Nigeria’s fight for the repatriation of the country’s stolen art works and other cultural properties in galleries and museums spread across Europe and America recorded some success early in the week as France returned to Nigeria five ancient terracotta sculptures smuggled out of the country in 2010.
The artifacts of Nok origin, were said to have been found in the luggage of a French citizen at a Paris airport.
According to BBC’s Chris Ewokor, who attended the hand over ceremony for the return of the smuggled objects in Abuja, the terracotta sculptures may have been shipped out of the country to neighbouring Togo from where the French buyer flew them to the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
French Ambassador to Nigeria, Jacques Champagne de Labriolle told BBC that the artifacts’ return was part of a global attempt to fight “illegal trafficking in cultural goods,” adding that, “It is both a decision by the French government and an obligation by all those countries that have signed the UNESCO convention on the matter.”
Last year, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, NCMM, frowned at the donation of of 30 artefacts being part of the works stolen by invading British forces from Benin during the 1897 expedition to the management of the Boston Museum of Fine Art.
The donation said to have been made up of 28 bronze works and six ivories were said to have been donated to the Boston Museum by Robert Owen Lehman, heir to one of the expenditionists.
Reacting to the development, Nigeria’s Tourism Minister, Edem Duke described the return of the works as a big achievement in the country’s campaign to recover its lost treasures from around the world.
“I feel extremely delighted; It sends a very important signal to the rest of the world that we will continue to pursue the repatriation of our heritage assets and treasures wherever they are,’’ he said.
Over the last 85 years, Nok art has been discovered in a large area of north-central Nigeria from Jos to Kaduna. Experts say Nok art, which often represents human heads, is the earliest attempt at portraiture yet discovered in Nigeria.