FG’ll Take Possession of Repatriated Stolen Benin Bronzes’
Posted by JUSTOURS News.
Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has stated the Federal Government’s position on the 1,130 Benin artefacts to be returned by Germany, saying that government at the centre will receive them because it is its duty by law to do so.
Mohammed made the clarification at the weekend during a news conference in Lagos. This may put to rest the controversy between Edo State government and Oba of Benin Palace on whose right it is to take custody of the artefacts.
Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki had announced that his administration was working on the building of a multimillion naira new museum called Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) which he said will house the artworks. But the Benin monarch would not hear of it.
The royal father, Oba Ewuare 11, called on the federal government to take custody of the objects pending when the Royal Benin Museum being built by the palace would be ready.
The minister said the federal government didn’t intervene in the saga as they had been exercising this right in cognisance of that culture that produced the artefacts.
“That is why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always involved both the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities,” he further explained.
The return of the artefacts, according to him, is being negotiated bilaterally between the federal governments of Nigeria and Germany in line with the international best practice and the operative convention and laws.
Nigeria is the entity recognised by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from Nigeria. The relevant international conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or sub-national groups.
“For example, the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1, defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation. This allows individual nations to determine what it regards as its cultural property. Nevertheless, the Nigerian state – through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments – has been working assiduously over the past years to repatriate our looted artefacts carried along our important traditional institutions and state governments,” the minister said.
For him, the federal government would not limit the battle to repatriating the stolen Benin bronzes but also work on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu, the arts of Bida, the arts of Igala, Jukun and others.
He pointed pointedly to government’s efforts to include the Igbo statues that were auctioned at Christie’s in Year 2020, it’s move to take the British and Belgian authorities to ICPRCP in 2019 over an Ife object as examples.
He dismissed worries on the repatriation of the Benin objects, saying that they are unconditional and would not come in bits.
“We agreed to have a definitive timeline for the repatriation of the artefacts because Nigeria is tired of an indefinite timeline. Therefore, we resolved that the agreement on the repatriation should be signed in December 2021 and the repatriation should be concluded by August 2022.
“I told the Germans that Nigeria is averse to attaching pre-conditions to repatriating the Benin bronzes. These are our properties; do not give us conditions for releasing them. We therefore agreed that the release will be unconditional, neither will it be staggered,” he further explained.
He continued, “At the meetings in Germany, I insisted, and it was resolved that provenance research on the Benin bronzes cannot and must not delay their return, since the origin of Benin objects is not a subject of dispute as such objects are only associated with the Benin Kingdom.
Concerning recording the artefacts in 3D formats for posterity and academic sake under the ‘digitalbenin’ project, of which Nigeria is a part, the minister said “I have told the Germans that this work of digitalizing the Benin bronzes must not delay the return of the artefacts and that issues related to copyrights ownership and other rights over the digitalized objects will be discussed soon.”
He said the meeting agreed to Nigeria’s proposal to use the repatriated artefacts and other works of art to inspire Nigeria’s Creative Industry towards realizing its high potential. For this and other purposes, he said, it was agreed that the Germans will facilitate the establishment of an academy in Nigeria.
On the warehouse where yet to be returned objects when repatriated will be kept, Mohammed said the government is working in partnership with organisations to provide museum facilities. Part of the agreement in Germany also included the setting up of Museum Academy and investing in infrastructure to preserve artefacts.
Director General National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Tijani, assured that the commission had the technical manpower to authenticate whether the returned objects are original or replica.
“By the time the objects are about to be repatriated, our technical team will be in Germany to verify their authenticity, “ he said. Contact us: just_tours @yahoo.com