The Federal Government has launched a campaign for the return and restitution of Nigeria’s looted and smuggled artefacts from around the world.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in a statement issued by his Special Assistant (Media), Segun Adeyemi, launched the campaign at a briefing held in Lagos on Thursday.
Mohammed disclosed that the London Metropolitan Police had seized the Ife Bronze Head and invited Nigeria to make a claim or they would have to return the artefact to the person claiming ownership of it.
The minister also said the Federal Government would begin the campaign with a quest to retrieve the bronze head, which was one of the items stolen when one of the country’s national museums was burgled in 1987.
He said, ‘’After it was brought to an auction in London two years ago, the auction house observed that it was an Ife Bronze Head, which belongs to the International Council of Museums Red List of cultural goods deemed to be most vulnerable to illicit traffic.
‘’Now, the London Metropolitan Police have seized the object and invited Nigeria to make a claim, otherwise they will have to return it to the fellow claiming ownership. We have now started work on the return of the Ife Bronze Head to Nigeria.”
Mohammed added that in launching the campaign, Nigeria had become emboldened by Article 4 of the UNESCO 1970 Convention, to which most countries around the world subscribe and which identifies the categories of cultural property that form part of the cultural heritage of each member state.
He said that by the provisions of the Article, they include cultural property created by the individual or collective genius of nationals of the State concerned, and cultural property that has been the subject of a freely agreed exchange or received as a gift or purchased legally with the consent of the competent authorities of the country of origin of such property.
The minister said, “With this announcement, we are putting on notice all those who are holding on to Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available.
“Gentlemen, we are under no illusion that this will be an easy task, but no one should also doubt our determination to make a success of this campaign.”
The Minister added that it was impossible to imagine by what logic an Ife Bronze or a Benin Bronze or a Nok Terracotta could belong to any other part of the globe, except to the people of Nigeria, whose ancestors made them.
“We have never laid claim to the Mona Lisa or a Rembrandt. Those who looted our heritage resources, especially during the 19th century wars, or those who smuggled them out of the country for pecuniary reasons, have simply encouraged the impoverishment of our heritage and stealing of our past.
“These timeless and priceless pieces of art work were an important part of the nation’s past, its history, and heritage resource. Allowing them to sit in the museums of other nations robs Nigeria of our history.”
According to him, in its quest to diversify the economy by leveraging the culture and tourism sector, the Federal Government considers these priceless artifacts as critical components of the diversification drive.
He also said the Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS Region met in December 2018 in Abuja and adopted a Political Declaration on the return of cultural property to their countries of origin.
“We are bound by this Declaration, which has further brought discussions towards a Plan of Action”, he stated.
Mohammed called on every museum and person holding on to the nation’s heritage resources anywhere in the world to initiate dialogue with the Federal Government.
“We urge them to identify what is in their collections, transparently make them public, approach us for discussion on terms of return and restitution, as well as circulation and loans. They must acknowledge that ownership resides in us. They must be ready to sign agreements and Memoranda of Understanding in this regard, and they must be ready to release some of these antiquities for immediate return to Nigeria,” he said.
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