The Nigerian government has received the repatriated Ife terracotta head and other artefacts from the Kingdom of Netherlands.
Mr Lai Mohammed, who is the Minister of Information and Culture, took delivery of the artifacts on Thursday at an event in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
Netherlands Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Harry Van Dijk, 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, a unique and rare artefact, was intercepted by Dutch Customs at the Schiphol Airport in 2018.
The event was also attended by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, as well as Professor Abba Tijani.
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Professor Tijani, who is the 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.
Read the full text of the Minister of Information at the event below:
SPEECH BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, WHILE RECEIVING AN IFE TERRACOTTA ANTIQUITY RETURNED FROM THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS….IN ABUJA ON THURSDAY, 26 NOV. 2020
It gives me profound joy to receive this very important antiquity, an Ife Terracotta, which is dated to be at least 600 years old.
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.
Our resolve to seek the repatriation of our timeless and priceless artefacts was strengthened by Mr President’s marching order for Nigeria to tap into tourism and other fields, where Nigeria has comparative advantages, 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 the 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.
Today’s event marks a new beginning. Our antiquities must work for our progress. 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.
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.
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 on November 2, 2020.
The Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, made all possible arrangements to ensure the return of the antiquity to Nigeria.
He directed the Charge d’Affaires of our Embassy in the Netherlands, Mr Kabiru Musa, to bring back the antiquity, which we are receiving today.
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.
Our gratitude also goes to the Director and officials of the Information and Heritage Inspectorate of the Netherlands, officials of the Customs of the Netherlands as well as the National Museum of the Netherlands for rendering preservation and conservation assistance while the adjudication of the claim lasted.
The Inspectie, that is the Information and Heritage Inspectorate of the Netherlands, and the National Commission for Museums and
Monuments of Nigeria have agreed to make a joint presentation of this issue to the UNESCO Secretariat in Paris, so that other nations may
take a cue from this in finding rapprochement and common ground concerning the issue of return of antiquities
Let me state here that Nigeria believes in joint international efforts to put 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.
I thank you all for your kind attention.