600-year-old stolen artifact returned to Nigeria

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Alhaji Lai Mohammed (left) holding an Ife Terracotta. The stolen artifact was returned to Nigeria on November 26 Photo courtesy: Nigeria Ministry of Culture

A 600-year-old Nigerian sculpture that was smuggled out of the country in 2019 is back where it belongs.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed (left) holding an Ife Terracotta. The stolen artifact was returned to Nigeria on November 26
Photo courtesy: Nigeria Ministry of Culture

Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, says a smuggler obtained forged documents to transport the stolen artifact, an Ife Terracotta, out of Nigeria, through an airport in Ghana and eventually to the Netherlands.

“The Dutch Customs at Schiphol Airport suspected that the object might be illicitly imported and alerted the antiquity protection office known as the Inspectie, which is the Information and Heritage Inspectorate of the Netherlands, to give an opinion,” Mohammed said. “The Inspectie then invited Nigeria to prove its case against the suspected smuggler. ”

Nigeria was successful and after all internal procedures, including the right of appeal, were exhausted, the Netherlands handed over the object to the Nigerian Embassy in Hague on Nov. 2.

Mohammed says that the return of the stolen artifact marked a milestone in Nigeria’s efforts at pursuing the return of the country’s antiquities.

“It gives me profound joy to receive this very important antiquity, an Ife Terracotta…I am even more delighted that our efforts at pursuing the return of Nigerian antiquities, which we launched last November, have started yielding fruits.”

Mohammed and leaders in many other African nations say returned artifacts like Ife Terracotta not only help Africans connect better with their cultural past but can also boost tourism opportunities for African nations.

“One way of generating income for the country is if our cultural properties are exhibited around the world to a fee-paying audience, on the basis of proper agreement that acknowledges us as owners and confers the right benefits on us. But this is not possible for as long as most of them adorn the museums and private collections of others, who describe them as their properties.”

The hugely successful Museum of Black Civilizations in Senegal is one example. Senegal has been very aggressive in pursuing and repatriating stolen artifacts from Europe.  The Governor of Nigeria’s Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, says his administration is planning to build a museum, as discussions were underway for several returns of Benin Bronze from western museums and private collectors in 2021.

The returned Ife Terracotta is now at Nigeria’s Conservation Laboratory where it will be cleaned and treated before being put on display to the public.

 

Story compiled with assistance from wire reports.

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