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Nigeria renews call for return of looted artefacts

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Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has renewed calls for the repatriation of all looted Nigerian artefacts, while also commending those countries that have returned such antiquities.

In a statement issued in Abuja, yesterday, to mark the 2021 International Museum Day, Mohammed appealed to Nigerians, especially the elite, to join the ongoing campaign to repatriate all looted Nigerian artefacts.

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He said the campaign for the repatriation of looted artefacts, which was launched by the Federal Government in October 2019, had yielded fruits, with the spate of return of stolen Nigerian antiquities from around the world.

The minister expressed appreciation to the German government and German museums, both of which are currently at the forefront of repatriating Nigerian antiquities.

Germany set the stage for a global movement to restitute colonial loot with its March announcement that it planned to hand over the Benin bronzes to Nigeria.

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The return of the treasures — which were looted in a British military attack on the royal palace of Benin in 1897— from as many as 25 German museums is part of a bilateral deal that will also involve Germany in archaeological excavations and the construction of a new museum in Benin City.

Treasures looted in a British military attack on the royal palace of Benin in 1897 are now scattered between as many as 160 museums and institutions worldwide

Days after Germany’s announcement, the University of Aberdeen became one of the first institutions in Europe to commit to restituting a Benin bronze, saying that the head of an oba (king) in its possession was “acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral.”

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Jesus College at the University of Cambridge has also pledged to return a bronze cockerel.

Listing the efforts being made by the Federal Government to recover looted artefacts, the minister said Nigeria had caused a claim to be instituted before the UNESCO’s mediation body, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Promotion of Return of Cultural Property (ICPRCP), for the return of an Ife bronze object to Nigeria, marking the first time ever that Nigeria would institute a claim before this international panel.

An art gallery owner in Belgium, who is now demanding money from Nigeria before releasing it, acquired the Ife bronze head, which was stolen from the National Museum in Jos in 1987.

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The minister recalled that in January 2020, he met the Secretary of
State for Culture of the United Kingdom to press Nigeria’s demand for the release of the said Ife bronze head, which is now being kept in the British Museum, expressing the hope that the matter would soon be resolved in favour of Nigeria.

“Also, after a vigorous pursuit, the United States has approved Nigeria’s request, under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). The import of this approval is that any cultural property that is 250 years old or older can never enter the United States of America from Nigeria, unless with the official imprimatur of Nigeria,” he said.

According to him, such antiquities would be returned to Nigeria from the US border without the need for expensive litigations or diplomatic hurdles.

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