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Nigeria, U.S. sign agreement on protection of cultural property



Nigeria and the U.S. on Thursday in Abuja signed an agreement on prevention of illicit export of
archeological and ethnological materials,

The agreement titled, Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was signed on behalf of Nigeria by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed while the U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Leonard signed on behalf of her country.

Our correspondent reports the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, the Director-General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments,(NCMM) Prof. Ahmed Tijjani were present at the event.

Speaking before the signing ceremony, Mohammed said with the agreement in place, Nigerian antiquities being imported into the U.S. without the requisite Export Permit would be seized at the border of the U.S. and returned to Nigeria seamlessly.

He said returning such stolen antiquities would be devoid of arduous and costly task of going through the labyrinth of judicial and diplomatic processes.

He said the agreement would reduce the pillage of the nation’s irreplaceable archeological and ethnological materials, because the market for the material was being shut in the U.S. against illicit traffickers.

The Minister disclosed that the agreement would last for an initial period of five years and if it worked well, as anticipated, it would be renewed for a longer term.

He enjoined other friendly nations to take a cue from the US and join us in finding means to prevent the illegal importation of the nation’s antiquities into their countries.

Speaking on what led to the agreement the minister said because the Nigerian ancient arts are greatly appreciated around the world, they are highly coveted and subjected to sponsored looting and illicit trafficking by unscrupulous foreigners and Nigerians.

He said the looting had continued unabated despite all efforts by his Ministry, NCMM with the assistance of law enforcement agencies.

According to the minister, the stolen artifacts are mostly smuggled to Europe, US and other places for the benefit of art collectors.

To curb the nefarious activities, he said the federal government resorted to the UNESCO 1970 Convention, which enjoins member states whose cultural patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage, to call upon other Member States for concerted international measures.

“It is on the basis of this Convention that Nigeria and the US have agreed to leverage an American legislation, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), to prevent the illicit import of Nigerian artifacts into the US,” he said.

The minister thanked the US Government and the Embassy for making the agreement possible and sought it’s diligent implementation.

Speaking in the same vein, Onyema described the agreement as “landmark” adding that it demonstrated goodwill between the two countries.

The minister underscored the need to sensitise the Police, Customs and Immigration officials to the need to safeguard the nation’s cultural assets from leaving to other shores.

For her part, the Ambassador said the agreement was a demonstration of her country’s resolve for partnership to preserve, restore, and protect Nigeria’s diverse cultural heritage.

She reiterated the fact that Nigeria’s cultural property had continued to be subjected to the threat of pillage, destruction, and loss due to excavation, criminal activity, natural disasters, and subsistence digging.

According to the envoy, between 1969 and 1999, museums in Nigeria lost over 400 heritage items, including Ife and Benin bronzes, and Nok and Owo terra cotta, wood and ivory sculptural pieces.

She said the agreement would facilitate more robust collaboration of U.S. and Nigerian federal law enforcement and border control agencies to identify, intercept, repatriate, and protect cultural property and related heritage works.

Leonard added that the agreement would promote further the exchange of archaeological materials for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

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Rotimi Ijikanmi

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