L-R: Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister for Information and Culture; Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs; and Prof. Abba Tijani, Director-General of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, in Abuja

Nigeria retrieves 600-year-old smuggled Ife terracotta head, others from Netherlands

*Nigeria believes in joint international efforts at putting a stop to illicit export and import of cultural goods, says Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister for Information and Culture

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

After years of illegally trafficking the precious materials from the country’s shores to other lands, the Nigerian Government has received the repatriated Ife Terracotta Head and other artifacts from the Kingdom of Netherlands.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister for Information and Culture, who took the delivery of the age-old artifacts Thursday, November 26, 2020, disclosed this at an event in Abuja, FCT.

Mr. Harry Van Dijk, Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria, presented the valuable pieces of art to the minister on behalf of the government of the European country.

The terracotta head from Ile-Ife, in Osun State of Nigeria, said to be a unique and rare artifact, was intercepted by Dutch Customs at the Schiphol Airport in 2018.

The Minister for Information and Culture, in his address on the occasion, said it was profound joy to receive the very important antiquity, an Ife Terracotta, which is dated to be at least 600 years old.

The Retrieved Ife Terracotta Head

Mohammed said: “I am even more delighted that our efforts at pursuing the return of Nigerian antiquities, which we launched last November, have started yielding fruits.

“You will recall that at the World Press Conference held for that purpose in Lagos on November 28, 2019, I asserted that Nigeria will work towards the return and restitution of her cultural property wherever they may be in the world.

That assertion was not a fluke, as we have seen today (Thursday).”

According to him, Nigeria’s resolve to seek the repatriation of its timeless and priceless artifacts was strengthened by President Muhammadu Buhari’s marching order for the country to tap into tourism and other fields, where Nigeria has a comparative advantage, in order to generate income for the nation and secure jobs for our youths.

“One way of generating income for the country is if our cultural properties are exhibited around the world to a fee-paying audience, on the basis of proper agreement that acknowledges us as owners and confers the right benefits on us.

“But this is not possible for as long as most of them adorn the museums and private collections of others, who describe them as their properties,” Mohammed stated.

He noted that the country’s antiquities must work for our progress.

The Minister added: “Apart from the pecuniary benefits, these priceless objects wrought by our forebears are unifying factors.

“It is heart-warming to note that the leadership of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments is showing renewed efforts at repatriation.

“Regarding the antiquity that is being handed over to us today, the smuggler had obtained forged documents purported to be from a former Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

“The smuggler ultimately passed through the airport in Ghana before getting to Europe in 2019.”

Alhaji Mohammed (r), His Excellency Harry van Dijk, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Nigeria (in suit) and other officials at the presentation of the artifact in Abuja

According to him, the Dutch Customs at Schiphol Airport suspected that the object might be illicitly imported and alerted the antiquity protection office known as the ‘Inspectie’, which is the Information and Heritage Inspectorate of the Netherlands, to give an opinion.

The Inspectie invited Nigeria to prove her case against the suspected smuggler. The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) acted swiftly by dispatching its lawyer, Mr. Babatunde Adebiyi, who is with us here today, to present evidence and argue for the return of the object.

“Nigeria was successful in this and the claim was determined in favour of Nigeria.”

He stated that after all internal procedures, including the right of appeal, were exhausted, the Government of the Netherlands – at a very elaborate event – handed over the object to the Nigerian Embassy in The Hague November 2, 2020.

He disclosed that Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs, who also attended the event in Abuja, made all possible arrangements to ensure the return of the antiquity to Nigeria.

Oyeama had directed Mr. Kabiru Musa, the Charge d’Affaires of Nigerian Embassy in The Netherlands, to bring back the antiquity.

“We want to most sincerely thank the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs and his staff, both at home and in the Netherlands.

“We also thank His Excellency Harry van Dijk, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Nigeria,” said Mohammed.

He, however, warned that Nigeria believes in joint international efforts at putting a stop to illicit export and import of cultural goods.

“The issue of cultural property should not be a ground of rancour and discord among nations.

“That is if nations choose to tow the path which the Kingdom of The Netherlands has chosen by insisting on justice, fairness and amity,” said the Minister.

Professor Abba Tijani, Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, stated that the Ife Terracotta Head was said to be at least 600 years old.

Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Honourable Minister for Foreign Affairs, also attended the event in Abuja.

Kindly Share This Story