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Can legal action facilitate the return of artefacts?

A Nigerian expert is suggesting that legal action may be necessary if African countries are to be successful in retrieving many of their disputed artefacts. Looking at similar cases in the past – particularly those involving Italy, it has become clear to many people that the threat of legal proceedings can be the only thing that museums will listen to – something that they can’t just bury their heads in the sand & ignore.

African Press Agency [1]

Nigerian expert advocates legal action in retrieving stolen artifacts
APA – Lagos (Nigeria) jeudi 17 décembre 2009, par daj

The Director of Nigeria’s Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Professor Tunde Babawale, says Nigeria should take legal action to retrieve its stolen artifacts.

Babawale told journalists on Wednesday in Lagos that Nigeria’s quest to retrieve the artifacts could be done through the International Court of Justice.

“The only way by which the Nigerian government can make any meaningful impact in retrieving the artifacts is to take all the stakeholders to court.

“The Nigerian government should take the battle seriously by beginning to write formally, not just to the British executive, but its parliament to return the artifacts,’’ he said.

Babawale said that Nigeria was losing a lot in terms of revenue from its art works which, he said, were serving as revenue generators to foreign countries.

According to him, the British museums alone make enormous amount from patronage of the Nigeria’s artifacts.

He said that over 5,000 pieces of art works were stolen from Nigeria to Britain and other parts of Europe.

“This is why I said that every effort must be made toward returning the artifacts,’’ he said.

Babawale said that efforts by CBAAC to get some of the art works returned had proved unsuccessful.

According to him, a letter was written to the British Museum in 2007 for the return of the FESTAC mask to mark CBAACs 30th anniversary, but to no avail.

“Time has come for the Nigerian government to end diplomatic niceties.

“We should go to International Court of Justice to secure restitution for these wrongs done to our people,” Babawale said.

He said that it was important to take decisive action now as the “injustice is still ongoing’’.