Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed, said Tuesday Nigeria has signed an agreement with Germany for the repatriation of over 1,130 looted Benin Bronze artifacts back to the country.
Mohammed disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Washington DC after three museums in the U.S. repatriated 31 Benin Bronze artifacts to Nigeria.
He commended the German government for that effort, adding that Nigeria is also getting positive response from France and Mexico to return some of its stolen artifacts.
In 1897 during a British raid on Benin, the royal palace was torched and looted, and the oba (ruler) was exiled.
The British confiscated all royal treasures, giving some to individual officers and taking most to auction in London.
The estimated 3,000 objects eventually made their way into museums and private collections around the world.
The minister said the world had seen that it was an ethical and moral issue to return the artifacts back to their owners, noting that it is not a matter of law as claimed by the British Government.
“This is important for the British Museum to understand and for the British Government to know, because I was also in the British Museum to ask them to return thousands of the artifacts in its custody.
“The standard response is that until the British Parliament changes the status, they are not in position to so do.
“The U.S. and Germany are now seeing that this matter is not of law but of morality, it is about doing the right thing. I hope that the British government will also learn from the two countries and do same,’’ he said.
According to him, Nigeria is planning to sign an agreement with the British government on November 28 to return about 86 other artifacts from various museums in UK.
The minister said the campaign of the current administration for the return of and restitution of Nigeria’s looted /smuggled artifacts from around the world, which was launched in November 2019, is yielding positive result.
He said in January, Nigeria and the U.S. signed the bilateral cultural property agreement to prevent illicit import into the U.S. of some categories of Nigerian artifacts.
“This agreement solidifies our shared commitment to combat looting and trafficking of precious cultural property while also establishing a process for the return of trafficked cultural objects, thus reducing the incentives to loot sites in Nigeria.’’
Oba of Benin hails US museums
In his remarks, the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, commended three U.S. museums for the repatriation of 31 Benin Bronze artifacts, which were violently taken away from the Royal Palace of Benin by British forces in 1897.
Oba Ewuare II, who was represented by his brother, Aghatise Erediauwa, said the decision of the Smithsonian is now being emulated by numerous other Museums around the world who had continued to hold onto heritage art.
“The accepted narrative is that works which were looted or acquired in ethical ways should be returned to their places of origin,’’ he said.
By Emmanuel Elebeke