Laws to protect Nigeria’s heritage, monuments Coming

Ogbunike Cave

The powers of the Federal Government as managers and regulators of heritage in Nigeria will be strengthened should the proposed amendment bill on monuments and heritage becomes law. Currently said to be with the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, the document tagged ‘A Private Bill To Amend The Enabling Act Of The National Commission For Museums and Monuments (NCMM)’, when passed into law, could place some institutions of governments, federal or state, on collision with NCMM over heritage sites, given the history of violations in Nigeria.

It will be recalled that the journey of the bill started in 2011 when NCMM, under its then Director-General, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, organised a conference in Abuja that got heritage professionals from across Nigeria to deliberate on the amendment.

The gathering tracked Nigeria’s heritage management history to a 1953 document known as Antiquities Ordinance, which led to the creation of the Federal Department of Antiquity.

From then came the foundation of the NCMM by Decree 77 of 1979. The last amendment of the NCMM law to date was in 2004.

According to the Legal Adviser, NCMM, Mr. Tunde Adebiyi, who disclosed that the bill was submitted to the National Assembly in October 2019, the Acting Director-General, Abdulkerim Kadir, has expanded the scope and ensured that the document reached the legislators for necessary procedure to translate it into law.

Across Nigeria, the NCMM manages 51 museums and 65 national monuments and sites. Over 100 proposed sites and monuments are waiting for designation. Quite a number of the 65 monuments and heritage sites have been vulnerable to vandalisation, and sometimes, outright destruction or removal. Most culpable in violations, ironically, are government establishments.

The subsisting law, before the current bill was drafted, has penalties for offenders. But one of the penalties in the subsisting Act, which states that an offender, on conviction, pays a fine of N2, 000, as an alternative punishment, has been described as too weak to serve a deterrence purpose.

Sites that are designated as cultural or heritage, as well as national monuments by home governments or UNESCO, are held in high value, even in international space and governance. In fact, it is considered as a war crime for anyone to attack monuments or heritage sites during armed conflicts.

President Donald Trump was warned when he threatened to attack Iranian cultural sites this year. The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, said both Iran and the US had signed a 1972 convention to protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage from attack during armed conflicts.

It would be recalled that, for the first time, in 2016, someone was convicted for war crime over cultural sites destruction.

The convict, an ex-Malian rebel, Ahmed al-Faqi al-Mahdi, was sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the destruction of nearly ten mausoleums, including the door of a mosque in the city of Timbuktu, in 2012.

In Nigeria, cultural sites, national monuments or heritage objects lack protection, even from some sections of government. For example, there was an allegation that Lagos State Government, under former Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, in 2016, was responsible for the demolition of the Ilojo Bar near Tinubu Square, Off Broad Street, Lagos Island.

The state government, to date, has not arrested or prosecuted the perpetrators of the crime, at least to prove that there was no official complicity in the demolition of the 161-year-old Ilojo Bar.

Designated as a national monument in 1956, the building, also called Olaiya House or Casa da Fernandez, was of Brazilian style designed-architecture.

Built in 1855, Ilojo Bar belonged to the Olaiya family of Lagos whose patriarch Alfred Omolana Olaiya was said to have bought it from the Fernandez family in 1933.

However, the proposed-bill seems to have prescribed penalties for state or FG agencies that may violate provisions of heritage laws.

In 12 parts, the bill include Establishment of the NCMM, Objectives, Functions, and Powers, Advisory Committees of the Commissions, Staff of the Commission, General Provisions and Guiding Principles For Heritage Resources Management, Excavations and Discoveries, Conservation and Security, Prohibited Transfer, Museum, Deductions From Budget And Tax To Aid Culture, Financial Provisions and Miscellaneous Supplementary. Specifically, some of the items listed recommend fines and punishments for violation of the law.

Under Part II number 17, Conservation and Security, the bill says: “Any person who acts or omits to act thereby causing the loss, destruction, damage or deterioration of a heritage resource shall be guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction.”

The bill, in prescribing punishments for violators, separates individuals from institutions.

It states that If the violator is “a natural person,” the fine “of N500,000 or to pay the cost of restoration (whichever is greater), or imprisonment for two years,” is enforced.

For individual or group with powers of government agencies described as “a juridical person,” fine of “N5 million and shall pay for the cost of restoration.”

The juridical person is understood to be someone that represents an institution or supposedly acting on behalf of government as the alleged case of the complicity of Lagos State Government over the Ilojo Bar demolition.

Also, Part V: Declaration of heritage resources as National Monuments recommends that the NCMM “shall before, during and after declaring a heritage resource a national monument constantly hold consultative meetings with the community or persons who are owners or in control of the site.” It adds further that any person that contravenes the provisions of sub-section (3) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction.

The recommended fines include: “If a natural person, to a fine of N1,000,000 or to paying the cost of restoration (whichever is greater), or imprisonment for three years; If a juridical person, to a fine of N10,000,000 and shall pay for the cost of restoration.”

The section also warns that “any entity that fails to comply with the stipulations in sub-section (4) of this section shall be liable to a fine of N10 million.”

Given the complexity of land matter control in Nigeria, which empowers the state governors, the proposed amendment bill appears like another source of the collision between federal and state governments. In his comment on the proposed bill, a UNESCO consultant on heritage issue, Prof Folarin Shyllon, during a chat a few days ago, noted that enforcing the law on a juridical person would be complex.

“If a state governor is involved as a juridical person, we all know that governors have immunity, so they cannot be prosecuted.”

While noting that a governor may be prosecuted after he no longer enjoys immunity, Shyllon, who has represented Nigeria at several UNESCO conventions, explained that the government would most likely be the juridical person and not its governor, in most cases.

Perhaps it is better for the system to decentralise Nigeria’s heritage management so that the federating units can also designate sites and structures as monuments as well as manage then.

Shyllon argued that the constitution already provides for it. Heritage or culture management, he said, “is on the con-current list of the constitution, which means the state governments can also declare their own monuments or sites, even build museums too.”

Apart from natural heritage, works of art that may, in the future, be declared as national monuments, have been pulled down by governments or defaced. Most affected are artists who create such monumental public space art.

While decrying the attitude of government and policy makers, a former chairman, Society of Nigerian Artists (Lagos), Olu Ajayi, argued that land ownership being within the powers of state governors should not be used against the preservation of cultural and heritage sites. “Governors control land, yes! But when it comes to monuments, the over ridding public interest takes premium value.” He explained,” classified cultural sites or monuments, museums, places of worship, shrines, public sculptures, e.t.c even in times of war, you don’t go near such places.”

The bill also touched on areas of excavations for cultural objects and heritage history. Quite a number of controversies, in the past, have been generated from activities of foreign archaeologists in Nigeria.

A part of the bill that deals with Excavation And Discoveries recommends National Policy on the protection of archaeological Heritage

It states: “The Nigerian nation hereby guarantees and ensures the protection of archaeological heritage under the conditions laid down by this Act; For the purpose of this Act, archaeological excavations means all research work carried out for the purpose of discovering artifacts of an archaeological nature or studying archaeological materials or sites, regardless of whether such research includes digging into the soil or exploring systematically the surface of the soil, or whether it is performed on the bed or in the subsoil of inland or territorial waters; the protection of the archaeological heritage assets signifies taking those scientific, management and technical measures likely to preserve the relics uncovered by chance or as a result of archaeological research until the classification of those assets or until the conclusion of archaeological research, by establishing duties for the owners, managers, or holders of rights over the lands that hold or held those archaeological heritage assets, as well as by controlling or forbidding human activities, including those previously authorised; all archaeological objects, paleontological material and meteorites found in Nigeria are the property of Nigeria; and The Federal, states, local governments, other authorities, bodies and persons shall be guided by the provisions in this Part and Schedule 12 of this Act in ensuring the protection of Nigeria’s archaeological heritage.”

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