Return of illegally exported artefact stirs excitement
It was a double celebration for Nigeria on Wednesday in Abuja when the international community marked this year’s International Museum Day and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) received stolen Nok art from French government.
The two fragments, constituting a beautiful statuette illegally exported out of the country, was officially presented by the French Ambassador to Nigeria, Denis Guaer and jointly received by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and the Director General, NCMM, Yusuf Usman Abdallah.
Ambassador Guaer told the excited audience that the return was made in accordance with International Law and in the framework of the 1970 UNESCO convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of ownership of Cultural Property, a convention signed and ratified by both our countries.
Narrating the processes leading to the interception and final restitution of the art pieces, the French envoy said it was an illustration that the French policy of fighting illegal imports of cultural goods and artefacts was yielding results.
“As a matter of fact, during a Customs investigation, Roissy Airport Custom Officers controlled, on October 22 2008, a cargo from Togo to United States in transit in France.
“They discovered two fragments of a terracotta statue. Since at that stage it was difficult to identify the country they were coming from, but it was obvious that this was not a handicraft but a work of art, an expertise was called for and carried out by Mrs Hélène Joubert, heritage curator, in charge of the patrimonial unit of the Africa collections at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, France.
“She concluded that these fragments belong to the Nok Culture and originate from Central Nigeria. The thermoluminescence technical expertise conducted by the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF) sets the date of the artefacts from 100 B.C to 260 A.D”.
The envoy added that French Customs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have since then worked together to return the seized objects to Nigeria.
“France carried the cost related to the expertise, the packaging and the transport of the objects we present to you today.“It is therefore on behalf of the French authorities, including the French Director of Customs and Excise, that I have the pleasure, tainted of emotion, Honourable Minister, to return to you, to your country and to the Nigerians that you represent, two fragments constituting a statue of the Nok civilization.
“I personally wish that it will serve to sensitize the public against illicit heritage artefacts transportation and trafficking, to illustrate another implementation of our policy that aims at facilitating the return of seized goods and strengthening the excellent collaboration between our two countries, in order to fight such traffics”, he said.
In his response, Minister Lai Mohammed stated that the present administration places high premium on the development of culture as a veritable tourism product.
“We are positive that in our quest for the diversification of our economic base, this section will provide that needed instrument to actualize that goal.
“Nigeria is rich in cultural and natural landscapes and other cultural resources which are yet to be tapped. We intend to make a difference and that is the reason we recently had a National Summit on the culture and tourism”, he said.
He further commended the French Ambassador for his country’s show of support in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural goods and their untiring efforts at restitution and return of such items. “I wish to recommend this French Model to other countries”.
For the D.G, the celebration of this year’s museum day was marked with a great difference following a formal hand over of the art pieces.
“This gesture will go a long way to oil the vehicle of cordial relationship that has existed between Nigeria and France”, he said.
Adding: “In the light of the above, I would most sincerely wish to appreciate and thank the French Embassy for their tireless effort to see to the total repatriation of stolen cultural properties in their country back to their countries of origin.
“On this note, I want to state very clearly here that I am very optimistic by this positive response demonstrated by the French Government that more of our cultural properties abroad will in no distant time, find their ways back to our country.
The DG also used the occasion to appeal to countries that still harbour illegally exported artefacts to return same without further delay.“Also, I want to use this opportunity to appeal to other countries that are yet to respond to borrow a leaf from the French Government to promptly return all illegally trafficked cultural properties in their possession back to their original owners.
“We should all equally join hands in fighting illicit trafficking of our cultural properties as it is a noble cause”.International Museum Day Celebration was declared by the International Council of Museums (ICOM) on May 18 1997 and approved by the General Assembly of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1983.
The theme of this year’s celebration is, Museums and Cultural Landscapes.The aim of this year’s celebration sought to promote both the importance of conservation, enhancement of national and cultural heritage, enhance roles of museums as well as underline the museums responsibilities to her collections.