On Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari called on world leaders and stakeholders in the culture and tourism sector to rise against cultural genocide. He made this statement in Abu Dhabi at the on-going International Conference for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas.
The conference, which was organised by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the support of French and UAE Governments, had in attendance several world leaders. It also addresses the rising aggressions targeting humanity, cultural treasures and creates an International Fund with 100 million Dollar seed fund to address the challenge.
Representing the president was the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who stressed that “it has become a pattern that major victims of armed conflict are no longer just the human being and property but also cultural heritages like artifacts.”
He said the world is coming to the realisation that genocide could be in any form, including deliberate annihilation of cultural symbols that binds people together and symbolises their existence.
“What we are witnessing all over the world today is cultural genocide.
“Cultural genocide can actually be more devastating than ethnic genocide in the sense that there are heritages that bind humanity and become force for unity.
“If you remove or destroy them, you are destroying humanity because it is not just about the people, but also about the minds and the Arts.
“It is no longer true that in times of war, safeguarding natural heritage is a luxury, it is now a necessity,’’ he said.
The President said that, like Syria, Afghanistan, Mali and others, Nigeria had its fair share of destruction of its cultural heritage sites during armed conflict.
“We have armed conflict in the Niger Delta and terrorism in the Northeast that have destroyed our heritage sites.
“One of our UNESCO declared world heritage sites have been affected in Adamawa state by Boko Haram insurgency, which went there and looted artifacts that dated back to several centuries.
“In Damaturu, Yobe, we have evidence of a vault that date back to 8000 years that was also affected.”
He said the activities of vandals destroying pipelines in the Niger Delta have also resulted in the flow of crude destroying the habitat and affecting the ecological and cultural sites in the area.
President Buhari also noted the need for deliberate efforts at early preparation to preserve cultural heritage even in times of peace.
Corroborating Buhari’s position, the Director-General, National Commission for Museum and Monuments, Alhaji Yusuf Abdallah, said one of the affected sites in the North East is the Sukur Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World heritage site in Madagali area of Adamawa.
“The extremist went into the hill. Initially the place was serving as safe haven for the communities around the landscape because it is rugged up in the hill and people were taking refuge there.
“The Boko Haram extremists discovered the place and went in there in December 2014. The community was able to repel them.
“Although, the integrity and authenticity of the site remains but there is always the fear of the community going back to the hill.
“The intangible component of the site is compromised because festival are not organised and other spiritual ceremonies are avoided because people do not want to congregate for fear of attack,’’ he said.