ASIDE the Nok statuettes returned to Nigeria by the French Embassy in Abuja on Tuesday, another set of artefacts of Nigerian origin — also illegally exported to France – will be presented very soon, French Ambassador, Jacques Champagne De Labriolle has disclosed.
De Labriolle stated this during the presentation of the Nok terracotta pieces seized in France in 2010. The artefacts were collected on behalf of Nigeria by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation at Reiz Hotel, Abuja.
De Labriolle stated: “Let me announce that we will meet again in a few weeks from now, when we will return another statuette, which was seized by the French Customs in another development unrelated to the first one. This statuette is not a Nok terracotta statuette, but a soapstone statuette of Esie origin.”
Earlier, he argued that the return was “made in accordance with international law, and within the framework of a French policy aiming at fighting illegal imports, and especially illegal imports of cultural goods.”
it was also explained that the statuettes were seized in France, by the French customs near Paris, in August 2010.
The return was coming about six months after another set of Nok terracotta pieces of Nigerian origin were intercepted by the Home Security Investigation of U.S. Although the seized works in U.S. were yet to be returned to Nigeria, it is believed that “technically, we are in repossession since the works are already in custody of Nigeria Consulate in U.S.“
Minister of Culture and Tourism, High Chief Edem Duke traced the collaboration between Nigeria and France to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the prohibition of illicit trade in Cultural property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on stolen and illegally exported cultural objects.
“Nigeria and France have collaborated under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the prohibition of illicit trade in Cultural property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on stolen and illegally exported cultural objects over the years,” Duke stated. He submitted, “the return of these Nok pieces is yet another attestation to the collaboration between Nigeria and France in Cultural and Heritage matters spanning over several decades.”
The Director-General of National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman traced the history of most of Nigerian artefcats illegally acquired abroad.
“There were two waves of collection of Nigerian Artifacts. The first wave was during colonial period first by invading forces of imperial Britain such as the Benin Punitive Expedition of 1897 and later by western anthropologists who carried out field work in various parts of the country. The second wave of collection was in the 1960s and 1970s when the civil war provoked large exodus of our artefacts through our borders with neighbouring countries.”
Usman described the returned artefacts as the “third wave” of looted objects, “The flight was from Togo. In all likelihood therefore, these artifacts left this country in recent times.
“This brings us to the 3rd wave of exodus of Nigeria artifacts which is the illegal excavation and looting of heritage, archaeological sites and museums by unscrupulous Nigerians and their foreign collaborators.”
On the current effort of the NCMM to stop further illegal movement of Nigerian artefacts, Usman disclosed that “at the onset of the present management of the NCMM under my humble leadership, the issue of looting of archaeological sites by illegal diggers reduced due to the use of a multi-pronged approach. Within the last three years, the Commission has embarked on several sensitization programme involving law enforcement agencies, media, local communities and traditional rulers at Abuja and Kaduna and also in the rural areas especially at Nok and Janjala.”
Recalling the seizure three years ago, De Labriolle said “They were found in the personal luggage of a traveller coming back from Africa. It was quickly established that these art works had been illegally taken away from Nigerian territory.
“At the time of the seizure, nobody knew where the statuettes exactly came from. They were later analysed by several French experts, coming from a famous French museum (Musee du Quai Branly), from the French Museums Directorate of the Ministry of Culture, and from the Research and Restoration Laboratory of the also famous Louvre Museum. These experts were eventually able to determine their origin.” The artefacts are estimated to be as old as between 1400 BC and 700 BC or 3000 years old.
De Labriolle noted that under the French policy against illegal importation of artefacts, “the French Customs and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs have worked together so that the seized items be returned to Nigeria, as the country of origin of the seized goods.” This he stressed, was aimed at “reinforcing the cooperation with the country of origin in the common fight against trafficking.”
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