Nigerian Government has launched the Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted and Smuggled Artifacts from around the world.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, launched the campaign at a press conference in Lagos on Thursday.
“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,” he said.
Alhaji Mohammed said Nigeria cannot imagine by what logic an Ife
Bronze or a Benin Bronze or a Nok Terracotta can 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,” he said..
The Minister said these timeless and priceless pieces of work are an important part of the nation’s past, its history, and heritage
resource, and that allowing them to sit in the museums of other
nations robs Nigeria of our history.
He said in its quest to diversify the economy by leveraging on the
culture and tourism sector, the government considers these priceless
artifacts as critical components of the diversification drive.
Alhaji Mohammed said in launching the campaign, Nigeria is emboldened
by Article 4 of the UNESCO 1970 Convention, to which most nations
subscribe, which identifies the categories of cultural property that
form part of the cultural heritage of each member state, thereby
belonging to that State.
He said 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 which 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 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, adding: ”We are bound by this Declaration, which has further
brought discussions towards a Plan of Action.”
He 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, saying: ”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 the government will kick-start the campaign with a quest to
retrieve the Ife Broze Head, which was one of the items stolen in 1987
when one of the country’s national museums was broken into.
”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 ICOM (International Council of Museums) Red List of cultural goods
that are deemed to be the most vulnerable to illicit traffic.
”Now, the London Metropolitan police has seized the object, and it
has 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.,” the Minister said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has expressed delight at the
decision of the Cambridge University’s Jesus College to repatriate a
Benin Bronze Cockerel, known as ”okukor”, to Nigeria.
”Considering the hundreds of Benin Bronzes looted during that
occupation, the decision to return the cockerel is like a drop in the
ocean, but it is an important drop and we welcome it,” the Minister