The Benin monarch, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II has drawn a battle line with the governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki over who takes possession of looted Benin artifacts ahead of their repatriation from some European Countries to the State, months after he disclosed that promoters of Edo Museum for West African Arts, EMOWAA are enemies of Benin people.
Recall that the State Governor pledged his support for Restoration Trust Fund to undertake the construction of EMOWAA to accommodate and manage the return of the artifacts looted during British invasion of Oba of Benin palace in 1897.
But at an emergency meeting of Benin Chiefs, Enigie, Odionwere, heads of deities youth leaders, market women and other interest groups at his palace on Friday in Benin City, the traditional ruler reminded the Governor that the artworks were bequeathed to the Benin throne by his forbears, warning that any attempt to divert the repatriation will be resisted by the Benin people.
He reiterated that the ownership and management of the artifacts is not negotiable with any individual, group or the government, adding that his support is for the Benin Royal Museum where the Cultural artworks will be kept is not negotiable.
The visibly angry monarch who was decked in a complete red traditional regalia, stood up and re-enacted Oba Akenzua I, dance when he received the artifacts in 1938, reaffirmed his rejection for EMOWAA and the third party interference, but stressed that he is not in a tussle with the government.
He thereafter urged the federal government to take possession of the custody of the artifacts and prayed the ancestors to guide leaders in the State aright.
Oba Ewuare who spoke through the traditional Prime minister (Iyase) of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe and personally addressed his guests in Edo Language, said he decided to speak up to clear the doubts in the minds of Benin people and lovers of peace.
He also recalled the painstaking efforts that the palace has made ahead of the repatriation including the donation of a vast land for the building of Benin Royal Museum, but he wondered why promoters of EMOWAA had to engage an Ghanian fronting for the Legacy Restoration Trust Foundation on behalf of Edo people haven been assured by the State government collaboration with the Benin palace repeated way back before his ascension to the throne of his forbears on October 20, 2020.
According to him, “I have no hand in EMOWAA. The collaboration we are expecting is not this type. I have been reliably informed that a Ghanian has hand in the project. I have decided today to address you Benin people in order not to live in illusion about the steps that we have taken so far and Edo State Governor, Mr. Obaseki.
“We use this opportunity to call on the federal government to take custody of the artifacts when they are repatriated, pending when the Benin Royal Museum is ready for collection.
“I spent three weeks in Abuja over the artifacts until I returned home. I am not ready for any tussle with anybody. Let the ancestors take charge. But our responsibility is to pray for them. As you have heard, tell others who have not heard about the development. I do not know if his interest is because of the monetary benefits”, he said.
Speaking further, the monarch lamented that the Governor has suddenly reneged on their earlier agreement to construct Benin Royal Museum after one of the Correspondents he received from him sometime ago on government plans to build EMOWAA.
“There is no controversy in this matter. Perhaps there is a communication gap. It is not from our side, but the State government whose efforts we have duly acknowledged. That is why I said that we should pray for them.
“The Benin Royal Museum was recommended by my own father. Oba Erediauwa. The Bible says, ” let those who have ear hear.. I do not know what they are doing. Our concern is that they should give us the artifacts that were taken away here over 100 years ago should be returned to its place of origin”, he said.
Some palace Chiefs led by Chief David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin, dismissed reports that some of the looted artworks from Benin during the invasion belong to them.
The nonagenarian sued for calm.
In the mean time, the Federal Government, Edo State Government and the Benin Royal Family have concluded meeting in Germany towards the return of stolen artefacts to Edo State.
The meeting in Berlin was attended by the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, while the Nigerian delegation include the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed; the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki.
The Benin Royal Palace was represented by the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare.
At the meeting, Lai Mohammed insisted on a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin artefacts domiciled in German museums, adding that the return should be whole rather than substantial. He said this in the wake of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts.
Mohammed said the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the art works, noting, “That they are known as Benin Bronzes, which is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin).”
At a separate meeting with Maas, Mohammed also reiterated that no condition should be attached to the return of the artefacts.
He stressed the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes in addition to concluding all necessary negotiations in a very short term.
He revealed that the discussions between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the artworks was not the end of an era, but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy between both countries.
The Minister thanked Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and the African continent, adding “We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead.”
Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation, said a “transformational” museum is to be built in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.
The governor said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) Royal family and the people of Edo State.
Our Correspondent reports that the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar and Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani were among the people on the Nigerian delegation.
The guests were later taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace turned museum in the heart of Berlin that houses artworks from around the world.