Beginning from next year, Nigeria will be holding a yearly national conference on restitution of cultural property in line with recommendations in the declaration by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of States and Governments last year in Abuja.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the conference would focus on keeping the issue on the front burner of national discourse.
Only on Wednesday, news broke that Cambridge University’s Jesus College has decided to repatriate a Benin Bronze Cockerel, known as ‘okukor’ to Nigeria.
The cockerel is one of the hundreds of Benin Bronzes that were looted after Benin City was occupied by the imperial troops in 1897.
Speaking yesterday in Lagos at a media briefing to launch the campaign, 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 government was commencing the ‘Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted and Smuggled Artifacts’ with a quest to retrieve the Ife Bronze Head, which was one of the items stolen in 1897 from the country’s national museums.
Mohammed said the London Metropolitan Police has seized the object and has invited Nigeria to make a claim, otherwise they would have to return it to the fellow claiming ownership. We have now started work on the return of the Ife Bronze Head.
He wondered what would make an Ife or Benin Bronze or a Nok Terracotta belong somewhere else in the world except Nigeria, whose ancestors made them.
“We have never laid claims to the Mona Lisa or a Rembrandt. Those who looted our heritage, 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.
While commending the work of the discussion group that is now known as the Benin Dialogue Group, which is working to resolve the issue, he stressed, “We desire that our heritage resources circulate around the world, especially because we are aware that art lovers all over the world truly love them.”