Saturday, 10 July 2021

Return Of Benin Stolen Artefacts: Oba of Benin Fumes,Warns Gov Obaseki

 The Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, on Friday, warned that anyone, group, organisation, or government dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the looted artefacts from the Benin kingdom would be doing so against the will of the people of Benin kingdom.

Oba of Benin declared that the artefacts stolen from the Benin palace during the 1897 invasion of the then Benin Empire, known in history as the Benin Massacre of 1897, remained the property of the Benin people as represented by the palace.

‎ Oba Ewuare II gave the warning at a meeting with Palace Chiefs and Enigies (Dukes) on the repatriation of the looted artefacts, against the background that Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State had initiated moves to have the proposed returned artworks housed in a new museum to be known as Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA), to be built by the state government and a private initiative.

The Oba stressed 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.

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

The Benin monarch, whose address was read by the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, narrated that shortly after his ascension to the throne, he had several discussions with Governor Obaseki, on the plan for the Benin Royal Museum and the governor expressed his readiness to work with the Palace to actualize the laudable wish of the monarch’s late father, Oba Erediauwa.

“I made efforts and acquired additional plots of land from different families within the Adesogbe area near the present-day palace for this purpose.

“I was, however, surprised to read from the Governor’s letter to the Palace where reference was being made to the fact that a new Museum to be known as EMOWAA is now being proposed, which will be funded and executed through the vehicle of another body now referred to as Legacy Restoration Trust. When Governor Godwin Obaseki informed me in his correspondence of another implementation framework using the so-called Legacy Restoration Trust and the Edo Museum of West Africa Arts (EMOWAA), my response was that the setting up of another organization or legal entity in whatever form or guise will not be necessary nor acceptable.

“I informed him that Oba Ewuare II Foundation has been registered with the CAC and has worked out a framework for not only receiving the artefacts but also building a modern structure – The Benin Royal Museum – within the precincts of the Palace and that land has been secured for the building of the Benin Royal Museum under the supervision of the traditional institution.

“But for reasons best known to him the governor has gone against the understanding, given recent events. As a matter of fact, the people of Benin kingdom and other stakeholders especially the Benin Dialogue Group, had at different meetings endorsed the Benin Royal Museum to be built within the Palace, as well as endorsing the Oba Ewuare II Foundation for fundraising and other requisite administration processes,” the Oba said.

He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to take custody of the artefacts on behalf of the Palace until the Benin Royal Museum is ready for their collection.

The Oba further warned that “Under no circumstances should custody of our age-old artefacts be handed to any privately contrived entity like the Legacy Restoration Trust.”

He noted that the advocacy and demands for the return of the artefacts 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, even as he thanked the governor for joining the struggle and showing commitment to retrieve the stolen cultural heritage from Europe.

“While anticipating the return of the looted artefacts from Europe, I want to note that attempts to divert the destination or the right of custody of the artefacts are not in the interest of the people of the Benin Kingdom to whom the Palace of the Oba of Benin provides leadership. The looted artefacts 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 the state government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin kingdom. The right and only legitimate destination for the artefacts to be repatriated as already pronounced by my father is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum that will be sited within the precinct 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 Oba said.

The monarch declared he had a discussion with the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who is presently in Germany over the negotiation with the German government over the plans for the repatriation of the artefacts, adding that the minister assured him that the Federal government remain committed to getting an unconditional return of the artefacts and would guarantee their full custody for their onward transmission to Benin kingdom to the exclusion of any unauthorized private entities or third parties.

The Oba, while thanking the Federal Government for the commitment, said ‎”It now behoves the Federal Government to be the only level of government that can take custody of the artefacts with a view to transferring them to their original owner and their original place of abode, more so that there exist international treaties and laws guiding these processes.”

Consequently, the “Oba advised Governor Obaseki to review his approach of using the private vehicle of the Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd and the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) and to see how he can genuinely collaborate with the Oba Palace in accordance with our original understanding” and thanked the German Government for their interest and willingness to return the Benin artefacts.

The Oba, however, prayed for a fruitful resolution of the issue.

Meanwhile, a tripartite delegation of the Federal Government, making up of Governor Obaseki, Laid Mohammed and the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare, Edo State Government said had met with the German Government on the return of the artworks.

A press statement issued in Benin on Friday by Crusoe Osagie, Media Assistant to Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, said that the Federal Government, the Edo State Government and the Benin Royal Family had concluded a meeting in Germany towards the return of stolen artefacts to Edo State.

The meeting in Berlin, according to the statement, was attended by the German Minister of State for Culture, Professor Monika Grutters, and Foreign Minister, Mr Heiko Maas, while the Nigerian delegation included the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; the Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki.

“At the meeting, Lai Mohammed insisted on a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin artefacts domiciled in German museums, adding that the return should be whole rather than substantial. He said this in the wake of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make a ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts.

“Mohammed said the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the artworks, noting, “That they are known as Benin Bronzes, which is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin),” the statement added.

The statement also quoted Mohammed, at a separate meeting with Maas, reiterating that no condition should be attached to the return of the artefacts.

“He stressed the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes in addition to concluding all necessary negotiations in a very short term.

He added that the discussions between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the artworks was not the end of an era, but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy between both countries.

The Minister thanked Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and the African continent, adding “We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead.”

Governor Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation, also disclosed that a “transformational” museum is to be built in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.

The governor said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) Royal family and the people of Edo State.

Earlier, the German Minister of State for Culture, Professor Grutters, said “the way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past,” describing the issues as “an important personal concern”.

She assured the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from the beginning of 2022, noting that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation.

She said such a move indicated that both sides had moved beyond mere talks, saying all the Museums in Germany stockpiling Benin Bronzes had agreed to cooperate.

Other people on the Nigerian delegation were the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr Yusuf Tuggar and Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Professor Abba Tijani.

They were later taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace turned museum in the heart of Berlin that houses artworks from around the world.

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