A call was made by the President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the on-going International Conference for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Areas.
The conference is organised by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the support of French and UAE Governments.
The call has gone out to world leaders and stakeholders in the culture and tourism sector to rise against cultural genocide.
The conference is to address the rising aggressions targeting humanity, cultural treasures and create an International Fund with 100 million Dollar seed fund to address the challenge.
The President, represented by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said “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 artefacts’’.
“Cultural genocide can actually be more devastating than ethnic genocide in the sense that there are heritages that bind humanity and become a 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.
He said the world is coming to the realisation that genocide could be in any form, including the 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.
“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 the destruction of its cultural heritage sites during armed conflict.
“One of our UNESCO declared world heritage sites has been affected in Adamawa state by Boko Haram insurgency, which went there and looted artefacts that dated back to several centuries.
“In Damaturu, Yobe, we have evidence of a vault that dates back to 8000 years that was also affected.”
“We have armed conflict in the Niger Delta and terrorism in the Northeast that has destroyed our heritage sites.
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.
The President underscored the need for deliberate efforts at early preparation to preserve cultural heritage even in times of peace.
“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.
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 a safe haven for the communities around the landscape because it is rugged up in the hill and people were taking refuge there.
“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.
Abdallah made journalists know that Nigeria stands to gain a lot from the conference because some of the cultural sites that suffered from the destruction would get attention.
She said the conference would ensure that deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is recognised as a war crime and perpetrators are punished as such.
Bokova said that the Fund to be created would have its headquarters in Switzerland and produce sustainable impetus supporting the implementation of short and long-term activities in safeguarding endangered cultural heritage.
He stated when fully established, the UNESCO International Fund for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage in Conflict Zones would assist in training and capacity building for Nigerians on preservation and conservation of cultural heritage.
Earlier, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova said the conference is crucial because “it brings a coalition of partners and connects the doors between security and humanitarian in cultural issues’’.