The Federal Government has said that it will take possession of the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes being expected from Germany, in line with operative conventions and laws.
This reaction follows the controversy about who should take possession of the expected artefact between the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II and the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki.
This disclosure was made by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, on Saturday in Lagos at a news conference on the efforts by the federal government to repatriate looted smuggled artefacts from around the world, according to the News Agency of Nigeria.
What the Minister of Information and Culture is saying
Mohammed said the Federal Government was the entity recognised by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from the country.
He said, “The Federal Government is aware of the widely-reported controversy 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.’’
The minister cited the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1 which defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation.
He said the provision allows individual nations to determine what it regards as its cultural property, adding that the provision notwithstanding, his ministry had been working over the past years to repatriate looted artefacts in partnership with traditional institutions and state governments
Mohammed 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 artworks.
“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 the federal government was not just involved in the repatriation of Benin artefacts, but 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 etc.
What you should know
The German authorities, through the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees Berlin’s museums, some days ago, announced it has started the process of returning looted Benin Bronzes plundered in the 19th century.
The Federal Government also informed the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the 1,130 Benin Bronze artefacts looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897 must be returned in a year, under a proposed deal for the full return of the country’s artefacts from Germany.
However, there were later reports of a disagreement between the Oba of Benin and the Edo State Government on who should have custody of the returned looted artefacts.
While the Oba wanted the stolen artefacts to be returned to a museum to be built within the Palace premises, the governor showed a preference for a private trust to take custody and manage the artefacts.