PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to pursue the repatriation of looted Nigeria’s artefacts from abroad, including 1,130 Benin bronzes in Germany’s public museums.
Buhari made this promise in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, on Friday, 29, 2022.
The statement said that the president made the promise in Abuja while receiving the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, accompanied by members of the Royal Court of Benin and the Board of Trustees of the Benin Royal Museum.
The king was at the State House to thank the President for the recent return of two important Benin bonzes to their original place of abode by the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen, both in the United Kingdom, after 125 years.
Speaking on the return of the artefacts, Buhari expressed delight that it has brought immense goodwill and acclaim to Nigeria and the ancient Benin Kingdom, as well as happiness to the Oba of Benin.
He noted the global acknowledgement that some of the best ancient arts belonged to Nigeria, but were carted away during the era of colonization.
The President said, “In furtherance of these efforts, an agreement between Nigeria and Germany is currently being prepared. When concluded, it will signify the return to Nigeria by Germany of all the 1,130 Benin Bronzes in Germany’s public museums. This will be a monumental achievement.
“Furthermore, on the 7th of this month, the Glasgow City Council agreed to return 17 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. The legal issues are in the process of being sorted out.
“Other success stories include the return by the Netherlands in October 2020 of a 600-year-old Ife Terracotta; the return in April 2021 of a bronze piece from Mexico; as well as the repatriation, in November 2021, of two Benin Bronzes and an Ife Bronze head from the Metropolitan Museum, New York,” he added.
Buhari acknowledged the efforts of officials of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) currently working with the Oxford University, the Great North Museum of Newcastle University, Rhode Island School and numerous other places on the modalities for the return of Nigerian antiquities, particularly the Benin Bronzes.
He expressed optimism that with careful planning and management, Nigeria can generate revenue from the repatriated antiquities.
The Oba of Benin informed the President that his Royal Court had concluded plans with the NCMM to establish an ultramodern international standard Benin Royal Museum to house the Benin Bronzes and other artefacts for the purpose of preserving history, tourism and education.
‘‘We want to reassure Mr President that the Royal Court of Benin and NCMM are working closely to ensure safe custody, preservation and enhancement of these Benin bronzes and artefacts not only for their cultural and economic benefits, but more importantly towards the promotion of the tourism industry in Nigeria,’’ he said.
A report, however, clarified that the Benin Bronzes were not all made from bronze. Some of them include carved elephant tusks and ivory leopard statues, even wooden heads, the most famous items being the 900 brass plaques, dating mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, once nailed to pillars in Benin’s royal palace.
It also explains that, at least, 3,000 are scattered worldwide and available in museums like the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Also, the Lehman, Rockefeller, Ford and de Rothschild families, as well as Pablo Picasso had owned some.