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Obaseki unveils plans for Benin City Cultural District, EMOWAA Pavilion

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Chairman, National Commission for Museum and Monument (NCMM) Governing Board, Arc. Umma Dambo Mamman-DA; Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and the Director General, NCMM, Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, at the unveiling of the design for the Benin City Cultural District, which will house the Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA), at Government House, Benin City… on Friday

The Edo State Government has reiterated its commitment to the construction of the Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA).

To prove this, the state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has unveiled plans for the Benin City Cultural District, which will house the museum and other facilities of historical importance to the state,

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According to him, “by working with other European governments, we have reached an advanced stage in getting the resources to start the first phase of preparing for the return and acceptance of these works. We are going to commence the construction of the pavilion where the returned works will be stored in the city centre.”

EMOWAA, which is a complex, will include the pavilion, the National Museum, Royal collections, Urhokpota Hall, restoration of a part of the Benin Moat, all of which will make visitors have the full experience of the Benin culture that span for more than six to seven centuries.

“This is a training point for us as a state as we build a museum where the world will come and see original pieces which used to adorn European museums. This is a great project, which we look forward to.”

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The Benin Dialogue Group had decided in 2019 to support the construction of the museum in Nigeria. The participants reaffirmed their willingness in principle to make substantial returns of Benin Bronzes. They also agreed to create extensive transparency with regard to the Benin Bronzes in their collections and exhibitions.

Obaseki, who disclosed this at the 2021 National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) retreat for management staff and curators, held in Benin City, the Edo State capital, said an international town planning group is in the state undertaking urban and regional planning of Edo, which would redesign Benin City.

“In this plan, we have included the carving out of a large area as a cultural district and the museum will be located in the cultural district. If we host 5,000 visitors every year as a result of the attraction to the museum, the state will benefit from it.

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“We are already working on this and have put up an Urban renewal plan for this purpose,” he said.

He continued: “EMOWAA will be part of the national museum complex and the home for the comprehensive display of the Benin art collection across the world. The artworks are global works and represent Africa, Nigeria and Edo globally; we should not lose them. We insist on the return of these artefacts to their original home, Benin City.

“We should build something that is iconic and represents the extent of the prowess of the Benin Empire. EMOWAA must be a research institution as there is a lot more to research and find out about the Benin Empire. There will be several important buildings in the museum complex and the museum will be a complex that will deal with the different aspects of the cultural life of Edo people.”

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Obaseki said: “The state government in collaboration with the Federal Government and the Royal Palace are in conversation on the return of the Benin artefacts sited in museums and collections across the world.”

Obaseki thanked the British Government and the British Museum for alerting that there might be more works to be retrieved and also for the grant provided to undertake archaeological surveys and research to find the works that currently exist in Edo State.

The governor commended the creation of the Digital Benin project, which is a project documenting all works taken out of this city in every private or public museum globally.

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As part of the Digital Benin project based at the Museum am Rothenbaum – Kulturen und Künste der Welt (World Cultures and Arts, MARKK), Hamburg, and financed by the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Benin collections scattered around the world will be collated from 2022 in a central online platform, which will, at the same time, serve as the basis for colleagues in Nigeria designing the exhibitions at EMOWAA.

The Director-General of NCMM, Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, commended the governor for his love, determination, courage and commitment in ensuring the return of the artefacts.

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He said: “We have 52 museums across the country and 65 monuments and sites. The issue of training and retraining is really a big problem for us in the commission.

“When I took over, I said the best way is to partner with the private sector and our partners outside the country. They have been able to now come to our aid in terms of capacity building.

“The Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) is a big opportunity for us to be at the forefront of promoting and establishing this museum. We have curators who are experienced; they just need slight training at the international level so that the standard that we want to set up at the EMOWAA will be maintained.”

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