In June, 2014, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston reached an agreement with the National Commission of Museums and Monuments, Nigeria (NCMM), transferring to the Commission eight antiquities of Nigerian origin that were believed to have been the subject of illicit trafficking.
The MFA received the objects as part of the bequest of the late William E. Teel, who acquired all eight objects in good faith in the 1990s from dealers in the United States and Europe.
The antiquities include two Nok terracotta figures and a terracotta Ife head, archaeological materials that are known to be at high risk for theft and looting. The group also includes an ekpu, or ancestral figure dating to the 18th or 19th century, which was part of the collection of the Oron Museum, near Calabar, Nigeria, as late as the 1970s; and a bronze altar figure of about 1914, which was likely stolen from the Royal Palace in Benin City in 1976. Two terracotta heads produced in the Kingdom of Benin, and a group of Kalabari screen figures appear to have been illegally exported.
The Museum began the process of researching the provenance of the objects after receiving notification of the bequest. Recognizing that these eight objects were probably illegally removed from Nigeria in recent years, and that their export would have been regulated by Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments Act (chapter 242) of 1990, the MFA contacted the NCMM to seek its authorization before proceeding with their acquisition. The NCMM swiftly responded that the export of these objects had not been approved; and, indeed, that several documents which purportedly authorized their sale and export were inauthentic. Upon receipt of this information, the MFA began to arrange for the return of the objects to Nigeria.