Efforts to repatriate Nigeria’s stolen artifacts received a boost on Tuesday as the Mexican government returned an ancient bronze sculpture to the country.
Customs agents at Mexico City airport seized the sculpture as its buyer tried to bring it into the country.
The 6th-century artwork from Ile-Ife, Osun State, shows a man wearing woven pants and a hat, sitting with his legs crossed and holding an instrument.
“Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History determined that it was a piece of Yoruba origin,” Diego Prieto, head of the agency, disclosed at a press conference.
“A beautiful bronze piece, and that being of Nigerian heritage, it should return to its home.”
Officials declined to offer details about the sculpture’s exact origins or the circumstances of its confiscation.
“It was also determined that it had been illegally exported,” the Mexican foreign ministry said.
Nigerian Ambassador, Aminu Iyawa, acknowledged the work of the Mexican authorities in recovering the sculpture.
Recall that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, had last year declared that Nigeria was coming after foreign countries keeping its stolen artifacts.
“We are putting on notice all those who are holding on to Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available,” he had said at the launch of a campaign for the return of stolen Nigerian artifacts.
Apart from the government intervention, private bodies including ‘Benin Dialogue Group’ have also been at the forefront of repatriating Nigeria’s stolen artifacts, estimated to be over 6,500 and worth about N313 billion.
The Benin Dialogue Group comprises representatives from European and Nigerian museums as well as the Benin monarchy. It has been working on returning artifacts, particularly to the Benin palace for about three years.