FG to take possession of controversial Benin bronzes upon return –Lai Mohammed

THE Federal Government has said it will take possession of the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes expected to be returned by Germany in 2022.

This was disclosed by Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed on Saturday at a press conference held in Lagos.

Reacting to the disagreement between Oba of Benin Ewuare II and Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki over the possession of the artefacts, the minister said the Nigerian government was the entity recognised by international law as the authority in control of such artefacts.

“Gentlemen, 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,” he said.

The minister said relevant international conventions considered heritage properties as belonging to the nation rather than individuals or groups.

“The Federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws. But 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,” he said.

Mohammed also said the government was involved in the repatriation of other artefacts of Nigerian origin.

“We are also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu, the arts of Bida, the arts of Igala, Jukun etc. Recall, gentlemen, our efforts over the Igbo statues that were auctioned at Christie’s in Year 2020, and the fact that we took the British and Belgian authorities to ICPRCP in 2019 over an Ife object,” he said.

The Nigerian government had demanded a return of the 1,130 Benin Bronzes looted from the country in the 19th century and displayed in German museums.

Obaseki, who was a part of the delegation to Berlin over the stolen artefacts, had proposed that they be returned to the Edo State government and displayed in a museum to be built by the government.

The Oba of Benin, however, said during a press briefing that the artefacts were stolen from the palace and should be returned to the Benin Kingdom.

Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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