The Federal Government has reassured Nigerians that it is working towards ensuring that artifacts stolen from the shores of Nigeria, particularly in the 19th century, are returned to their original owners.
About 90 percent of Africa’s cultural heritage currently lies outside the continent, according to a 2018 Savoy-Sarr report.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed who gave the assurance at a press conference on Thursday in Lagos, said Nigerian government plans to use both legal and diplomatic instruments to claim its artifacts littered around the world.
Mohammed disclosed that the Federal Government is embarking on the “Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted/Smuggled Artifacts”.
“With this announcement, we are putting on notice all those who are holding on to Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available”, he said.
The minister queried why artifacts such as Ife Bronze or Benin Bronze can belong to any other part of the globe except Nigeria.
“We have never laid claim to the Mona Lisa or a Rembrandt. Those who looted our heritage resources, especially during the 19th-century wars, or those who smuggled them out of the country for pecuniary reasons, have simply encouraged the impoverishment of our heritage and stealing of our past,” he added.
Meanwhile, the contentious issue of repatriation of African artifacts is currently gathering steam once again as it continues feature prominently in Euro-African discourse
There are strong indications that efforts are being by some European countries to return such artifacts to Africa. The French government has promised to return the artworks in its museums to the countries of its origin unless where it is proven that they were obtained legitimately.
Similarly, the Open Society Foundations has announced a $15 million initiative to strengthen efforts to restore cultural objects looted from the African continent. Over four years, the initiative will support networks and organizations working to return Africa’s heritage to its rightful home.
Last week, Jesus College Cambridge also promised to return a bronze cockerel statue looted from Nigeria by the Colonial Masters in 1897.
The statue known as “Okukor” was taken from the former Kingdom of Benin and given to Jesus College in 1905 by the father of a student. Although, no specific date has been fixed for the return of the bronze cockerel. But Jesus College has said that it belongs to the current Oba at the Court of Benin.
The master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne said: “We are an honest community, and after thorough investigation into the provenance of the Benin bronze, our job is to seek the best way forward”.
Jesus College’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party, a group dedicated to looking at the institution’s connections to slavery had recommended that the bronze cockerel be returned to Nigeria