Obaseki, Benin monarch’s face-off over the return of looted artifacts deepens

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The faceoff between the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, and Governor Godwin Obaseki over the return to Benin of the looted artifacts from Europe deepened on Friday, with the first-class monarch raising the alarm over attempts to divert the destination/right of custody of the stolen cultural heritage.

The eminent monarch declared at the well-attended meeting with palace chiefs and Enigies on the repatriation of the looted Benin artifacts that they (artifacts) were not the property of Edo State Government or any private corporate entity that was not the creation of Benin Kingdom.

He condemned the activities of the Obaseki-backed “so-called” Legacy Restoration Trust Limited and the “purported” establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA).

The traditional ruler called on the Federal Government to take custody of the artifacts on behalf of the palace of Benin kingdom until the Benin Royal Museum was ready for their collection, declaring that under no circumstance should custody of Benin kingdom’s age-old artifacts be handed to any privately-contrived entity like the Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.

He said in his palace: “I called this meeting to intimate you of the matter of the Benin artifacts in Europe at the verge of being repatriated. You may have heard about the recent activities of a group of individuals, who incorporated a company since January 2020 called Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.

It has become germane to note that the advocacy and demands for the return of the artifacts looted from the Benin Kingdom in 1897 have been going on for decades before the emergence of the incumbent Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki.

I must sincerely thank the governor for joining the struggle and showing commitment to retrieve our stolen cultural heritage from Europe.

While anticipating the return of the looted artifacts from Europe, I want to note that attempts to divert the destination or the right of custody of the artifacts is not in the interest of the people of Benin Kingdom to whom the Palace of the Oba of Benin provides leadership.

The looted artifacts awaiting repatriation from Europe are the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom, created by our ancestors and forefathers within the traditional norms and rites of the kingdom. They are not the property of Edo State Government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin Kingdom.

The right and only legitimate destination for the artifacts to be repatriated, as already pronounced by my father, is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum that will be sited within the precincts of the Palace of the Oba of Benin from where they were looted, and also the proper traditional institution that is also the custodian of all the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom.

The Palace, therefore, strongly advises that anyone, group, organisation or government – national and international, that is dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the looted artifacts from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.”

The first-class monarch also declared that there was no alternative native authority and custodian of the cultural heritage of the Benin kingdom outside the Oba of Benin, as constituted by the royal palace.

He said: “I do not believe that the move by a privately-registered company, the Legacy Restoration Trust Limited and the purported establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) are in consonance with the wishes of the people of Benin Kingdom.”

FG sets August 2022 for full return of 1,130 stolen bronzes
The Federal Government says the full return of the 1,130 stolen Benin Bronzes from Germany should be completed by August 2022.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed proposed the one-year time limit during a round-table with German Museum Directors and government officials in Berlin, Germany.

A statement on the round-table was made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) yesterday by Mr Segun Adeyemi, Special Assistant to the President (Media) in the Office of the Minister.

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As contained in the statement, the minister is leading a Nigerian government delegation for high-level talks with German government officials on the repatriation of the artifacts.

Mohammed said Germany had agreed to repatriate the antiquities which were looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897, and the agreement for the return must be signed by December 2021.

“For us, the most important issue in the road map is the signing of the agreement and the date of return.

We won’t move forward if we don’t have a clear date on signing and return, and full return should be completed in a year’s time, not beyond August 2022,” he told participants at the round-table.

Mohammed said Nigerians were eagerly awaiting the return of the 1,130 Benin bronzes, which were being held by various museums in Germany.

He said the German Federal Government was coordinating the return of the Benin bronzes, mostly held by state and private museums.

He noted that of the 6,600 museums in Germany, less than five per cent are owned by the Federal Government.

Speaking at the roundtable, the Secretary of State in the German President’s office, Mr Stephen Steinlein, said the President was happy with the progress made so far on the planned repatriation of the artifacts.

He described the planned return of the artifacts as ”a lighthouse project” and assured that the President would continue to follow the process keenly.

The Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki, who is also part of the Nigerian delegation, told the roundtable that work was set to begin on the building of a museum that would hold the artifacts when they were repatriated.

Obaseki said the building tagged “Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), located in Benin City, was part of a transformation project being planned to make the city a cultural hub.

As contained in the statement, the architect handling the museum project, Sir David Adjaye, made a presentation to the roundtable.

Adjaye said the project would fuse the technology of ancient Benin Kingdom into that of the 21st Century to get an organic pavilion that would boast an auditorium, storage as well as exhibition space, among other facilities.

The statement also revealed that the Nigerian delegation met with representatives of Ethnologisches Museum Berlin-Dahlem, where a select number of Benin bronzes, some of them dating back to the 16th century, were on display.

Members of the delegation as listed in the statement included the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr Yusuf Tuggar, the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Tijani.

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