The national body charged with the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage is the Department of Culture of the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, which is mandated to safeguard and promote Nigeria’s cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. The Department of Culture provides the secretariat with a National Committee on Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage made up of Nigerian experts in different domains of intangible cultural heritage and community representatives. Other responsible bodies include: the National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), which is responsible for organizing the National Arts Festival and other events supporting the viability of intangible cultural heritage; the National Troupe of Nigeria, which safeguards the country’s performing art forms; the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), which safeguards and promotes African arts and civilizations and both tangible and intangible heritage; the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ibadan, a custodian of society’s values with a focus on research and teaching activities; the Institute of Cultural Studies at Obafemi Awolowo University (Ile – Ife Osun State), which houses a museum; and the Nike Centre for Art and Culture, with five locations where artists, painters, drummers and dancers practise and perform and apprentices are trained by masters on a regular basis.
The Institute of African Studies, the Institute of Cultural Studies and the Nike Centre are also named as bodies for training in intangible cultural heritage management, together with the National Institute for Cultural Orientation Training School in Lagos. At the tertiary level, many education colleges and universities train cultural workers in the practice and theory of intangible cultural heritage. In turn, such individuals become teachers and trainers of the younger generation in primary and secondary schools. The Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation has trained non-governmental organizations and selected members of the inventory-making process. It has also organized capacity-building programmes and workshops on how to present nominations for inscriptions and prepare International Assistance requests.
Many of the aforementioned bodies and institutions also carry out documentation activities and hold archival collections. The National Archives are a repository of the nation’s intangible cultural heritage materials as well as other important documents. Under the Freedom of Information Act, access to all these institutions, governmental or not, is guaranteed.
Intangible cultural heritage inventorying takes the form of the Inventory of Nigerian Cultural Resources, managed by the Department of Culture and drawn up by the National Committee on Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage, whose members include: community representatives; intangible cultural heritage experts from the sphere of academia; Nigeria’s cultural parastatals; the Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO; community-based organizations; and non-governmental organizations. The ordering principles of this match the five domains of the 2003 Convention and a strong emphasis is placed on the central importance of languages as the vehicle for transmitting intangible cultural heritage. The inventory is updated whenever the Department of Culture receives a request from a community not included in the tentative inventory; and communities identify new elements for inclusion and approach the Department with the details. Cultural officers, along with selected members of the National Committee, are then dispatched to verify their claims and ascertain if the element(s) merit inclusion in the inventory. However, the lack of adequate financial resources to meet these growing responsibilities has slowed this work down. Non-governmental organizations and selected individuals from the community have been trained in the inventory process, some being recruited as research assistants and coordinators who deal directly with the community members and gather the data for the inventory. The training they received and the questionnaire drawn up to assist them allowed them to identify intangible cultural heritage elements in need of urgent safeguarding and viable ones.
Festivals are an important measure to ensure the recognition of, respect for and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage. The Abuja International Carnival is held annually and provides a platform for all 774 Local Government Areas and 36 States of the Federation to showcase and promote their intangible cultural heritage. Moreover, the National Troupe has been established to give Nigerians and the international community a taste of Nigeria’s intangible cultural heritage. Some communities celebrate their own community day and hold different cultural contests aimed at the promotion and safeguarding of their communal heritage.
Under the Universal Basic Education Programme, for the first nine years of schooling it is compulsory for children to learn about Nigeria’s culture as expressed through dance, arts and crafts, music, folklore, norms, performing arts, culinary skills, body adornments, costumes, etc. In this, local languages serve as the vehicle for imparting this knowledge and at least one of the three major languages (Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa) must be learned by primary and secondary pupils; intangible cultural heritage forms the core of the teaching curriculum of these languages. Competitions are held among pupils to consolidate their understanding of intangible cultural heritage elements.
Nigeria has entered into bilateral, sub-regional, regional and international cooperation agreements with many cooperating countries. These agreements allow countries to learn about each other’s intangible cultural heritage on a mutual basis and facilitate the participation of other African and Caribbean countries in the annual Abuja International Carnival. The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding in Osogbo hosted the Global Conference of Black Nationalities in 2010, in collaboration with Osun State Government, in which Africans and the African diaspora participated, showcasing their intangible cultural heritage. The Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization (which serves as a depository of the heritage of Africans and Africans in the diaspora) is also undertaking several research studies on intangible cultural heritage, in collaboration with other African countries’ cultural institutions. Such efforts contribute to the creation and development of joint and interdisciplinary approaches to safeguarding Africa’s intangible cultural heritage.
Nigeria has three elements inscribed on the Representative List: the Oral heritage of Gelede (incorporated in 2008, with Benin and Togo, after having been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2001); the Ifa divination system (also incorporated in 2008, after being declared a Masterpiece in 2005); and the Ijele masquerade (2009). The inclusion of Gelede on the national cultural calendar of Nigeria has helped to promote it both nationally and internationally. Gelede also features in the Abuja annual international festival in November, which is broadcast on television. The audience for Ijele cuts across all strata of society. The traditional mode of transmission employed is strong and the Government of Anambra State helps to finance the Ijele Masquerade Festival. The Ifa School, a tertiary level institution, was set up with support from the UNESCO/Japan Funds-in-Trust where Ifa is taught and researched by scholars in order to safeguard this important West African system of indigenous knowledge. The school has five faculties: the School of Ifa Studies; the School of Yoruba Medicine; the School of Languages; the School of Music and Dance; and the School of Indigenous Technology. It offers courses to train scholars in toolmaking.