Meet Nigeria’s First Qualified Archaeologist

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Adamu Liman Ciroma (September 30, 1930 — May 23, 2004) was Nigeria’s first qualified archaeologist and never lost interest in preserving its rich heritage.

As a sixth-form student at Northern Nigeria’s top boys’ school, Kaduna College, Liman had heard a talk by Bernard Fagg, then assistant surveyor of antiquities for the colonial government, for volunteers to train to locate and save the country’s history. Liman stepped forward.

He became a great friend of Fagg and his family. He worked with him from 1949 until 1953, during the building of Nigeria’s first museum at Jos in central Nigeria, where open-cast tin mining uncovered archaeological material, including the famous Nok figures.

At Ile-Ife, in the south, their work included the restoration of the granite monolith the Opa Oranmiyan, one of Nigeria’s secluded ancient monuments.

From 1953 to 1959 a government scholarship took Liman to study archaeology and history at London University’s Institute of Archaeology, at the South-West Essex Technical College, and at Birmingham University, where he became the first Nigerian with an archaeology honours degree.

He then became an archaeologist in Nigeria’s Federal Department of Antiquities, working throughout the country and acting as deputy to British archaeologist Thurstan Shaw on the excavation of Igbo-Ukwu.

Liman was born a member of the royal family of Fika (a small emirate in Northern Nigeria), during the period of British colonialism. He spent most of his adult life away from Fika, but in 1993 he was turbaned as Ciroma, second to the Emir in rank. He went to school in his hometown, Potiskum, then to Borno Middle School in Maiduguri, and finally to Kaduna College.

Northern Nigeria was short of people trained in Western technologies and skills. Post-independence, it was almost inevitable that Liman, by 1961, acting deputy director of antiquities, would be lured into administration.

In 1961, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Northern Region’s premier, headhunted him for a senior post in the region’s local government ministry. By 1968, he was in Lagos as permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Industries.

From 1977 to 1979, Liman Ciroma was head of Nigeria’s civil service and secretary to its military government. At the education ministry in the early 1970s, he was instrumental in the expansion of the Nigerian university system.

Ciroma and his wife Madiya had five children. In retirement, they lived in Kaduna, the former northern capital where he had started his administrative career. He loved his garden with its fruit trees – and could often be found there playing with his grandchildren.

Courteous, considerate, and generous, a fine public servant, Liman died on May 23, 2004, and was survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren. He was 73……Séé Móré

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