While the controversy still rages on between the Edo State government and The Oba of Benin over who takes possession of the stolen artifacts expected to be returned to the country from Europe, the federal government has stepped in and said it is only her that is recognized by the operative conventions and international laws to receive and keep the historical arts.
The federal government made this known to journalists through the Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed on Saturday, saying the return of the artifacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany only.
Controversy over whose right it is to keep and own the stolen rich cultural arts of the old Benin Kingdom has dominated the media space recently, with the Oba of Benin Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II expressing displeasure that some groups of individuals (referring to the government of Edo State, led by Obaseki) are using illegal routes under a private museum initiative to negotiate the recovery of stolen Benin artworks on behalf of the throne. The Oba, when visited by Andreas Görgen, the Director-General of the Directorate of Culture and Communications of the German Embassy in Nigeria to lead a top German delegation on an assessment tour of the Oba’s palace in Benin recently, had said that “These artifacts should be returned to the original owner, the kingdom palace, the artifacts have deep spiritual, traditional and cultural significance to the kingdom”
Meanwhile, the Governor, Godwin Obaseki on the other side had earlier proposed the launch of an independent trust called “Legacy Trust”, which he said will constitute the Royal Family, Edo State Government, the Federal Government, and international stakeholders, to receive and hold the Benin Kingdom cultural arts to make it retain its global value.
However, at a news conference on the efforts by the federal government to repatriate looted artifacts from around the world on Saturday in Lagos, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, disclosed that
“The Federal Government is aware of the widely-reported controversy when on who will take possession of the Benin Bronzes when they are returned from Germany.
“Let me state clearly here that, in line with international best practice and the operative Conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany.
“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 subnational groups.’’
While citing the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1 which defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation, the minister however said “What we are saying in essence is that the federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws.We have always exercised this right in cognisance of that culture that produced the art works.”
“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.”
The minister said further that his ministry was also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu and the arts of Bida, Igala, Jukun and more.
Regarding Germany leading the way in cooperating with Nigeria’s efforts to recover all African artifacts around the world, the minister says“As I said during the meeting in Berlin, 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”.
In conclusion, Mr. Lai Mohammed said Nigeria is proposing an archeological training from Germany which is expected to birth from the forgoing repateration talk. He said
“The Nigerian side and the German side agreed to Nigeria’s proposal to use the repatriated artefacts and other works of art to inspire Nigeria’s Creative Industry towards realising its high potential. For this and other purposes, it was agreed that the Germans will facilitate the establishment of an academy in Nigeria,’’
It would be recalled that prestigious Benin artifacts were largely looted from the Oba of Benin palace during the invasion of 1897 by British and other foreign nations, and the minister said his ministry had been working over the past years to repatriate looted artefacts in partnership with traditional institutions and state governments.
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