Nigerian theatre works lost in fire

April 21, 1995

A fire at Nigeria's leading university has destroyed thousands of books and other documents on philosophy, theatre arts and Arabic and Islamic studies.

Among material lost were dissertations supervised by Nobel prizewinner Wole Soyinka, now in exile in London, and other lecturers who founded the University of Ibadan's department of theatre arts, which is the oldest in Nigeria.

Professor Soyinka has told colleagues he will raise funds to help rebuild and restock his old department - but only after the demise of Nigerian head of state General Sam Abacha.

Dapo Adelugba, head of theatre arts, said 3,225 books were lost in his department alone. A further 6,000 were destroyed in the neighbouring department of Arabic and Islamic studies.

But one of the greatest losses was all the material for an encyclopaedic project called The Manuscript of African Philosophical Inquiry.

The fire destroyed a one-storey building which housed all three departments despite efforts by students from a nearby-hall of residence who tackled the blase with buckets of water. Firefighters arrived two hours after the fire was reported but it was too late.

A university commission of inquiry blamed an electrical fault but drew attention to the university's two broken-down firefighting Land Rovers, and pointed out that four days before the fire $20,000 had been spent on new Peugeot cars for administrators.

"Niyi Osundare, head of the English department, told the commission: "We have suffered so much of the terrible ravages (of fire) on this campus in the past couple of years that our continuing vulnerability and unpreparedness are nothing short of criminal carelessness.

Officials calculate it will cost about $2 million to rebuild and to replace lost equipment and books.

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