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Stolen artefacts should be returned to Benin Kingdom – Monarch

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THE reigning Oba of Benin says he wants the stolen artefacts, which are on the verge of being repatriated from Germany, to be returned to Benin Kingdom.

The Benin monarch, also known as Oba Ewuare II, made this statement in a world press conference on Friday where he said the artefacts were historically stolen from the palace and by right, should be returned to his father’s house.

In the monarch’s official statement that was read by the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, he said that efforts to ensure the return of the stolen artefacts had been going on for decades, long before the emergence of the incumbent governor of Edo State.

He, however, thanked the contribution of the Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, who he said had joined the struggle to ensure the repatriation of their cultural heritage from Germany.

The monarch said the attempts to divert the destination of the right of custody of the artefacts would not be in the interest of the Benin Kingdom, to whom his palace provided leadership.

He said the looted artefacts were a cultural heritage created by Benin ancestors and not the property of the state government or any private entity that was not a creation of the Benin Kingdom.

The monarch went on to state that the right destination for the artefacts to be repatriated to the kingdom would be the Benin Royal Museum, which he said would be sited within the premises of the palace, from where they were stolen.

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He mentioned that it was a declaration of his father, Oba Erediauwa, who, during his reign, had received some returned artefacts from  Mark Walker, the grandson of a British captain in the Benin Punitive Expedition.

Prince Edun Akenzua (left) met with Mark Walker in Benin City to receive the bronzes - Photo: AFP
Prince Edun Akenzua (left) met with Mark Walker in Benin City to receive the bronzes – Photo: AFP

The Oba said the Benin Kingdom did not recognise the Legacy Restoration Trust, an organisation that was set up by the Edo State government to oversee the housing of the artefacts in a museum known as the Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWA).

The Oba expressed surprise at the proposal of the Edo State governor to build an entirely different museum, stating that he had discussed the plans to build the Benin Royal Museum shortly after his ascension to the throne.

The monarch said the Edo State governor wrote him concerning the proposition to build a new museum through the Legacy Trust Foundation, but he had replied him that it would not be necessary.

He said there was already an Oba Ewuare II Foundation that was set up and registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) that had worked out a framework to receive the artefacts and had purchased more pieces of land to build the royal museum.

He said the Benin Royal Museum and the Oba Ewuare II Foundation had been endorsed by the stakeholders and people of Benin, but the Edo State governor had gone against their understanding, based on recent events.

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The monarch called on the Nigerian Federal Government to take custody of the artefacts until the Benin Royal Museum was ready and see to it that the artefacts were not handed to the Legacy Trust Foundation.

He said Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, who is currently in negotiations with the German government, had assured him that the Federal Government was committed to getting the unconditional return and guarantee its full custody and ensure its transfer to the Benin Kingdom without intervention from any unauthorised third party.

He thanked the Federal Government for its commitment and called for laws and external treatises to guide the repatriation processes.

The monarch said he wished to advise the Edo State governor Godwin Obaseki to review his approach and see how he could genuinely collaborate with the palace, instead of using the private vehicle of the Legacy Trust Foundation and EMOWA.

He thanked the German government for its willingness to return the looted Benin Kingdom artefacts, as he prayed that everything worked out eventually.

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