By Iduozee Paul, Benin
In a bid to return the stolen artefacts, The Federal Government, Edo State government and the Benin Royal Family have concluded a meeting in Germany towards the return of artefacts looted from Benin Kingdom in 1879.
This was disclosed following a meeting held in Berlin, the capital city of Germany, attended by the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and foreign minister, Mr. Heiko Maas while the Nigerian delegation included the minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; the Edo State governor Godwin Obaseki and the Benin Royal Palace was represented by the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare.
It was gathered that, at the meeting, Lai Mohammed insisted on a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin artefacts domiciled in German museums.
The minister made the disclosure in the wake of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts. Lai demanded whole, not substantial return of the artefacts.
According to the minister the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the art works, noting, “They are known as Benin Bronzes, which is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin).”
At a separate meeting with Maas, Lai Mohammed. reiterated that no condition should be attached to the return of the artefacts.
He stated the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes in addition to concluding all necessary negotiations in a very short term.
He stressed that the discussions between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the artworks was not the end of an era, but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy between both nations.
Lai thanked the German government for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and the African continent.
“We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead,” he asserted.
Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation, said a “transformational” museum is to be built in Benin City to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.
Obaseki said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) Royal family and the people of Edo State.
In addition, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Grutters, said, “the way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past,” describing the issue as “an important personal concern.”
She assured that the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from the beginning of 2022, noting that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation.
She said, such a move indicated that both sides had moved beyond mere talks, adding that all the museums in Germany stockpiling Benin Bronzes have agreed to cooperate.
Others on the Nigerian delegation were the Nigerian ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar and the director-general of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani.
They were later taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace turned museum, in the heart of Berlin that houses artworks from around the world.