Oba of Benin advises FG against handing over 1,130 stolen artefacts to Gov Obaseki

The monarch says he doesn't believe that the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts is the right destination for the about-to-be repatriated artefacts.

Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state (Thecable)

Amid the controversy on where 1,130 artefacts stolen from Benin to Europe will be housed when they are repatriated, Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, has asked the Federal Government to take temporary custody of the artefacts.

Recently, the German government announced its readiness to return the looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria from 2022.

The cultural and historical items awaiting repatriation were stolen from Benin when British soldiers led by Captain Philip invaded the Benin empire in 1897.

Meanwhile, the Edo State Government and the palace of the Oba of Benin have been at loggerheads on where the artefacts will be housed.

While the palace desires that the artefacts be kept in the Benin Royal Museum, which will be built around the palace, the state government wants the items to be kept in the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts.

Addressing journalists at a press conference on Friday, July 9, 2021, Oba Ewuare II said as an agreement had been reached that the artefacts would be housed in the royal museum.

But a press statement from the Government House also on Friday, quoted Governor Godwin Obaseki insisting that a transformational museum would be built in Benin to house the artefacts upon their return.

Speaking on Friday, Oba Ewuare II maintained that the right and only legitimate destination for the about-to-be-repatriated artefacts was the Benin Royal Museum.

He said, “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.”

The monarch said he was surprised to read Obaseki’s letter to the palace wherein a new museum was being proposed.

He said he didn’t believe that the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts, was in consonance with the wishes of the people of Benin Kingdom.

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