Tuesday, November 17, 2009

France Returns Nigeria's Stolen Artefacts

Monday, November 16, 2009

France returns Nigeria's stolen artefacts

From Oghogho Obayuwana, Abuja
Nigerian Guardian

TWO stone monoliths stolen from Nigeria by Camerounian poacher and taken to France were handed over to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, in Abuja at the weekend.

Nigeria's envoy to France, Ambassador Gordon Bristol, who presented the items returned by the government of France, said experts traced the origins of the monoliths to the different sub-groups of the Bakar people of Cross River State - the Nnam, Nselle and Ekujak. The monoliths are actually known as Akwanshi, representing the ancestors of the Akwanshi ethnic group, duly recognised by the Nigerian government as national monuments under Decree 77 of 1979 (now an act of the National Assembly)

According to Bristol, the mission in France took possession of the monoliths from the Mid-Pyranees regional headquarters of the French Customs in Toulouse on June 22, this year, after the necessary documentation. Bristol also happens to be a former Nigerian envoy to Cameroun.

He said: "The monoliths were smuggled into France in 2004 by a Camerounian woman who claimed that they originated from that country and that they were not of any commercial value. But the French authorities and the National Commissioner for Museums and Monuments, Dr. A.S. Edet, have since concluded otherwise and confirmed source of origin...the Camerounian purveyor of these stolen but now retrieved artefacts had, six months after the seizure, furnished photographs purportedly showing her in company of some stone carvers at work in Foumban, a town in the west province of Cameroun where she claimed to have sourced the Monoliths..."

Expressing the gratitude of President Umar Yar'Adua to the French government for its prompt action on the artefacts, Maduekwe noted at the handing over ceremony that "through the protection of our arts, we can create peace, joy, harmony and create jobs''

The minister said: "I have just returned from the United States (U.S.) where our arts are appreciated. The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art is celebrating Nigerian art one year to our golden jubilee celebrations. They are already celebrating us while we were still preparing. Whether at Smithsonian or the Louvre in Paris, our art works are venerated and appreciated. And that is the reason why I have often spoken of cultural tourism as key to the revival of the Nigerian economy. Nigeria can actually earn more money from tourism than from crude oil. Check the statistics, tourism is always among the top 10 revenue earners"

Maduekwe continued: "It is clear that the humanising power of culture to save is no longer an option. It is the only condition for survival. Maybe it is time for a re-awakening of the global interest in the art and spirituality of Africa. The home of humanity, and its most undeveloped, may well have secrets yet to be yielded on how to save the world in spite of its challenges of pandemics, post-colonial conflicts and democratic challenges. The pilgrimage to Africa is overdue. We have to show greater capacity for the security of works of art like these, otherwise, they might be stolen again."

Fielding reporters questions, Bristol said since France is a signatory to the convention on the protection of artefacts and UNESCO is in fact domiciled in the country, Nigeria can expect action to be taken against the fraudulent Camerounian woman, as she also violated French laws."

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