US museums return trove of looted treasures to Nigeria Published duration 16 November 2019
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The return of looted artworks, including three paintings and a statue, from the National Museum of Nigeria (NAN) to the country where the artworks once belonged has provoked a bitter row over the rights of the former rulers of the country.
NAN director-general Chris Kwapong said he had been instructed to return the works to Nigeria after Nigeria’s government withdrew its claim to be the legal owner of the paintings.
He said the government wanted to return the artworks “to honour our people who have contributed to the country’s development in all spheres”.
The statement by the museum’s director general came as protests took place outside the museum on Sunday, after the museum reopened with the “art” in its collections.
The museum said on Saturday the works would be returned to Nigeria, where they were looted from the art museums following a military operation in the late 1970s.
In 2017, Nigeria’s government withdrew its claim to them, saying the paintings were stolen from an art gallery but were found by police after years of legal wrangling. But the museum had a legal battle over them following a Supreme Court ruling on 12 March.
Since then, the government had allowed the works to stay in the museum, saying they had only returned to the country after the museum had offered to return them to Nigeria to be used as teaching aids.
In a letter to the Nigerian ambassador in Italy, the museum director-general’s statement said the three NAN paintings were looted from the Art and Culture Museum in Dakar, Senegal in 1981 while the statue was stolen from a museum in Lagos, Nigeria in 1985.
“All three have been restored and returned to Nigeria after thorough restoration. Today, the National Museum of Nigeria will be the first to open the doors of the museums to display these masterpieces of world art treasures which were stolen from their owners,” he said. “We will be more than happy to share them with the Nigerian people… to honour our people who have contributed to the country’s development in all spheres.”
The museum director-general added that as it was not the museum’s legal right to return the art,