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Nigeria’s stolen artefacts

The conflicts which today plague many African countries continue to shine a light and harshly too at their troubled history. This is because many times,…

The conflicts which today plague many African countries continue to shine a light and harshly too at their troubled history. This is because many times, to find the roots of that which is strangling the present, one only needs to reach into the recent past.

While it would be easier to blame the leadership of   many African countries for the problem which plague them today, a measure of justice mandates that a measuring rod is reached into the past to determine the exact provenance of those problems, especially how they were created for African countries at their infancy, and primed to grow into monstrous difficulties along the way. Many African countries readily spring to mind here.

For example, Belgium`s baleful finger prints in the conflicts which continue to plague the DR Congo today provide a stark example. Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, has largely enjoyed stability in the ensuing sixty-one years since it came to independence. The Nigerian civil war which came barely seven years into independence can be largely chalked down to the teething problems every country experiences when it first begins a new journey of independence, and the fact that the exuberance of young military officers who unexpectedly found themselves thrust into positions of authority forced them to act foolishly.

Way before Africa was partitioned during the Scramble for Africa in the late 19th Century, the kingdoms which later came to form many African countries had shown themselves as culturally advanced. Archaeologists have been startled by the sheer value of the discoveries they made about some African countries and what those discoveries had to say about the past.

There is proof that way before colonialism, Africans knew how to craft and sculpt advanced artefacts. Many of these artefacts were plundered and taken away during colonialism in heists that continue to daze historians even till this day.

Nigeria has been in the eye of this storm with the ancient and culturally prodigious Benin Kingdom showing that even in the days when deep darkness covered much of Africa, it knew how to preserve its immense cultural wealth in sculptures and artefacts.

Many of those artefacts were carted away during colonialism to grimly expose the colonialists as not just political and economic slave drivers and task masters, but cultural saboteurs. Just like the infamous Abacha loot, the artefacts have continued   to trickle in over the years as Nigeria has ramped up efforts and pressure to recover everything that was stolen from it.

On February 19, 2022, Nigeria`s president, Mr. Muhammadu Buhari took this pressure a notch higher when he appealed to countries, institutions and bodies both private and public to return Nigeria`s artefacts in their possession just as he disclosed that 1,130 Benin bronzes would be returned to Nigeria by the German government before the year runs out. This was on the occasion marking the official handover of the Okwukwor and the Head of an Oba of Benin Bronzes repatriated from the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen after about 125 years of them leaving Nigeria.

There is no doubt that colonialism indelibly scarred many African countries, leaving them struggling even till this day. There is no telling if African can ever make a full recovery. However, it can only be an auspicious start that maximum pressure is mounted to ensure that every stolen item is repatriated.

To do this, African governments as well as the governments of any of those countries where any of such treasures is found must take full responsibility for their repatriation.


Kene Obiezu can be reached via [email protected]

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