By Odutola Christian Amans
People can clearly defined their direction in life based on adequate knowledge of their past. Evidence of these past can serve as contest or indices to measure present day success of any community and also positively influence their future.
The past evidence of human existence and activities manifests in several forms like historical objects, sites, flora and fauna, structures and practices. They are collective endowment of human existence or unique activities within a cultural area over a span of time, which bear exceptional testimony of their culture, tradition, religion and belief. They form the basis for man existence and living, transferred directly or indirectly from generations to generations. As a fundamental reference for restructuring or creative basis for the progress of a community, they provide symbolic identity information for community in the area of resolution of communal conflicts; the excavated resources can guide in this respect. According to International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), these properties are not own solely by those that are geographically connected to them, but the world at large. That is why ICOMOS as advisory body to United Nation for Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), their interest is concerned with; culture, cultural groups and collective responsibility for the care and safeguarding of significant attributes, meanings and values of heritage properties. ICOMOS as a body therefore advocate for mutual care and maintenance of heritage resources globally.
However these resources are still threatened by formidable phenomena of damage and destruction as a result of social and economic conditions of nations where they are situated. As cultural receptacle, their deterioration or disappearance no doubt will constitute harmful impoverishment of the nation where they are domiciled.
In view of these dangers and threats, it is incumbent on all stakeholders to participate and ensure that effective and active measures are taken for their protection, conservation and preservation. These efforts are manifested in international, national and local bodies. In the international level, the UNESCO world heritage committee through its various convention concerning cultural and natural heritage resources and operational guidelines has been able to address;
*The protection of the world cultural and natural heritage and consequent need to ensure that it applies to heritage in all its diversity, as an instrument for the sustainable development of all societies through dialogue and mutual understanding. i.e the UNESCO 1973 convention.
*The protection of these shared heritage in the event of armed conflicts i.e Hague convention of 1954
* The protection of underwater cultural heritage and protection of the tangible heritage of 2001.
Nigeria became signatory to the 1972 convention in the year 1974. This was fulfilled through the instrument of ratification; pledging to protect her cultural and natural heritage. National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has hitherto be the statutory body by law to represent Nigeria as a state party to the UNESCO conventions in this regard. The commission make provisions for the declaration of heritage sites as national monuments and ensures stiffer penalties for the destruction, unauthorized alteration and removal of monuments in Nigeria.
Nigeria as a state party is demonstrating her efforts in fulfilling her pledge to protect her cultural and natural heritage. This is evident in the conservation and protection of the already 65 declared national monuments, (2) world heritage sites and (100) proposed national monuments in commemoration 100years of Nigeria existence.
UNESCO has been able to establish that every state party must be able to put prudent management policies in place in such a manner that heritage resources retain their values and relevance and satisfy the current needs of the host community as well as guarantee the transmission of these values and relevance to the future generations. Successful implementation of these policies is only possible with the involvement of primary stakeholders. At the local level of protection of these resources, the role of the primary stakeholders is inevitable. The group of people in this category are the dwellers that domiciled at the heritage resource location. Their main weapon in protecting cultural properties is their inherent cultural practices and traditional laws. These practices have directly or indirectly illustrate the limitations of Western-derived legislation in the preservation of Africa heritage sites, particularly Nigeria.
The strength of customary law in protecting heritage properties had made it imperative that legislative bills in this regard should always recognize these practices and traditions of the concerned community where these resources are located. This is important because it supports UNESCO requirements for a state party to involve local communities in the management, planning and implementation strategies.
Development of these heritage resources are achievable and sustainable only when insight into local knowledge and domestic cultural traditions are appreciated and incorporated into a country’s mainstream development policy strategies.
Expressing the values, relevance, significance, condition and complexity of a site involves putting some sensitive features in place. Some of this relevant features involves;
Delineation and Boundaries Information of the Site: These features guarantee effective protection of the properties. Technical, part of these delineation is referred to as the buffer zone. It is an area that surrounds a site which has complimentary legal and customary restrictions placed on the site. It gives an added layer of protection to any historical significance of a site.
But it is unfortunate that cultural sites in the third world countries; like west Africa countries are experiencing terrible encroachment challenges because of inadequate buffer zone in place. This challenge is as a result of the crisis from land struggle for social development in the urban metropolis where some this heritage sites are located.
Issuance of Fresh Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to primary stakeholders of Scheduled Heritage Properties: A property can attain the status of a scheduled heritage when the original owner has agreed to cede the property to the government after satisfying some official agreement with legal backing. This prerequisite is usually done at the initial stage to give the property that status. Lack of issuance of fresh MOU to a subsequent newly assumed head owner of the heritage property when the need arises could encourage unwanted distortion in authenticity and integrity of heritage property. A fresh MOU which should include the ceding agreement/legal information as regards transmission of the property to the government should be issued as the need may be to discourage unwanted activity that would pose danger to the property itself.
This idea is important to avoid hostility from the owner of the property to the government monument officials during their frequent visit to the monument. MOU will serve as a tool to refresh any heir to the property the stake of the government to it.
Cognizance of the activities around heritage properties have shown that the primary owner of the heritage property are in the best position to discourage development and changes might negatively impact the properties. The idea of MOU is to constantly remind the primary owner of the official agreement backing the ceding of the property to the government.
African countries including Nigeria inherited the colonial systems of heritage management. Such system did not take into account how local communities perceived and valued their heritage. The outcome is that formal administrative mechanisms for enforcement were adopted with no regard or consideration for traditional protection and enforcement system. It is not surprising, therefore that communities felt alienated from their cultural heritage and were seemingly no longer interested in the maintenance. Adopting this mechanism would make local communities associate more closely with their heritage. Those located in the remote areas would no longer be far from watchful eyes since locals would be safeguarding them.
Mutual interest in the preservation and protection of cultural heritage is necessary to avoid; Loss of income from cultural tourism that is regarded as an integral and important element of economic, social development policy and potential contribution to overall development of a country and moreover to sustain emotional and psychological loss of connection to ancestor and cultural values.
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