By Gift Olivia Samuel The Sight News
ABUJA: A unique and rare Terracotta head, from Ife Kingdom, in Nigeria that was intercepted by Dutch Customs at Schiphol Airport in 2018, has been returned to Nigeria through the Embassy of Nigeria in Netherlands, in compliance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention of prohibiting and preventing illicit import and export of cultural property.
The historical artwork was presented to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama on Friday 20, November, 2020, in Abuja by the Chargé d’affaires of Nigeria in Netherlands, Mr. Kabir Usman.
The Sight News gathered that the return of the Terracotta is significant, as it is the first formal handing over under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention that the Netherlands returned any object to a country.
Speaking to the Journalists on Friday, Onyeama, said disclosed that there is an underground trade in all these antiquities going on in Nigeria, adding that the Terracotta is a prized one that was stolen and found its way to the Netherlands and fortunately, the Dutch authority working on a tip-off were able to intercept it before it got to its final destination.
While noting that there is a framework agreement now under UNESCO to fight illegal trade in antiquities especially from African countries and Nigeria in particular, he stated that there was excellent cooperation between the Dutch authorities, UNESCO and the Nigerian Embassy in the Netherlands and so, they were able to finally get this within the framework of the UNESCO international agreement and transferred it back to Nigeria.
In his words, “We are very grateful to the Dutch government, UNESCO and also to our Embassy in the Netherlands for the great work they have done to return this heritage of our country back to us.
“In a few days time, we will have a formal presentation facilitated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we will transfer it formally through the Minister of Culture and the representatives of UNESCO will be present, the Dutch Ambassador and also the Director General of the Nigerian Museums Commission to formally take custody of this very valuable part of our heritage.
“It is sealed so as not to compromise its integrity, but it will be possible to open it after a few days and we will present and display it Tuesday”, he remarked.
For his part, the Chargé d’affaires of the Nigerian Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands, Mr. Kabir Musa, said the Ife terracotta head intercepted in 2018 is dated between 12th and 15th Century, about over 600 years ago, adding that it went to the Netherlands unaccompanied and addressed to a private citizen of the Netherlands.
According to him, “We have not been able to get the identity of that individual but the good thing is that we were able to get it back. The moment they intercepted it, they invited out authorities. A Lawyer from the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM) went to the Netherlands to verify the authenticity of the object. He did that and we requested that it should be formally brought back to us.
“We have been talking to them and negotiating based on our obligations to the 1970 UNESCO convention which both Nigeria and the Netherlands are signatory to and on that understanding, we agreed that we were going to get it back and with the permission of the Minister, we got it back on November 2, 2020.
“It is a fragile object and has to be handled by professionals from the NCMM. We have already discussed with the Netherlands because they have other artefacts that belong to Nigeria from Benin and Ife so we will enhance our cooperation with them and strengthen that collaboration to see that all the artefacts that are with them we will get them back to Nigeria.
“This is the first formal handing over under UNESCO convention that the Netherlands returned any object to a country”, he ended.