academic, feminist scholar, and multi-award-winning historian. She is the Jack and Margaret Sweet Endowed Professor of History at Michigan State University, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of West African History. She is an oral historian by training, her areas of expertise are West African History, women, gender and sexuality histories.

The list goes on as there are many other well decorated Nigerian historians who have written several books about Nigeria and some of its cultures. some of them include; Adebowale Adefuye, Adiele Afigbo, Samuel Johnson, Babatunde Lawal, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Obaro Ikime and lots more.

Written by PH

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