The history of modern art in Nigeria started around 1920s. During this period, most parents abhor their children to study art courses in the higher institutions. The ones that dare to do otherwise as insisted by their parents may face certain sanctions that are not conducing for their age and future as well. This means that no matter how a child loves art, he or she was forced to go into disciplines like Law, Chemical Engineering, Banking and Finance, and other similar ones which they (parents) believe that are more profitable and well deserving for the future of their children and sometimes people in their community. This was for obvious reasons, and part of it was their conviction in the practice of such professions. For example, a lawyer would be useful if the family have a land dispute case with another person in the village. A chemical engineer will find him/herself working in the oil industry and will be able to share in the oil wealth of the nation. Hence, NNPC, AGIP, TEXACO, CHEVRON SHELL etc are target companies /areas that the family is pushing their sons and daughters in to go and work. In the bank, a typical Nigerian parent believes that, there is no way a banker will lack money since he or she manages people’s money. All these make the study of visual art to be the last option even though the child is practically doing badly in other areas of knowledge but is excelling in art.
It was until after the Independence Exhibition of the first set of indigenous trained Nigeria artists from Zaria that a few people (parents) begin to see good prospect in the field of art. Even so, the discrimination continues up to 1980s for art (as a subject) had a shallow backing educationally by the government since its inclusion in educational curriculum was selectively approached or implemented. In primary school, it was a general teaching of cultural modes including drama, craft and performing arts. In secondary school, the junior section was given the opportunity while the senior section was not. In some situations, the subject (art) was often substituted by other subjects which were recognized in the educational system as vital for the continuation of school. Failing such subjects, amount to either repeating a class of re-writing for further progress in the academic journey. This pose an obvious threat on the academic movement of the student making him or her abandon art against his or her will. Given this circumstance, it can be seen that art was not given such opportunities (priorities) in the curriculum planning.
In the 1990s, the reality of art profession as well as its lucrative opportunities began to down on most Nigerian families. This was the period when enrollment of art applicants began to increase. Today, most tertiary institutions in Nigeria are battling with over whelming number of art applicants. In Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for instance, the Fine Arts Department, in recent years has not been able to absolve even half of the total of applicants who want to study art. Sometimes, people go to the Colleges of Educations and polytechnics, just to be on advantageous position in the universities’ admission.
The growth of private universities in Nigeria is thought to be a relieve in the demands of people (applicants) who want to study art but reverse is the case. This is because most, if not all, private universities focus essentially in the running of academic programmes or disciplines that the owners of the institutions considered lucrative enough, since private educational sector is more or less like a pure business.
Until the Nigerian education sector is completely over-hauled and restructured with an increase in art learning centres as well as new departments of arts are opened in other universities, polytechnics and colleges of educations, art applicants will continue to find it tough getting admissions to study art disciplines as their dream courses.