Germany to return 1,130 looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria – Lai Mohammed
Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed says 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 on Tuesday, 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 responses 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 a position to so do.
“The U.S. and Germany are now seeing that this matter is not of law but of morality, is about doing the right thing. I hope that the British government will also learn from the two countries and so 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 artefacts from various museums in UK.
The minister told NAN that 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, was 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 the precious cultural property while also establishing a process for the return of trafficked cultural objects, thus reducing the incentives to loot sites in Nigeria.’’
Mohammed said reclaiming the looted artifacts was important to enhance the cultural values of those artworks, adding that Nigeria would continue to intensify its campaign for their repatriation.
The minister said that the circumstance in which they were removed from Nigeria was punitive and there’s been a new wave, a new trend all by the world that stolen artifacts should be returned to their owners.
“Because for many art lovers, they don’t see beyond the aesthetic of these artifacts; these artifacts are also intrinsic and integral parts of our history.
“Our culture is followed by social life, so it’s only fair to return them. It is moral to do so, it would enhance and improve the youth’s understanding of their cultural background and history.
“Some of these cultural artifacts looted are used for certain ceremonies such as the coronation of a new Oba (king). Sometimes they are used as calendars to mark events in the community,’’ he said.
In addition, the minister said that the Nigerian government was working on an arrangement to embark on travelling exhibitions of the returned artifacts.
“We are starting it very soon, and in conjunction with stakeholders, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria will embark on international travelling exhibitions.
“We want to embark on International travelling exhibitions with the artifacts being repatriated in a manner that will win more friends and promote greater goodwill and ethnic groups that produced the artifacts,’’ he said.