President Muhammadu Buhari has said that in line with international law and practice, export, import and control over antiquities are matters within the purview of national governments to be exercised on behalf of sub-national authorities, institutions and bodies.
He made the assertion in a statement issued Monday by Garba Shehu, his Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity), where he also appealed to nations, institutions and bodies, both private and public, to return Nigeria’s artefacts in their possession.
This followed the recent return of two important Nigerian artefacts from Britain.
According to the statement, the President welcomed the official handover, on Saturday, of the Okwukor and the Head of an Oba of Benin bronzes, to the Oba of Benin, His Royal Highness, Oba Ewuare II.
The statement recalled that they were repatriated from the University of Cambridge and University of Aberdeen, respectively, in the United Kingdom, after 125 years of their leaving the territory of present-day Nigeria.
Urging other countries to take a cue from the institutions, the President vowed that the Federal Government will pursue the repatriation of Nigerian artefacts vigorously.
He pledged that government would ensure that they are put to good and proper use on their return in museums and other facilities in conjunction with the royal families and kingdoms that lost these artefacts.
President Buhari thanked the government of the United Kingdom that facilitated the return of these artefacts by issuing the prerequisite Export Permits to Nigeria at no cost, as well as the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen who agreed to return these artefacts to Nigeria.
The statement quoted Buhari as saying: “These are unprecedented moves worth emulating by others,” he said, adding that the Federal Government hopes to work hand in hand in the future to encourage the return of more Nigerian artefacts from the United Kingdom.
“I also want to appreciate the Federal Republic of Germany which is planning the process of repatriating 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria from many of Germany’s public museums. These returns are scheduled for this year.”
The President also commended the High Commissioner of Nigeria to the United Kingdom, Sarafa Ishola, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) for their collaborative works that led to the repatriation of these artefacts.
He said it is noteworthy that several others are currently in the process of being returned while discussions are ongoing to repatriate many more.
President Buhari recounted that the artefacts now returned to the Oba of Benin were taken away by British soldiers in 1897 when they attacked the ancient Benin Kingdom and took thousands of artefacts away.
The President further said: “These artefacts are part of the records of the history of the Benin people.
“My directive to return these artefacts to the Oba of Benin marks the beginning of another aspect in the highly valued relationship between the Federal Government of Nigeria and our traditional institutions who are indeed the true custodians of our history, customs and traditions.
“This directive is also significant because it will introduce a working relationship between the Federal Government as represented by the NCMM and the traditional institutions whereby this Commission negotiates the release of antiquities from foreign museums and institutions on behalf of Nigeria and the traditional institutions that lost the antiquities and jointly they all take steps to ensure the valourisation of Nigerian and Nigerian people through these great arts and cultural emblems.”