Nigeria seeks protection of cultural heritage during conflicts

Solomon Chung, Abu Dhabi

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has stressed the need for political will in order to sustain the efforts to protect cultural heritage in times of conflict.
He stated this in a message to the International Conference on the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflicts Areas, which rounded off in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, at the weekend.
Represented by Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, President Buhari stressed said ”I talk about political will because this will not be the first or only attempt that has been made to safeguard our cultural heritage during armed conflicts. There are historical precedents and existinglegal framework in this regard. The 1954 UNESCO Convention for the  Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflict and the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property readily come to mind here.”

Mohammed stated that Nigeria had joined all the Conventions aimed at dealing with the threat to and destruction of cultural property, and that the country is now in the process of domesticating them.

”It is absolutely important for all the countries of the world to subscribe to all these conventions. Countries must show their deepest concern about cultural genocide being manifested in the the activities that have led to the convening of the conference. In addition to joining the treaties, it must be emphasized that nations must adopt or
receive the Conventions into their domestic laws,” he said.

The Minister said Nigeria, like many other countries in the world, including Mali and Afghanistan, has recorded attacks on its cultural heritage, adding: ”One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, the Sukur Cultural Landscape in the North-eastern State of Adamawa, was not spared by the boko haram insurgency.”

While calling on States to declare as a war crime the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, he stressed the need to check the activities of those involved in the art trade as well as the universal or encyclopedic museums.

”The art trade, by which I mean auction houses – from the multi nationals like Christie’s, Sotherby’s and Bonhams to the lesser ones – must be held to greater accountability with regard to their patronage of individuals and groups who come to them with unprovenanced cultural heritage objects… The Universal Museums like the British Museum, the Louvre, the Prado and the Armitage should desist from purchasing
objects of uncertain provenance,” Mohammed said.
Nigeria also called for the sensitization of local communities across Africa, in order to raise their consciousness on the importance of protecting cultural heritage against marauders.

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in his own submission, said that during the crisis in Mali in 2012-2013, the great majority of historic manuscripts which were saved were housed by family libraries, adding that ‘‘these private individuals, knowing the inestimable value of these manuscripts, devised strategies that got them out of harm’s way.”

Mohammed said the $100 million Fund to be established for the purpose of protecting cultural heritage in areas of conflict should make provision for the sensitization campaign.

”For us in Africa, the pivotal position of the local people cannot be over emphasized. Therefore, the international fund to be established should also cater for the sensitization of local people. Another point linked to the issue of funding is that in Africa, we lag behind in electronic preservation of heritage monuments, sites and manuscripts. The fund should also cater for this in the Internet age,” he said.
At the end of the conference, which was attended by representatives of 40 nations, including several Heads of State and Government, the Abu Dhabi Declaration for the establishment of the International Fund for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Armed Conflicts and the creation of an international network of safe havens to protect
cultural property during armed conflict was adopted.