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UNESCO summit on illicit trafficking of cultural property holds June 26

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Nigeria moves to stop auction of stolen artefacts

The United Nations Educational Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) has concluded arrangements for its conference on ‘Combating Illicit Trafficking of Cultural Property during COVID-19 Crisis – illegal Excavations and Online Trade. The conference holds on June 26.

The coronavirus disease has brought about new challenges in the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property. Nigeria is one of the 140 stakeholders to the 1970 Convention that strengthened the agency’s capacity.

The conference is coming on the heels of a planned auction of sacred African objects, whose provenance is already stirring controversy, on June 29.

Both events would put the government on its toes in the fight to repatriate Nigeria’s looted artefacts.

Last November, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said from this year, Nigeria would be holding a yearly national conference on the restitution of cultural property in line with recommendations in the declaration by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government in Abuja.

Speaking at the event, Mohammed said, “With the announcement, we are putting on notice all those who are in possession of Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available.”

He said the government was commencing the ‘Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted and Smuggled Artefacts’ with a quest to retrieve the Ife Bronze Head, which was one of the items stolen in 1897 from the country’s national museums.”

Last year, Cambridge University’s Jesus College repatriated a Benin Bronze Cockerel, known as ‘okukor’ to Nigeria. The cockerel is one of the hundreds of Benin bronzes that were looted after the city was occupied by imperial troops in 1897.

The National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM) has already sent a letter to Christie’s requesting the auction house to “suspend the auction” of five of the lots featuring in the June 29 auction, which have been identified as coming from Nigeria. The Igbo couple figure from Nri-Awka (Lot 47) was listed alongside four other works, namely: an Edo hip mask from Benin (Lot 29), an Edo bronze plaque (Lot 30), a Boki headdress (Lot 31) and an Urhobo figure (Lot 49).

The letter addressed to Victor Teodorescu, Head of Sale, African and Oceanic Art Department, Christie’s Gallery, was also copied the European Head of the African and Oceanic Art Department Christie’s Gallery, Bruno Claessens. It was signed by the Director (Overseeing the Office of the DG), Aliyu Abdu.


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