The Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, has called on all law enforcement agencies in the country to complement the Federal Government’s efforts at protecting the nation’s heritage by ensuring that illicit trafficking and transfer of antiquities is eradicated.
The minister made the call on Tuesday in Abuja during the official handing over by the French embassy in Nigeria of the illegally exported Nok figurines seized by the French Customs to the National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM).
Duke said the return of the Nok pieces was yet another attestation to the collaboration between Nigeria and France in cultural and heritage matters spanning many decades.
“I wish to congratulate the French government, its customs service and the French embassy in Nigeria for the positive gesture,” he said.
Duke, further reiterated: “As we all know, these objects tell the story of different nationalities and cultures and by taking them away, the stories of these different peoples are destroyed or distorted.
“So all people of good conscience should support these efforts,” he said.
He appealed to other countries to emulate France and return all illegally exported cultural properties to their homelands.
The minister therefore stated that efforts at dialoguing have brought about recent interface with some major museums in Europe to return our stolen objects.
“The Ministry through the NCMM has instigated discussions on modalities of returning illegally exported Benin objects to Nigeria”, he said.
He therefore appealed to other to other countries to emulate France and return all illegally exported cultural properties to their homeland.
In his welcome address the Director-General of NCMM, Alhaji Yusuf Abdallah, said that the five artifacts are of Nok origin, and were seized by the French customs in the luggage of a French citizen at the Chavles De guel Airport in paris in August 2010.
He explained that the flight was from Togo in likelihood that these artifacts left Nigeria in recent times.
The DG said that this is the 3rd wave of exodus of Nigerian artifacts which is the illegal excavation and looting of heritage, archaeological sites and museums by unscrupulous Nigerians and their foreign collaborators.
The first wave which he said was during colonial period by invading forces of imperial Britain in 1897 and the second in the 1960s and 1970s which was provoked by the civil war.
Abdallah said that the commission was working towards training community leaders, customs and other law enforcement agencies in protecting our heritage.
While delivering his speech, the French ambassador to Nigeria Jacques Champagne de Labroille, said that as part of their watch and fight against illegal transportation of cultural good, the French customs seized the 5 Nok Terracotta in 2010.
He further explained that having been analysed by the French museum, they were able to determine the origin of the statutes; Labroille added that the statutes belong to the Nok civilisation of terracotta and dates back to 1400BC and 700BC and are about 3000 years old.
He stated that this indeed confirms that relationship between Nigeria and France and also to show the traffickers that they have no chance together.
Labroille advised that Nigeria decide which Nigerian museum to keep the returned cultural pieces.