Nigeria has vowed to use all “legal and diplomatic” means to demand the return of its stolen artifacts and cultural materials worldwide, according to Information Minister, Lai Mohammed.
This comes on the back of announcement Wednesday by a Cambridge University college that it would return a bronze cockerel statue looted from the former kingdom of Benin by the British in the 19th century.
“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,” The Premium Times reported Mohammed as saying.
Mohammed said Nigeria has sent notice to all holders of the country’s cultural property anywhere in the world.
“We cannot imagine by what logic an Ife Bronze or a Benin Bronze or a Nok Terracotta can belong to any other part of the globe except to the people of Nigeria, whose ancestors made them. We are on a quest to retrieve the Ife Bronze Head, which was one of the items stolen in 1987 when one of our national museums was broken into,” he said.
Almost 1,000 bronzes were taken after Benin City, in present-day Nigeria, was occupied by imperial troops in 1897, according to the British Museum.
About 900 of those artifacts are housed in museums and collections around the world, including the British Museum, the BBC reported.
“We have now started work on the return of the Ife Bronze head to Nigeria,” Mohammed said.
“Some cynics might wonder: What is in an Ife bronze head or a Nok Terracotta that we will be launching a campaign to return or restitute them? Our answer is simple:
“These timeless and priceless pieces of work are an important part of our past, our history, our heritage resource, and allowing them to sit in the museums of other nations robs us of our history. Also, those who proudly display what they did not produce are daily reaping financial gains from them, while those whose ancestors made them are not,” he said.
Mohammed continued: “We call on every museum and person holding on to our heritage resources anywhere in the world to initiate dialogue with us on the basis of the conditions we have enumerated today.
“We urge them to identify what is in their collections, transparently make them public, approach us for discussion on terms of return and restitution, as well as circulation and loans. They must acknowledge that ownership resides in us.”