On Tuesday, Mexico returned an ancient bronze statue to Nigeria, after intercepting a plot to illegally bring it into the country.
“A beautiful bronze piece, and being of Nigerian heritage, it should return to its home,” said Diego Prieto, the head of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
Originating from Nigeria’s south-western city of Ife-Ife, the valuable artefact was eventually seized by custom officers at the main airport in Mexico City. Ife Ife is known for being the ancient spiritual home of the Yoruba kingdom. The city is internationally renowned for its naturalistic royal and religious sculptures, made in bronze, stone and terracotta.
“Specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History determined that it was a piece of Yoruba origin,” explained Prieto. The stolen 6th-century sculpture depicts a man in traditional clothing holding an instrument and sitting with his legs crossed.
Mexican officials handed the valuable piece back to Nigeria’s ambassador to the country, Aminu Iyawa, in a conference held in Mexico this week. Both countries stressed the importance of the 1970 UNESCO Convention during the meeting, which is an international treaty that seeks to combat the illegal trade of cultural items.
Speaking on behalf of the Mexican government, deputy secretary of foreign affairs Julián Ventura Valero said, “we oppose the illegal commercialisation of archaeological pieces, an important cause of the impoverishment of the cultural heritage of the nations of origin, since it undermines the integrity of cultures and, therefore, of humanity.”
The Mexican government credited its “strong bilateral ties and channels of dialogue” with Nigeria for the ease with which the smuggled sculpture has been returned.
In an official statement, they also asserted that “the illicit trafficking of cultural property is one of the main causes of the impoverishment of cultural heritage. It deprives the world of valuable information about the origin, context and nature of these objects.”
No details have yet been released relating to the identification and capture of the smugglers.