According to The Guardian Nigeria, the Netherlands has returned a 600-year-old artefact to Nigeria. This comes after the artefact was reportedly smuggled using fraudulent papers through Ghana to the Dutch country. Netherlands ambassador to Nigeria, Harry van Dijk, handed over the Ife Terracotta to Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture. The repatriation of the small but “priceless” Ife Terracotta has been a long journey considering it was reportedly smuggled out of Nigeria in 2019.
According to Al Jazeera, the artefact was stolen from Nigeria’s South Western city of Ile-Ife then smuggled into Ghana where the unnamed suspect then boarded a plane to the Netherlands. Africa CGTN reports that the Ife Terracotta was seized at customs at a Dutch airport where officials suspected that “the object might be illicitly imported” and alerted the antiquity protection office.
Following this news, Nigeria had to prove and appeal to the Dutch government that the artefact in fact belonged to the West African country. The long process ended when the Netherlands handed over the artefact to the Hague on November 2nd of this year. Nigeria received the artefact this past Thursday in a public ceremony.
Mohammed reportedly said that the hand-over was made public so that other countries would follow in the same manner and return previously stolen artefacts to African countries. Mohammed also expressed satisfaction and relief from the process saying, “It gives me profound joy to receive this very important antiquity, an Ife Terracotta…I am even more delighted that our efforts at pursuing the return of Nigerian antiquities, which we launched last November, have started yielding fruits.”
The return of the Ife Terracotta reportedly coincides with the UNESCO’s 50-year anniversary. Hundreds of Nigerian artefacts stolen during the pre-colonial and colonial period continue to be displayed in several European countries. Senegal is one country that is particularly militant about the return of stolen artefacts and have created hugely successful Museum of Black Civilisations for repatriated artefacts.
The Ife Terracotta has been placed at Nigeria’s Conservation Laboratory where it will be cleaned and treated before being put on public display.