Foreign Minister Chief Geoffrey Onyeama received a stolen Ile-Ife artifact recovered from Mexico on Thursday in Abuja.
Upon receiving the artifact, he asked for a more secure border to prevent future theft.
Onyeama collected the artifact from Dr. Yakubu Dadu, Chargé d’Affaires of the Nigerian Mission in Mexico.
The minister praised the embassy’s efforts to recover the artifact.
He said that the interventions of Nigerian envoys in recovering the country’s stolen possessions show the important jobs they were doing in the face of negative reports from Nigerian missions on social media.
Onyeama also thanked the Mexican government for its cooperation in ensuring that the artifact was properly returned to Nigeria.
However, he stressed the need to sensitize customs officials at the borders, explaining that it is better to protect national inheritances against theft than to start negotiations for their return after they have been stolen.
“This Ife bronze was stolen from Nigeria and was intercepted in Mexico and our Ambassador at the time, Amb. Aminu Iyawa, was very dynamic when he noticed that it was displayed at the airport in Mexico and was a bit suspicious.
Due to his entrepreneurship, detective work and diplomatic skills, a year he was able to find out the origin of the work and the fact that it was stolen and he made a commitment to the Mexican authorities.
And he got the Mexican authorities after proving that he was of Nigerian origin to hand him over to the Nigerian people.
It was initially going to be delivered home last year, but due to the COVID-19 shutdown, it was unable to do so. All of this is part of the excellent work being done by our diplomatic missions abroad.
Sometimes, on social media, we have negative narratives about our diplomatic missions, but I think it is also important to acknowledge the important work they are doing as envoys of the President.
Returning those things to the country requires a lot of negotiations, a long time to achieve these types of results.
It is also necessary to sensitize Customs officials so that they know that there is a black market for these artifacts in order to have them measured at the border.
“We do not want to be negotiating when they are outside our territory, but what we can also do is secure them from within and, ultimately, it will be about intelligence and customs and border measures,” Onyeama said.
He said that there would be an official presentation of the artifact to the Minister of Information and Culture in the presence of the Mexican Ambassador to Nigeria, after which it would be handed over to the National Commission of Museums and Monuments.
Mr. Gimba Muhammed, Acting Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, said that many measures have already been put in place to prevent stolen artifacts from leaving the country.
However, Muhammed pointed out that most of the artifacts were stolen from the country during the colonial era, as the current security status of museums in the country would make it difficult to steal any artifact.
“There are many measures to end artifact theft. There are country-to-country agreements.
Recently there was a Chief of Ministries of Cultural Directors of ECOWAS, whose documents were presented by the ECOWAS countries to restore some of these properties of ours from whatever country they are in.
If you find the Nigerian one in the Ivory Coast, they bring it and if you find yours here we will return it to you,” Muhammed said.
Babatunde Adebiyi, legal adviser to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, said plans are underway to build even safer museums with global standards.
“The museum as an institution has evolved in Nigeria and is now better protected and I can attest that hardly anyone can steal objects from Nigerian museums.
“We are making arrangements to build a museum in the Western world standard as we are making efforts with the Edo state government to build and even some foreign governments,” Adebiyi said.