agreement between Archaeological Association of Nigeria, and Nigerian National Commission and Goethe University

Arts/media consultant Tajudeen Sowole has reported a ‘truce‘ between the stakeholders(1) in the controversy over German archaeologists’ work in Nigeria(2); the issue ‘appears to have been resolved’. I do not want to be undiplomatic, and thereby to endanger that truce; but, for the record, I do want to clarify the nature of the truce.


If you’re new to this saga, I have previously covered the Archaeological Association of Nigeria’s (AAN) original accusations of German archaeologists’ looting, the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University (JWGU) archaeologists’ initial defences, the AAN’s repetition of the allegations, and AAN President Dr. Gundu’s comments to me.

Stakeholders’ meeting and agreement

Affirmation of professional practice

The Director-General of the (Nigerian) National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, confirmed a history of ‘major successful excavations‘ and post-excavation analysis; Usman specified due diligence in inspections before the granting of temporary export permits, and during conservation and analysis in Germany.

Usman did state that, since he took over in 2009, the NCMM had improved the ‘legal and administrative framework, community involvement and capacity building’; but he didn’t specify any faults in any of the systems.

Reasonable requests

According to Sowole, Dr. Gundu ‘substantiated his claims of illegal excavations‘ by ‘urg[ing] the NCMM to ensure’ that JWGU collaborated with Nigerian universities, ‘particularly Ahmadu Bello University’, which is in the Nok region, and which is Dr. Gundu’s institution; and by proposing that that ‘part of the money made during the exhibition should be ploughed back to the community’ (which is certainly a reasonable and justifiable expectation, but clearly irrelevant to his allegations of archaeologists’ responsibility for looting).

Unreasonable insinuations

So, Dr. Gundu did not, in any way, substantiate his claims of German and/or Nigerian archaeologists’ complicity or involvement in illegal excavations. In fact, Gundu went further and implied that there was also a risk of the NCMM exporting artefacts for analysis and the JWGU ‘returning… fake[s]‘.

Agreement on the unchallenged points of pre-existing agreement

Obviously, it is good that the stakeholders reached an agreement; but it is difficult not to dismiss the agreement as an empty gesture. The stakeholders affirmed the importance of:

  • ‘inscription of [the] Nok area as a World Heritage Site‘ (as was already intended, but as-yet-unrealised, under the National Tourism Master Plan);
  • reviewing the antiquities law and the constitution of the NCMM (as would be part of the normal process of cultural heritage management);
  • the return of artefacts under analysis in Germany (as was already agreed, and had already been achieved for completely conserved and analysed artefacts); and
  • community and state cooperation to suppress ‘illegal mining and illicit trafficking of Nok pieces’ (as should be the case in the normal process of cultural property protection; but, naturally, the greater the cooperation, the better).


1: The meeting at Nok was attended by the President of the Archaeological Association of Nigeria (AAN), Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu; the Director-General of the (Nigerian) National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman; archaeologists of Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Profs. Peter Breunig and Nicole Rupp; archaeologists of the University of Jos, Profs. Ibrahim Jamews and Joseph Jemkur; representatives of the Ham community (President of Ham Community Development Authority, Monday Tela Bako; Kpop Ham, His Highness Illiya Bako Bying H. Dura; (representative of His Royal Highness, Kpop Ham, Mallam Danladi Gyet Maude) Kpop Ham, Mallam Yaro Wakilin; archaeologist Yohanna Nock; (Kpop Ham and) Wakilin Jaba representative Elisha Buba Hakimi/Elisha Buba Yero; and Nok representative Wakin Sarkin Jare); and the head of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST), Yashim Isa Bitiyong.

2: Weekly Trust journalist Tadaferua Ujorha studied the controversy too, and detailed the process of the research. Ujorha’s interviewees – JWGU Profs. Breunig and Rupp, NCMM DG Usman, (multinational corporation in construction) Julius Berger’s Public Relations Officer Clement Iloba, and Wakilin Jaba representative Elisha Buba Yero – all communicated their institutions’/communities’ intentions and practices well.

2 Responses to “agreement between Archaeological Association of Nigeria, and Nigerian National Commission and Goethe University”

  1. However, I did find a report of the French Culture Ministry ‘borrow[ing]‘ a sixteenth-century work of poetry by Ahmed Baba from Mali, then ‘return[ing] photocopies’; so Gundu’s fears may have some general foundation (not connected with the Frankfurt team).

    Duval Smith, A. 1998: Treasures of Timbuktu being plundered. Moscow-Pullman Daily News, 25th-26th April, 8A.



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