The Nation (Nigeria)

FG will take possession of looted Benin bronzes, says Lai Mohammed

- By Ozolua Uhakheme Assistant Editor Arts

MINISTER of Informatio­n and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohamtice med, has said that the Federal Government will take possession of the 1,130 Benin artefacts to be returned by Germany because it is its duty by law to do so.

The Informatio­n Minister disclosed this in Lagos, Saturday at a news conference in Lagos.

He said that the Federal Government 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 added.

This will put to rest the seeming controvers­y between the Edo State government and the Oba of Benin Palace on whose right it is to take custody of the artefacts.

Recently, the Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki announced that his administra­tion was working on the building of a multimilli­on naira new museum called Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA), to house the objects, an idea that didn’t go down well with the Benin monarch.

Reacting, the Benin monarch, 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 that in line with the internatio­nal best pracand the operative convention­s and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterall­y between the Federal Government­s of Nigeria and Germany.

Nigeria is the entity recognized by internatio­nal law as the authority in control of antiquitie­s originatin­g from Nigeria.

He noted that the relevant internatio­nal convention­s treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individual­s or subnationa­l 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,” he said.

Mohammed disclosed that 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 among others.

He cited government’s efforts to include the Igbo statues that were auctioned at Christie’s in Year 2020, and the fact that the FG took the British and Belgian authoritie­s to ICPRCP in 2019 over an Ife object as examples.

He assured that the repatriati­on of the Benin objects are unconditio­nal and would not be staggered.

On the definite time line for release of the artefacts, the Minister said: “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.”

Continuing, he said: “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.

On the German authoritie­s’ proposal to return a ‘substantia­l part’ of the Benin bronzes, I have asserted the stand of the Nigerian government by demanding full and unconditio­nal release of the artefacts.

“Concerning recording the artefacts in 3D formats for posterity and academic sake under the ‘digitalben­in’ project, of which we are a part, 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 disclosed that 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. According to him, for this and other purposes, it was agreed that the Germans will facilitate the establishm­ent of an academy in Nigeria.

Allaying the fears of where to warehouse these objects when repatriate­d, Mohammed said the government is working in partnershi­p with organisati­ons to provide museum facilities. He added that 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.

 ?? Photo: NAN ?? •From left: Special Assistant to the President attached to the Office of the Minister of Informatio­n and Culture, Mr Segun Adeyemi; Minister of Informatio­n and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; and Director-general, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Isa-tijani, during a news conference on the repatriati­on of Nigeria’s stolen artifacts, in Lagos yesterday.
Photo: NAN •From left: Special Assistant to the President attached to the Office of the Minister of Informatio­n and Culture, Mr Segun Adeyemi; Minister of Informatio­n and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; and Director-general, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Isa-tijani, during a news conference on the repatriati­on of Nigeria’s stolen artifacts, in Lagos yesterday.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Nigeria