The international Council Of Museums, has issues calls for the repatriation of African artefacts that are currently held in foreign museums.
Business Day 
Last Updated: May 25th, 2007
May 24th, 2007
ICOM calls for repatriation of cultural properties abroad
The International Council of Museum (ICOM) has called for the repatriation of African cultural properties in foreign museums.
Obinna Emelike and Priscilla Olakunle
The call was made by Violetta Ekpo, Nigerian representative to the Paris-based ICOM, in her lecture titled: Museums and Universal Heritage: The right to ownership, which was part of the activities marking the World Museums Day, organised by the Centre for Black and African Arts & Civilization (CBAAC) recently at the National Theatre, Lagos.
Ekpo said that the need for the repatriation of the antiquities was informed by the fact that most African cultural materials in foreign museums were acquired through illegal means.
“Usually, such items are prohibited for export. The transfer of ownership rights of such cultural properties is illegal, if done contrary to the protection laws and regulations adopted by its state of origin”.
She noted that United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), in its 1970 International Convention, recognises as a nation’s property under protection, the one that has been created by its nationals or other national within the territory of the state, found within the national territory, or acquired through authorised archaeological, ethnological or scientific missions, or through legal exchange, donation or purchase.
She urged Africa and Nigeria in particular, to take advantage of the UNESCO’s Information Kit on the Return and Restitution of Cultural Property (UNIDROIT) Convention, which provides for the return of stolen or illegally exported cultural property to their country of origin, to demand for the reparation of her illegally acquired antiquities in several European museums.
On return, the antiquities according to her, would constitute a huge tourism attraction by wooing foreigners to come and see them here, and enabling Africans to have a better understanding of their history, and proper identification with their cultural heritage.
The ICOM representative however, said that Nigeria should strengthen her law, regulations and export policies to safe guard further illicit trading on her antiquities and to protect exiting ones.
She urged Nigeria to provide adequate facilities to house the antiquities on their return to the country. The lack of facilities and experienced curators/personnel, according to her, has been one of the reasons most foreign museums give for not returning them back to their country of origin.
She further said that UNESCO and ICOM, in collaboration with other organisations such as INTERPOL, WCO among others have adopted additional measures for the protection of cultural property and facilitating the repatriation of illegally displaced cultural items.
In his address, Aremu Dada, acting chairman, governing board, CBAAC, said the event signifies the first time the centre is fulfilling its obligation as a strategic member ICOM.
He disclosed that CBAAC was established as a follow-up of FESTAC’77, and as a modest way of institutionalising the gains of the historic festival, noting that the Centre has been waxing stringer since then in the promotion and propagation of Black and African cultural heritage.
In his remarks, Tunde Babawale, director/chief executive, CBAAC, said the Centre is marking the World Museums Day because museums are as germane to human history as culture is to a people’s existence.
Babawale noted that the topic of the commemorative lecture was most appropriate and applicable to CBAAC, now the Centre has started mounting pressure on the British Museum for the release of the original sample of the FESTAC’ 77 mask which is in their possession.
He noted that Nigerian government deemed it necessary to create a museum of Black and African Arts and Civilization to preserve the numerous works of art displayed at the successful Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), hosted by Nigeria in 1977.
“Since inception, CBAAC, which was established by the 59 Black and African countries that participated in the festival, as a child of necessity, has taken custody of all these materials and artefacts, which are consistently augmented”, the director/chief executive said.
Other events marking the celebration include an exhibition titled: Museum and Universal Heritage held at the Exhibition Hall of the Centre which displayed cultural paintings, drawings, wood works among others that depicted the richness and trueness of the African cultural heritage and historical development.
It also witnessed several dance performances by different cultural groups, a roundtable discussion, question/answer session by the participants which include students from some secondary schools in Lagos.
May 18 of every year has been set aside by ICOM Paris to commemorate World Museums Day, with mandate to all cultural agencies, member countries and individuals in the service of humanity to observe.