British police have continued to hold on to a stolen Nigerian artefact as Nigerian officials and a Belgian antique dealer fail to reach an agreement on its return.
A local Belgian antique dealer who acquired the artefact on November 14, 2007, at an auction for confiscated art items organised by Belgian authorities was unaware at the time that the artefact was stolen from Nigeria, especially as it was sold by the Belgian government.
The antique dealer now wants to be paid before releasing the bronze head for transfer back to Nigeria but Nigeria national museum authorities will not pay for what was originally theirs and stolen from them.
In 2017, the dealer tried to sell the head through Woolley and Wallis, who passed it on to the British police.
In 2019, the police took the head to the British Museum, where curators confirmed its authenticity by comparing it with a cast that was made in the late 1940s. “I feel confident it’s genuine,” said an expert who saw it.
Despite confirming its origin, the British police insist they are neutral.
“Whatever our private preference, we can’t take property from an individual,” BBC quoted an official as saying, adding that “this has to be resolved between the Nigerian government and the dealer.”
“Everyone agrees this piece was stolen,” said another British official, “but has the Belgian dealer, in legal terms, done anything wrong? He bought it at a government sale.”
The UK has suggested that the Belgian government, having made the error of selling the head in 2007, pays off the dealer.
The Belgian government has yet to make any public comments on the artefact.
The Ife Head is a bronze cast head from the old Ife kingdom which is believed to be about 700 years old and about 20 of them is believed to still be in existence.