Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, petitioned the federal government, after being repatriated from Europe, to temporary custody of 1,130 Benin stolen artifacts, in the context a of the dispute for their shelter.
The Benin Palace and the government of Edo State were on the front lines of the artifacts. Although the palace wishes to save the artifacts held inside the palace in the Benin Royal Museum, the State government wants the artifacts conserved at the projected Western African Arts Edo Museum.
However, Oba Ewuare II added that there was no controversy on the matter at the world news conference on Friday at the palace since there was consensus that the artifacts would be located in the Royal Museum.
However, on Friday the governor Godwin Obaseki referenced the Government House in a press statement, saying in Germany that the artifacts would be housed in Benin as part of a new cultural area in the city.
The artifacts were supposedly plundered by the British led by Captain Philip during the conquest of the Benin Kingdom in 1897.
When Oba Ewuare II addressed his palace on Friday, she stressed that the Benin Royal Museum is the right and only lawful place for all repatriation artifacts.
“Today (Friday), I convened this meeting to tell you about the Benin artifacts in Europe about which I’m certain in the past few weeks you’ve heard and read. You may have also heard of a group of people incorporating a firm named Legacy Restoration Trust Limited since January 2020.
“It is now Germanic to note that for decades before the emergence of Mr. Godwin Obaseki, governor of the State of Edo the advocacy and the requests for the return of the artifacts pillageed out of the Benin Kingdom in 1897 took place. It is with sincerity that I applaud the Governor for his commitment to Europe’s recovery of our stolen cultural treasure.
“With anticipation of the return from Europe of the looted artifacts, I would like to remark that it is not in the interests of the people of Benin Kingdom to whom Benin Oba Palace is responsible, attempting to divert the purpose or custody of the artifacts. The plundered artifacts awaiting repatriation from Europe are the cultural patrimony of the Kingdom of Benin established under ancient kingdom standards and rites by our ancestors and forebears.
“They are not state government property or private company owned by any non-Benin Kingdom foundation. It is a museum that is situated in the area of the Oba Palace, where the artefacts are being pillaged and which is the proper traditional institution that is also the guardian of the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom, and the only legit destination of the items that my father already pronounced repatriating is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum.
“The Palace therefore highly advise anybody, group, organisation, or government – national and international – interacting, at their own risk and against the wishes of the Benin Kingdom people, with any organization or artificial group in the process of retrieving their looted artifacts.”
Oba Ewuare II said he did not believe that a private company named Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd. was in line with the wishes of the citizens of Benin and the alleged creation of the Museum for West African Arts in Edo, adding that he held several discussions with Obaseki about the Benin Royal Museum plan after its accession to the throne.
The monarch told the governor that he was prepared to cooperate with the palace to refresh its late father’s wishes, adding that he had obtained additional plots of land for the construction of the Royal Museum in Benin from various households in the Adesogbe neighborhood near the palace.
The king stated, however, that he was startled to read Obaseki’s letter to the palace proposing a new museum, and financed and executed by Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd.
He said, “I informed (Obaseki) him that the Oba Ewuare II Foundation was registered in the Corporative Affairs Commission and established a framework not just for receiving artifacts but also for the construction of a modern structure – the Royal museum of Benin – in the precincts of the castle.
“But for his best-known motives, in the light of recent events, the governor has been contrary to understanding. The Benin Royal Museum, which is being erected inside the palace and the Oba Ewuare 2 foundation for fundraisers and other required administration procedures was approved at many meetings by the people of the Kingdom and other stakeholders, particularly the Benin Dialogue Group.
“We would like to use this medium to urge the Federal Government on behalf of the palace, to take care of these objects until they have been ready for collecting by the Benin Royal Museum. The custody of our old artifacts should under no circumstances be transferred to any private body such as Legacy Restoration Trust.”
Oba Ewuare II recommended to Obaseki that he reassess his strategy to employing Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd’s privately owned vehicle and the Western African art museum Edo, as we understood, and see how Obaseki “can actually engage with the Oba Palace. We congratulate the German administration for their interest in and desire to repatriate the artifacts of Benin,” declared the monarch.
“Perhaps, on our side, but on the part of the State Governor Obaseki, for whom I recommended we should pray, there is a communication bridge, or gap. These disputes ought to be resolved peaceably,” remarked Oba Ewuare II.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Prof. Monika Grutters, German Minister of State for Culture, said the German Government is vital for facing its colonial past in dealing with the question of the Benin artifact.
She assured Nigeria that from the beginning of 2022 1,130 pieces of artifacts will be repatriated, stressing that Germany had sent two times delegations to Nigeria for talks on repatriation.
She added such a move demonstrated that both sides have progressed beyond ordinary negotiations and have committed to work with all the institutions in Germany which hold Benin Bronzes.
Grutters, the German Foreign Minister, Mr Heiko Maas, took part in the meeting in Berlin while Lai Mohammed and Obaseki, the Nigerian delegation. Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare, Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Benin, represents the Royal Palace of Benin.
Mohammed proposed that his artifacts be returned fully from Germany within a period of one year.
The Minister has declared that the agreement for the repatriation of Benin Bronze’s from Germany must be signed by December 2021, according to a statement made by his special media assistant, Segun Adeyemi.
“The signing of the agreement and the return date are for us the most critical item on the roadmap. We will not make further progress if the date of signature and return is not clear,” Mohammed warned the meetings attendees. “In a year’s time, not beyond August 2022, the full return should be finished,” he continued.
The German President’s Secretary of State Stephen Steinlein said he was delighted with the progress made so far in the scheduled artifact return.
Obaseki briefed attendees about the construction of a museum that will turn Benin City into a cultural focal point.
The museum architect David Adjaye reportedly presented the participants in a presentation, which he stated would mix the technology of the Kingdom of Benin with the technology of the 21st century, to create an organic pavilion with an auditorium, storage facilities and showroom.
Nigerian Ambassador to Germany Yusuf Tuggar; National Committee of Museums and Monuments’ Director General Abba Tijani; and Legacy Restoration Board Director Phillip Ihenacho were also members of the Nigerian delegation.