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UK assisting Nigeria to retrieve stolen Ife Bronze Head

Ife Bronze Head (Yoruba, Nigeria)

* Belgium Government uncooperative in recovering the artifact ─Mohammed

Isola Moses

As a former colonial master that has interacted with and conceivably appreciates the undeniable significance of a people’s cherished cultural heritage, the United Kingdom (UK) has offered to assist Nigeria in recovering the Ile-Ife Bronze Head, an antiquity stolen at the National Museum, Jos, Plateau State capital, in 1987.

Agency report states that the Bronze Head has been found with a Belgian collector in London, UK, about 30 years after.

Helen Whately, British Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, made the pledge Thursday, January 30, in London, when Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister for Information and Culture, paid her a visit in her office.

ConsumerConnect recalls that Mohammed was in London to engage with the international media and think tank, as well as seek a diplomatic way to resolve the issue of the stolen cultural item.

Alhaji Mohammed, after a closed door meeting with Whately, said they resolved to explore an amicable resolution to the matter to avoid possible collateral damage among Nigeria, United Kingdom and Belgium.

“UK authorities are ready to assist us, but they want further documentation as to the report made to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation), and they also want a closer study of the report we made to UNESCO over the matter.

“The three countries are before a mediation panel – Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to the Countries of Origin or Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP),” he said.

The Minister further stated that “we think it is a matter that should be resolved working within the provision of the UNESCO Convention.

“It was, therefore, a cordial meeting, and we are very hopeful that the UK will cooperate with us.”

Mohammed explained that the matter dated back to 1987, specifically, on January 14, when the National Museum, in Jos, was burgled and several valuable objects of arts and artifacts were stolen.

“Immediately that happened, the National Council for Museums and Monuments, alerted UNESCO, Interpol, International Foundation for Arts Research (IFAR), and other related international bodies.

“Following the report, the object was, in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention, promptly put on the red list, which means it cannot be traded, exchanged or bought,” he explained.

According to Mohammed, the antiquity surfaced almost 30 years later in the UK when a Belgian vendor came to ask for it to be evaluated.

“When this item surfaced in the UK, the auction house notified the UK Metropolitan Police who in turn notified UNESCO and our Permanent Representative in the Commission.

“Since then, we have been pursuing the return of this artifact to Nigeria,” he said.

Mohammed, however, disclosed that Nigeria did not receive the cooperation of the Belgium Government in the retrieval of the object.

He said the Belgian authority claimed that the country was not a party to the UNESCO Convention at the time their citizen bought the item.

The minister said that the Belgian collector was also hiding under the provision of being a buyer in good faith, and therefore, asking for compensation.

“As a matter of fact, he is asking for €5million (Euro) for an object that he said he purchased for 240 Euro.

“Our position is that he is not a buyer in good faith, and he is not just an ordinary buyer but a collector with a very impressive collection bigger than most museums.

“We believed that he ought to have made necessary enquiry from UNESCO, IFAR, and even from the source country before buying the object,” he said.

Mohammed said they were impressed with the cooperation received so far from the UK Metropolitan Police since the matter started.

“Our position here is that UK, which is also bound by the UNESCO Convention like Nigeria, and should return the object to us.

“They are covered by Article 7 of the UNESCO Convention which says that when such an object surfaces in a country which is a member of the convention, diplomatic channels shall be explored to return the object to the country of source,” he said.

The minister said that based on precedents on stolen artifacts in Yemen and Tanzania, which were returned to both counties of source, Nigeria is encouraged and has a good case.

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