Nigeria attempts exclusivity law for Benin bronze, Nok Terracotta
By Tajudeen Sowole
If the the new museum laws being proposed in Nigeria scales through the country's legislative process and eventually get international recognition, it would be illegal for any one to produce or label any piece of art 'Benin Bronze' and 'Nok Terracotta' except such is produced in Nigeria.
THE proposed review took off on a lighter mood via a workshop in Abuja last week. But the aim is to strengthen Nigerian museums and power the campaign for repatriation of the country’s cultural objects in custody of foreign museums. It's a review of the 31 years old law of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
At Reiz Continental Hotel where stakeholders gathered for the workshop, the Director-General of NCMM, Yusuf Abdallah Usman, while advocating incorporation of new clauses into the law, hoped that the National Assembly would give the review all the necessary attention.
D-G, NCMM, Yusuf Abdallah Usman (left), Director of Culture, Alhaji Muktar Sanni Abdulkadir and
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Culture and Tourism, Hon Ben Nwankwo during the workshop in Abuja…recently
Also speaking at the workshop, House of Representatives Committee on Culture and Tourism, Ben Nwankwo, acknowledged the place of NCMM in “making or unmaking Nigeria,” particularly at this period when the country needs image rebirth. He assured that the House Committee would “give all the necessary support so that the Bill that comes out of this process will sail through and be passed by an Act of Parliament in no long a time.”
Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, who was represented by the Director of Culture, Alhaji Muktar Sanni Abdulkadir, noted that unlike nations that place much priority on protection of cultural objects and institutions, “we never went full hog of trying to make our laws provide for all exigencies.” He therefore urged participants “to fashion such a law with such close knit provisions that no offenders against our cultural objects, be Nigerian or foreigner, will walk away free.”
Participants at the workshop were drawn largely from the culture community and the academia. Among them were the former head of board, NCMM, Prof Olu Obafemi; former D-G, NCMM, Joe Eborieme; former D-G, National Gallery of Art (NGA) Paul Dike; and former Direction, National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, now Head of Dept. History, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Dr Sule Bello.
Observers of the culture sector had always noted that most of the subsisting Acts that set up government agencies and parastatals are obsolete, hence the need to review them. For example, a proposed NGA Bill – currently before the National Assembly – is meant to repeal and re-enact National Gallery of Art Act, Cap. N41 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and other related matters.” Last year, a public hearing on the bill was held inside the 028 Conference Hall, House of Representatives (New Building). Some of the crucial contents of the bill include establishment of Endowment Fund, Embellishment of Public Buildings and Structures with visual works of art and Payment of five percent Royalty to original artist for every visual work sold by a third party. For the NCMM workshop, it’s an opportunity to take a fresh look at the richness of Nigeria’s cultural objects abroad and in museums across Nigeria to re-energise the law. And perhaps, some peculiarity in Nigeria’s creative ingenuity, embedded in artefacts, could be explored to boost the people’s cultural experience.
Ahead of the NCMM deliberation, Abdallah Usman seemed to have articulated this much as he urged participants to consider his suggestions, which cover such areas as exclusivity for Nigerian native contents, revert of “irrelevant” collections (de-accessioning), better documentation of cultural objects, tougher sanctions for traffickers, preventing subconscious destruction of potential archaeological sites during road constructions and empowering rural dwellers through exchange of cultural objects for bank loans.
The D-G supported his argument with reference to EU’s decision that successfully restricted, via law, a brand name such as Champagne to the natives of its origin in France. He therefore argued that Nigeria could also make similar laws to protect the peculiarity of medium such as the Benin bronze and Nok Terracotta. “By European Union laws and Treaties, only the villages in this region can place the label Champagne on bottles. There are sparkling wines being made around the world, but none of these producers may call such Champagne, even other regions in France are not allowed to share the label.”
D-G, NCMM, Yusuf Abdallah Usman, making his presentation at the workshop
Usman asked: “is there no way we can take exclusive control of the use of the name and style of Benin Bronze, Nok Terracotta?” He stressed that the loose situation where works labeled ‘Benin bronze’ are being produced in Europe and other parts of the world is a loss to Nigeria.
Repatriation of cultural objects, according to Usman, needs an approach that includes facts such as identification of these artefcats. He offered a guide from the International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) 1995 Convention, which states that claimant country must give dates, period or location where a particular work was stolen or removed. He therefore––suggested that cataloguing, provenance and object ID cards could be included as a must in this proposed law. The NCMM, he explained, has already started a step in this direction, noting that “until recently, when we started cataloguing, most of our cultural objects were uncatalogued.”
And perhaps, the penalty in the subsisting Act, which states that an offender, on conviction, pays a fine of N2000 (as alternative punishment), is too weak to serve a deterrence purpose. The D-G, however, advised that “the new law should be made tougher.”
On preventive approach, which is less worrisome, the nation’s security agency can have special units on artefacts. Usman noted that countries, which have succeeded in curtailing illicit exportation of artefacts, , have special forces that handle the challenge of such trade. He cited an example of Italy which has art cop known as The Cultural Heritage Protection Unit of the Carabinieri. “Other nations have since started Art Forces, modeling them after the Italians.”
From a 1953 document known as Antiquities Ordinance, to the creation of Federal Department of Antiquity, the NCMM, was founded by Decree 77 of 1979. It currently has 36 museums, 63 national monuments and two UNESCO World Heritage Sites under its management.