GOVERNOR Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has pledged that his administration will not engage in disrespectful exchanges with the Oba of Benin Oba Ewuare II over stolen artefacts that are currently being retrieved from across Europe.
Several European museums such as London’s Horniman Museum is considering returning several Nigerian artefacts including bronze statues obtained using colonial violence during the 1897 Massacre of Benin. Collections at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill include plaques, figures and ceremonial items taken from the Kingdom of Benin in 1897.
Last month, Scotland’s University of Aberdeen agreed to return a Benin bronze artefact to Nigeria within weeks more than a century after Britain looted the sculptures and auctioned them to Western museums and collectors. This follows a decision taken by the of University of Cambridge’s constituent school Jesus College to return its emblem a bronze cockerel to Nigeria as it was forcefully taken by colonial conquerors during the 1897 Massacre of Benin.
In March, Governor Obaseki met with German foreign ministry officials to demand the return of precious artefacts looted during the 1897 raid, revealing that he intends to house them in his proposed Edo Museum of West African Art. Last week, the Oba of Benin intervened in the matter, asking the Nigerian federal government temporarily take custody of 1,130 stolen Benin artefacts that are about to be repatriated from Europe.
This was in response to a statement issued by the Edo State government which revealed that a transformational museum would be built in Benin to house the artefacts upon their return. Pressed on what the governor would do in response to this intervention by the monarch, Osarodion Ogie, the secretary to the Edo State government allayed fears of any conflict between the state government and the Oba of Benin, adding that Governor Obaseki will maintain his immense respect for the monarch.
Mr Ogie said: “The attention of the Edo State Government has been drawn to the widely publicised media statement issued by the palace of His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II. It is concerning that the statement appears to have created the impression that there is a major conflict between the interests of the state government and His Royal Majesty with regards to the laudable national milestone of having our highly valued artefacts returned home to Nigeria.
“The government of Edo State and the governor have always acted transparently and in consonance with existing federal and state laws in all matters relating to the proposed return of the artefacts and monuments. The actions of the government thus far on this issue have been driven by selfless, patriotic considerations and in the best interest of Edo State and Edo people.
“The governor of Edo State, His Excellency, Godwin Obaseki, has displayed and will continue to display immense respect for our traditional institutions and therefore will continue to make effort to secure a private audience with His Royal Majesty to discuss his concerns. The governor has consequently ordered that on no account should anyone, whether in government or acting independently, engage in disrespectful exchanges and/or altercation with our revered Royal Majesty and the Benin royal palace.
He added that Governor Obaseki expresses his gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and information minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed for their patriotic and tireless efforts to get all the artefacts returned. According to Mr Ogie, Governor Obaseki will continue to work assiduously with all local and international stakeholders for the eventual and final return of all the artefacts.