Daily Trust (Abuja)

3 February 2013

Nigeria: France Hands Over Stolen Nigerian Artifacts

It is no longer news that many Nigerian artifacts are in Europe and America held by both public institutions such as Museums, Universities and Galleries as well as by private individuals, but what is new is the collaborative efforts being made by the Nigerian government and the countries where these artifacts are taken in the first place to repatriate them back to the country where they rightly belong.

One of these collaborative diplomatic efforts yielded a positive result yesterday when the French Embassy in Nigeria handed over five Nok Terracotta figures seized by the French Customs service in Paris.

Nok arts came to light in 1928, when Co. J. Dent Young found a small terracotta head amongst the gravel from tin mining operations near the village of Nok in Jos Plateau of central Nigeria and since then these cultural materials were named after the village where the finds were made.

It is indeed unfortunate that so much Nok materials have been looted over time to supply the international art market which is supposed to be the exclusive cultural artifacts of the Nigerian people.

So when the French Ambassador to Nigeria Jacques Champagne de Labriolle handed over 5 stolen artifacts of Nok origin to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCCM) last Tuesday many stakeholders in the art sector landed the move, describing it as a right step in the right direction.

While presenting the artifacts to the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, the French ambassador said that the returning of the artifacts is made in accordance with international laws, and within the fame work of a French policy aiming at fighting illegal imports of cultural goods.

He said that the statuettes were seized in France, by the French Customs in Paris in August 2010, as part of the French Customs watch and fight against illegal transportation of cultural goods.

Explaining how the artifacts were recovered before being repatriated to Nigeria, he said, "they were found in the personal luggage of a traveler 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 analyzed by several French experts, coming from a famous 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."

Ambassador Champagne stressed that the five statuettes are very old; the oldest one dates back between 1400 BC and some 700 BC which according to him may be more than 3000 years now.

"These fine statuettes belong to the famous Nok civilization, whose terracotta art works are the oldest ones known in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Within the frame work of the above mentioned French policy against illegal imports, 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, in a move aiming at reinforcing cooperation with the country of origin in the common fight against trafficking."

The Ambassador extended his country's willingness to help Nigeria in the field of protection, restoration and development cultural heritage as well as in the field of conception and management of museums.

He expressed optimism that the return of the seized artifacts will further cement the excellent relations which exist between the two countries and that it will help in preventing further illegal trafficking of items which are part of the Nigerian heritage.

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