A first-class monarch of Benin City, King Egwuare II, has implored the federal government to take custody of the stolen artefacts about being recovered from Europe by the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki.
This is following the disagreement between the king and the state government over where to keep the artefacts. While the Edo king wants the artefacts displayed at the Benin Royal Museum (within the palace), the governor wants it to improve the stock of the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts.
Egwuare II, while addressing a press conference on Friday has restated that there isn’t any controversy as to where the artefact should be kept, not when there has been a unanimous agreement as to having the monuments at the Edo Royal Museum.
However, the statement released by the government of the state has attested to the clash of ideas between the duo. The governor while addressing the issue from Germany says an ultramodern and “transformational” museum will be constructed in Benin, he buttressed on reasons why the artefacts recovered will make good items for the museum.
The artefacts which were allegedly looted on the invasion of Benin Kingdom by the British, under the leadership of one Captain Philip in 1897, have sown the seed of discord between the governor and the king.
Oba of Benin, Egwuare II, while reacting to the development in his palace on Friday denied any disagreement as to where the artefacts should be kept, he insisted that the right and only legitimate destination for the about-to-be repatriated artefacts is the Benin Royal Museum.
He said, “I have called this meeting today (Friday) to intimate you of the matter of the Benin artefacts in Europe on the verge of being repatriated, which I am sure you have heard and read about in recent weeks. You may also have heard about the recent activities of a group of individuals who incorporated a company since January 2020 called Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.
“It has become germane to note that the advocacy and demands for the return of the artefacts looted from the Benin Kingdom in 1897 have been going on for decades before the emergence of the incumbent Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki. I must sincerely thank the governor for joining the struggle and showing commitment to retrieve our stolen cultural heritage from Europe.
“While anticipating the return of the looted artefacts from Europe, I want to note that attempts to divert the destination or the right of custody of the artefacts is not in the interest of the people of Benin Kingdom, to whom the Palace of the Oba of Benin provides leadership. The looted artefacts awaiting repatriation from Europe are the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom created by our ancestors and forefathers within the traditional norms and rites of the kingdom.
“They are not property of the state government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin Kingdom. The right and only legitimate destination for the artefacts to be repatriated as already pronounced by my father is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum that will be sited within the precincts of the Palace of the Oba of Benin, from where they were looted, and also, the proper traditional institution that is also the custodian of all the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom.
“The palace, therefore, strongly advises that anyone, group, organisation, or government – national and international – that is dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the looted artefacts from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.”
Oba of Benin averred as against the will of the people, the plan to commit and privatize the historical monuments of Benin people. The king who confessed the series of discussion he had with the governor as per his plans for Benin Royal Museum has not expected the governor to surface with the plan of partnering with Legacy Restoration Trust Limited, or building the Museum of West African Arts.
The governor who earlier promised to assist the monarch in making the dream of his forefathers a reality on the Benin Royal Monument, has turned round to sabotage the course. Not even when more plots of land had been added to expand landmass.
He said, “I informed him (Obaseki) that Oba Ewuare II Foundation had been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission and had 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. As a matter of fact, the people of Benin Kingdom and other stakeholders, especially the Benin Dialogue Group, had at different meetings endorsed the Benin Royal Museum to be built within the palace, as well as endorsing the Oba Ewuare II Foundation for fundraising and other requisite administration processes.
“We wish to use this medium to call on the Federal Government to take custody of these artefacts on behalf of the palace until the Benin Royal Museum is ready for their collection. Under no circumstances should the custody of our age-old artefacts be handed to any privately contrived entity like Legacy Restoration Trust.”
Egwuare also implored the governor to patriotically review the whole thing, while also coming to genuinely abide by the earlier agreement between them. The initial agreement was that the governor will “genuinely collaborate with the Oba’s palace in accordance with our original understanding. He also appreciated the Benin government for having the conviction to return the historical artefacts.
“Perhaps, there is a bridge or gap in communication, not on our side but on the side of the state governor, Obaseki, who I insisted we should pray for. We need prayers for a peaceful resolution of these misunderstandings,” Oba Ewuare II added.
The German government while speaking via its Minister of State for Culture, Professor Monika Grutters, reiterated the repatriation of the artefacts to Nigeria as from 2022. She also identified the move as a bold one, not even when it goes a long way in addressing Germany’s colonial past.
She confirmed the arrangement as a realistic one, not even when most museums in Germany have agreed to return most of these historical artefacts.
The meeting in Berlin was attended by Grutters, German Foreign Minister, Mr Heiko Maas, while the Nigerian delegation included the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, and Obaseki. The Benin Royal Palace was represented by the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare.
According to the Germany Minister’s media Aide, the agreement as to the return of the artefacts will be sealed by not later than December, 2021.
“For us, the most important issue in the roadmap 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,” Mohammed told participants at the meeting. “Full return should be completed in a year’s time, not beyond August 2022,” he added.
The Secretary of State in the German President’s Office, Stephen Steinlein, was quoted as saying the German President was happy with the progress made so far on the planned repatriation of the artefacts.
Obaseki informed the gathering of the construction of an ultramodern museum that will accommodate the monuments in Benin city.
The architect handling the museum project, David Adjaye, reportedly addressed the participants. He said the project would fuse the technology of ancient Benin Kingdom to that of the 21st century to get an organic pavilion that would boast an auditorium, storage as well as exhibition space, among other facilities.
Other members of the Nigerian delegation included the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Yusuf Tuggar; the Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof Abba Tijani; and the Director of the Board of Legacy Restoration Trust, Phillip Ihenacho.