Oba of Benin: Let’s Pray for Obaseki
⬤ We will not hand over our artefacts to any unauthorised private entities or third parties who want them for financial gain ⬤ FG sets 2022 deadline for return of all looted Bini bronze
As the nation awaits the return of hundreds of artefacts looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897 from Germany, the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, yesterday alleged that some unscrupulous people were moving to hand over the artefacts to unauthorised private entities or third parties and that it would be resisted.
This is coming on the heels of the August 2022 deadline set by the federal government for the German government to ensure full return of hundreds of artefacts looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897.
Obaseki had told THISDAY last Thursday that he was working on a tripartite arrangement, involving the federal and state governments, the Oba of Benin and a private trust that would manage the artefacts on behalf of the palace
But Oba Ewuare II, who addressed a press conference yesterday said he had agreed with the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki to house the artefacts in a palace museum and that the controversy around it was absolutely unnecessary.
He said: “I had a discussion with the governor about the need to return them to the palace. If he is here, I will ask him if that was not what we agreed upon. The international community must also know this.
“I will ask for prayer for the governor because it seems there are some unscrupulous people behind this arrangement, who might be doing it for financial gain.”
The Oba said he discussed with the Minister of Information and Culture on the direct repatriation of the artefacts to Benin Kingdom from where they were stolen.
He added that the federal government should take custody of the artefacts and not to hand it over to a private company or the state government, until the Benin Royal Palace Museum was built.
According to the Oba, "Thankfully just yesterday I spoke with the Hon. Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who is presently in Germany over the negotiation with the German Government over the plans for the repatriation of our artefacts. He assured me that the federal government remains committed to unconditional return of our artefacts and will guarantee their full custody for their onward transmission to Benin Kingdom to the exclusion of any unauthorised private entities or third parties.
“We once again thank the federal government for this commitment. It now behooves on the federal government to be the only level of government that can take custody of the artifacts 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."
The Oba said he also discussed the destination of the expected artefacts with Obaseki, stating that they reached an understanding that the Palace would be in charge, but that he was surprised by his recent position.
"It is pertinent to note that shortly after my ascension to the throne, I had several discussions with the governor on the plan for the Benin Royal Museum and he expressed his readiness to work with the Palace to actualise this laudable wish of my father. 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 organisation or legal entity in whatever form or guise will not be necessary or acceptable.
"I informed him that Oba Ewuare II Foundation has been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (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.
The Oba, who addressed Palace Chiefs, Enigies (Dukes) on the repatriation of the looted Benin artefacts, the Benin monarch strongly advised that anyone, group, organisation, or government – national and international that is dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the artefacts looted from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.
The Oba of Benin’s press conference was in reaction to a report yesterday by THISDAY that hinted at a possible showdown between him and the Edo State governor on the final destination of the looted artefacts.
Obaseki had told THISDAY that he was working on a tripartite arrangement, involving the federal and state governments, the Oba of Benin and a private trust that would manage the artefacts on behalf of the palace and the people.
“I intend to work with the Oba of Benin in an arrangement that would be led by the federal government,” he told THISDAY, accusing a palace chief, Elemai Oseni, of misinforming the revered monarch about his plans.”
The governor said he would straighten out things with the monarch on his return from Germany, where he and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, are currently negotiating and insisting on unconditional repatriation of the artefacts.
FG sets 2022 deadline for return of all looted Bini bronze in Germany
The federal government has set August 2022 deadline for the German government to ensure full return of hundreds of artefacts looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897.
The Minister of Information and Culture, made the demand on the artefacts’ repatriation at a roundtable with German Museum Directors and government officials in Berlin, Germany, on Thursday, according to a statement he issued yesterday.
Mohammed, who led a Nigerian government delegation for high-level talks with German government officials on the repatriation of the artefacts, said the agreement for the return of the Benin Bronzes from Germany 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,'' he told participants at the round-table. ''Full return should be completed in a year, not beyond August 2022," he said.
The minister said Nigerians were eagerly awaiting the return of the 1,130 Benin Bronzes, which are being held by various museums in Germany.
The German government is coordinating the return of the Benin Bronzes, which are mostly held by state and private museums. Of the 6,600 museums in Germany, less than five per cent are owned by the 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 artefacts.
He described the planned return of the artefacts as ''a lighthouse project'' and assured that the President would continue to follow the process keenly.
Work is set to begin on the building of a museum, tagged Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), in Benin City that will hold the artefacts when they are repatriated.
The Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who is also part of the Nigerian delegation, told the roundtable that the museum “is part of a transformation project” being planned to make Benin City a cultural hub.
The architect handling the museum project, Sir David Adjaye, made a presentation to the roundtable, during which he said the project would fuse the technology of ancient Benin Kingdom to that of the 21st century to get an organic pavilion that will boast of an auditorium, storage, as well as exhibition space, among other facilities.
Earlier in the day, 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.
Other members of the Nigerian delegation included the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar; the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Tijani; Benin Crown Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare and Mr. Phillip Ihenacho, Director of the Board, Legacy Restoration Trust.