One of the most iconic artworks from the old Benin Kingdom (a 16th century ivory mask, pictured here) stolen during the British “Punitive Expedition” of 1897 has now been put up for sale by a private “collector” in London for almost to 5 million pounds. (The details are here).
I don’t know what is more disgusting, calling a stolen artwork a “collected” artwork or offering same for sale when the real owners have spent years advocating for its return. This particular art piece is only one of the many that have been in the possession of the British museum for decades. This one is peculiar for being in private hands of descendants of the British soldiers who looted Benin and made away with its treasures.
A Nigerian activist Kayode Ogundamisi is now calling for signatories to a petition to stop the sale, and get the iconic mask (forcibly taken away during the dark days of colonialism and exploitation in Nigeria) returned to the country, or something. Please find details of the appeal here and see how you can help.
Today, I want to tell you about Wusasa. I never did tell you about my visit to that little village of one square mile, three miles outside Zaria City in Kaduna state, Nigeria. I was there in July.
This set of pictures is that of the very first church in Northern Nigeria, according to sources, built by missionaries after they were evicted from the Islamic Zaria City not just by the Emirate council, but by the British administrators who did not want to offend the indigenous Northern rulers and upset Indirect Rule.
Due to this policy, development in the region became forever stymied with Wusasa rather than Zaria producing the many firsts in indigenous breakthroughs in Northern Nigeria. The first Northern Nigerian to qualify as a medical doctor (Dr. R.A.B Dikko), the first Nigerian pharmacist (Mallam S.M.Audu), pediatrician (Professor I.S. Audu), BSc in Economics (Amb John M. Garba), among very many impressive others were born, lived in, or educated in Wusasa. Even General Yakubu Gowon (the first Northern Nigerian Head of State) was raised in the city, and the tour guide showed us his father’s house right behind the Wusasa church.
The church (St. Bartholomew’s) was built with local materials and by local architects. It has been attacked twice by Islamic extremists during the Northern Nigerian riots, and was even set on fire during those times. The mud materials of the building however withstood the assault, and even got stronger. Oh, one more thing: Prince Charles of Britain visited the church a few years ago and has been instrumental to its rennovation. Now the church has a rug over all the concrete seats, and dozens of fans on its walls. But it retains much of its outward appearance as the oldest church building in Northern Nigeria, and an important one as well to the history and development of the region.
Special thanks to Zainab Shelley who took me there, and a pastor of the church who gave us a detailed and guided tour on arrival.