Caption: Queen of Idia mask head
From Jefferson Ibiwale, Benin
As Britain prepares to return two bronze works stolen from Benin Kingdom during the colonial era, there are contentions between the Omo N’Oba and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, NCMM, about who should receive them and where they should be received.
Chairman of the Great Benin Centenary Committee, Prince Akenzua, said the two bronze works would be returned as a “gift” to the Oba of Benin on June 21, adding that the ceremony would coincide with the birthday of the revered monarch.
“The man bringing the gift is a Briton, Mr Mark Walker, a great grandson of Captain Philip Walker, one of the British soldiers who actually fought in Benin in 1897. He is also bringing with him a replica of the war diary which his great grandfather kept during the war,”Akenzua said.
However, the NCMM has directed the artefacts received in Abuja by the minister of Culture and Tourism, Edem Duke, a suggestion which the Bini palace has promptly rejected.
Among the expected works is the Queen Idia mask head that was the official symbol of FESTAC 77.
The arrangement to return the bronze works follows passionate pleas by the monarch to the British authorities for the return of the artefacts which were carted away when Britain invaded the city in 1897.
Walker and his three other escorts will be formerly hosted to a grand reception by the monarch on the 22 June.
Akenzua had extended invitations to Duke, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock and other dignitaries.
But the Bini palace was shocked when it received a letter from the director-general of the NCMM, Yusuf Usman, who directed that the proposed reception for Walker will now be held in Abuja where Duke will receive the works.
In a reply to the letter, the palace faulted the change of the venue and informed the NCMM boss that his unilateral attempt to scuttle the arrangement is an act of disrespect and embarrassment to the monarch.
“I am to let you know that the Omo N’Oba is aware of the state-centric status objects have assumed since Nigeria came into existence. It is in that spirit that His Majesty has always turned over to the museum any antiquity that was previously brought to him,” the letter from the Palace read.
It added, “You are requested to cooperate with the palace in receiving the objects Mr. Walker is bringing in Benin City instead of dissipating energy on bureaucracy or allowing it to over shadow our sense of history and scuttle the process initiated several months ago by the monarch.
Africa’s living memory and chronology of achievements live scattered in numerous museums and private collections around the world.
In Benin alone, over 4,000 artefacts were recorded to have been carted away during the British expedition that killed, maimed and sacked the entire capital of Benin and sent the ruling monarch on exile.