The Federal Government will take possession of 1,130 looted Benin Bronzes when returned by Germany, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said.
The minister stated this on Saturday at a press conference in Lagos State.
Mohammed; Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki; and some government officials had visited Germany recently to further talks on the repatriation of the artefacts allegedly looted during the invasion of the Benin Kingdom in 1897 by the British led by Captain Philip.
The Benin Palace and the Edo State Government have been at loggerheads over where the artefacts will be housed. While the palace wants the artefacts kept in the Benin Royal Museum, which will be built within the palace, the state government wants the items preserved in the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts.
Oba of Benin, Ewuare II insisted that the right and only legitimate destination of the about-to-be-repatriated artefacts was the Benin Royal Museum.
However, the Government House had also quoted Obaseki as saying in Germany that a “transformational” museum would be built in Benin to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.
Speaking on Saturday about the controversy surrounding the about-to-be-repatriated artefacts, the minister said, “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.
“Let me state clearly here that, 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 relevant international Conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or subnational groups. For example, 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. Nevertheless, the Nigerian state – through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments – has in working assiduously over the past years to repatriate our looted artefacts carried along with our important traditional institutions and state governments
“What we are saying in essence is that the Federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws. But we have always exercised this right in cognisance of that culture that produced the artworks.
“That is why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always involved both the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities.
“Please note that we are not just involved in the repatriation of Benin artefacts. We are also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu, the arts of Bida, the arts of Igala, Jukun etc.”