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Netherlands returns Stolen Ife Terracotta Head To Nigeria

Written by Yusuf Zubairu

Government of the Netherlands has returned a unique terracotta head to Nigerian Embassy in the country in compliance with 1970 UNESCO Convention of prohibiting and preventing illicit import/export of cultural property.

The unique and rare terracotta head, believed to be from Ile-Ife in Nigeria, was intercepted by Dutch Customs at Schiphol Airport in 2018 in a package addressed to a Dutch national with forged accompanying import documents.

Nigerian authorities confirmed the authenticity of the object and formally requested its return.

The Embassy of Nigeria in the Hague in a statement signed by Charge d’ Affaires at the Embassy, Mr. Kabiru Musa on Wednesday in Abuja, said the Secretary-General of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science Mrs. Maryan Hammersma handed over the terracotta head in a ceremony on Nov. 2 in the Hague.

Mr. Kabiru Musa explained that the handing-over of the Ife terracotta head by the Netherlands was a watershed event in the existing cordial relations between the two friendly countries.

He said both countries reaffirmed commitment to provisions of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and also pledged to enhance and strengthen cooperation on cultural matters.

“The intercepted Terracotta object, which is approximately 16 cm tall, depicts a girl or young woman with her hair tightly braided in several buns.

“A bump on the top left-side of her head possibly represents an amulet braided into her hair. It is clear from the style of the object that it originates from Ife, Nigeria, and is expected to be returned to the country soon” the statement added.

According to the Charge d’ Affaires Officer the artifacts of this kind may be unearthed during archaeological excavations or when foundations for a new building was being dug, but were sometimes stolen from museums or illegally dug up and exported.

Mr. Kabiru Musa said In particular, Terracotta artifacts found in Ife date back to between the 12th and 15th century AD and was believed that they were used in altar rituals or as grave goods.

NAN quotes the statement as saying that the artistic and traditional characteristics of the item recovered in the Netherlands, in combination with the patterns on the face, are typical of Ife heads.” Objects of this quality are exceedingly rare”.