In the absence of a return agreement between Nigerian officials and a Belgian antique dealer, British police have kept a stolen Nigerian artifact in their possession.
What’s the link to the Belgian?
A bronze cast head from the former Ife kingdom, the Ife Head is thought to be about 700 years old. Unaware, at the time, that the piece was taken from Nigeria, the local Belgian antique dealer was reported to have purchased the artifact on November 14, 2007, at a Belgian government-organized auction for seized works of art.
Why is it not being released to its rightful owner?
The Belgian dealer and Nigerian officials are said to be in dispute over payment for the art piece. According to the BBC, a Nigerian delegation met the dealer in 2019 for talks about the return of the piece, but no agreement was reached as the dealer was reported to have demanded payment of up to €5m, a demand the Nigerian delegation rejected.
Why is the British Police a third party in this?
The dealer was reported to have lost possession of the piece to the British authorities in 2017 while attempting to sell it through Woolley and Wallis, who handed it to the British authorities. Now, the British police reiterate their neutrality despite having confirmed that the piece originated from Nigeria. The UK has suggested that the Belgian government compensates the dealer after making the mistake of selling it in 2007, but there’s been no word from the Belgian authorities.
According to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), more than 5,000 artifacts were stolen from Nigeria at various times, and are currently being held in Germany, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and other individual museums across the globe.