Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama received a stolen Ile-Ife artifact taken from Mexico in Abuja on Thursday.
Receiving the artifact, he called for a safer border to prevent future theft.
Onyeama collected the artifact from Dr. Yakubua Dadua, Chargé d’Affaires of the Nigerian Mission in Mexico.
The minister welcomed the embassy’s efforts to recover the artifact.
He said that the interventions of the Nigerian envoys in the recovery of the stolen possessions of the country show the important works they did against the negative reports of the Nigerian missions on social networks.
Onyeama also thanked the Mexican government for its cooperation in ensuring that the artifact was properly returned to Nigeria.
However, he stressed the need to sensitize customs officers at the borders, explaining that it is better to ensure the theft of national heritage than to start negotiations on their return after the theft.
“This bronze Ife was stolen from Nigeria, it was intercepted in Mexico by our then ambassador Amb. Aminu Iyawa, was very dynamic when he noticed it showing up at an airport in Mexico and was a bit suspicious.
“Thanks to his entrepreneurship, detective work and diplomatic skills, after a year he managed to discover the origin of the work and the fact that it was stolen, and he got involved with the Mexican authorities.
“And he managed to get the Mexican authorities after he proved that he is of Nigerian origin to be handed over to the Nigerian people.
“It was originally supposed to be delivered home last year, but due to the COVID-19 lock, it could not do so. All of this is part of the excellent work that our diplomatic missions abroad perform.
“Sometimes we have negative narratives on social media about our diplomatic missions, but I think it’s also important to recognize the important deeds they do as Mr. President’s envoys.
“Returning such things to the country requires a lot of negotiations, a lot of time to achieve that kind of result.
“Customs officers should also be sensitized to let them know that there is a black market for these artifacts in order to have border measures.
“We don’t want to negotiate when they are outside our territory, but what we can also do is secure them from within and ultimately it will be about intelligence and customs and border measures,” Onyeama said.
He said the artifact would be officially presented to the Minister of Information and Culture in the presence of the Mexican ambassador to Nigeria, after which it would be handed over to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
Mr Gimba Muhammed, acting director general of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, said many measures had already been taken to prevent the stolen items from leaving the country.
Muhammad noted, however, that most of the items were stolen from the country during the colonial era, as the current security situation of museums in the country would make it difficult to steal any items.
“There are a lot of measures to end the theft of items. There are agreements between countries.
“Recently, he was the head of ECOWAS’s Ministry of Culture, whose works were presented in ECOWAS countries to return some of these of our goods from any country in which they were found.
“If you find Nigeria in the Ivory Coast, they bring it, and if you find theirs here, we will give it back to them,” Muhammad said.
Mr Babatunde Adebiyi, legal adviser to the National Commission on Museums and Monuments, said plans were under way to build even safer museums by world standards.
“The museum as an institution has developed in Nigeria and is now better secured and I can guarantee that hardly anyone can steal items from Nigerian museums.
“We are arranging the construction of the museum in line with Western world standards like the one we are making efforts with the Edo state government to build, and even some foreign governments,” Adebiyi said.
Vanguard News Nigeria