By Mukwuzi Joseph
The Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, has kicked against the decision of the Edo state government to take custody of the 1,130 stolen Benin artefacts that are in the process of being repatriated from Germany.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, Edo state governor, Godwin Obaseki and the other top government officials are currently in Germany to facilitate the return of the stolen artefacts that were allegedly looted during the invasion of the Benin Kingdom in 1897 by the British led by Captain Philip.
While the palace wants the artefacts kept in the Benin Royal Museum which will be built within the palace, the state government wants the items preserved in the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts which would be funded and executed by a private company named Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd.
At a press conference held on Friday at the palace, the Benin monarch said that there was no controversy over the issue as an agreement had been reached that the artefacts would be housed in the royal museum. He opined that since the artefacts were stolen from the Benin palace, it is expected that they be returned to the monarch when they are repatriated.
“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.”
Speaking further, Oba Ewuare II 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.”