Lagos, Nigeria

Federal government to take possession of looted Benin bronzes

Lai

The Federal Government says it will take possession of the looted 1,330 Benin artifacts to be returned by Germany.
Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed stated this at a news conference in Lagos on Saturday July 17.
He said this is the most remarkable progress in government’s quest to repatriate looted artefacts as they are currently working with Germany, for the repatriation of 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.
He said the federal government will take possession because it is its duty by law to do so and the federal Government has been exercising this right in cognisance of that culture that produced the artifacts.
Acccording to the Information and Culture Minister, 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.
He said 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. Nigeria is the entity recognized by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from Nigeria.
The information and culture minister said the relevant international Conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or subnational groups, citing examples with the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1, defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation. This allows individual nations to determine what it regards as its cultural property.
He commended the Government of Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and indeed from the African continent.
He said Nigeria high delegation met with Prof. Monika Grutters, the German Minister of State for Culture, who has responsibility for antiquities; the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, the Secretary of State in the German President’s office, Mr. Stephen Steinlein, and Harmann Parzinger, President of the Prussia.
Alhaji Lai Muhammed said it was resolved that provenance research on the Benin Bronzes cannot and must not delay their return, since the origin of Benin objects is not a subject of dispute as such objects are only associated with the Benin Kingdom.
He said the federal government is demanding full and unconditional release of the artefacts.
Concerning recording the artefacts in 3D formats for posterity and academic sake under the ‘digitalbenin’ project, of which government have been part , the information and culture minister said the work of digitalizing the Benin Bronzes must not delay the return of the artefacts and the issues related to copyrights ownership and other rights over the digitalized objects will be discussed soon.

Alhaji Lai Muhammed said the launch of the Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted/Smuggled Artifacts from around the world on Nov. 28th 2019, is fast yielding very positive result.
He explained that with the launch, the federal government is putting on notice all those who are holding on to Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world that we are coming for them, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available.
Alhaji Lai Muhammed pointed out that less than two years after that announcement, the efforts at repatriating Nigeria’s looted artefacts are achieving positive results, adding that the work ahead remains tough and daunting, but the federal government will not relent in it’s effort of ensuring all the stolen/looted artifacts around the world.
”These artefacts are so cherished all over the world and we realize that if they are returned to Nigeria and properly exhibited within and outside the country under our control, they stand to increase the influx of tourists to our nation and earn us good money. Of course, these timeless and priceless pieces of work are an important part of our past, our history, our heritage resource, and allowing them to sit in the museums of other nations robs us of our history. ”He said…
The Information, Tourism and Culture Minister said though not everyone in possession of these artefacts is willing to return them, the government bremain undeterred and have deployed all legal and diplomatic means and have been recording successes in her quest for repatriation.
Alhaji Lai Muhammed listed successes recorded since the press conference that announced the launch in 2019:

– In October 2020, The Netherlands returned a highly-valued 600-year-old Ife Terracotta.

– In March 2021, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland agreed to return a Benin Bronze from its collections. We shall take possession of this in October this year.

– In April 2021, we received a bronze piece from Mexico.

– The University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom has also agreed to return a disputed Benin artefact. We will soon commence the procedure for the repatriation of this highly-valued piece.

He said the government has also secured a date in October 2021 for the repatriation of antiquities from the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the antiquities consist of two important Benin Bronzes and an exquisite
The Ife Bronze head according to him, the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to it Countries of Origin or its Restitution in case of Illicit Appropriation (ICPRCP) in Paris, have instituted a claim against a Belgian who wanted to auction an Ife Bronze head valued at $5 million, at least. This Ife Bronze antiquity has been seized by the London Metropolitan Police, pending the decision on who the true owner is.of which the true owner is Nigeria.