Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed (left) and German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters exchange pleasantries in Berlin on Thursday/Photo: Nigeria’s Ministry of Information and Culture

Benin Artefacts in Germany: Nigeria proposes strict time limit for return

Nigeria has officially proposed to the German government to return all the Benin artefacts in Germany, which has agreed to repatriate hundreds of antiquities which were looted from the Benin Kingdom in 1897, within a period of one year.

Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the proposal during a round-table with German museum directors and government officials in Berlin, Germany, on Thursday.

The Minister, who led a Nigerian delegation for high-level talks with German government officials on the repatriation of the artefacts, said the agreement for the repatriation of the cultural goods from Germany should be signed by December 2021.

”For us, the most important issue in the road map is the signing of the agreement and the date of return. We won’t move forward if we don’t have a clear date on signing and return,” he told participants at the round-table. ”Full return should be completed in a year’s time, not beyond August 2022.”

Front row from left Godwin Obaseki, Edo State Governor, Minister Lai Mohammed, Prof Monika Grütters, Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar/Photo: Lolade Adewuyi

Alhaji Mohammed said Nigerians were eagerly awaiting the return of the 1,130 Benin Bronzes, which are being held by various museums in Germany.

The delegation, which also comprised Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State; Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, Alhaji Yusuf Tuggar; Professor Abba Tijani Isa, Director General of the Nigeria Commission for Museums and Monuments; the Benin Crown Prince, HRH Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare; renowned architect and designer of the Edo Museum of West African Art, Sir David Adjaye; and Mr Phillip Iheanacho, Director of the Legacy Restoration Trust, held discussions with the German government on the modality for the return of the stolen artefacts to Edo State.

The delegation met among others, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grütters, and Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas.

The German government has assured Nigeria that it would begin to return the famed Benin artefacts from next year.

Minister Grütters noted during the deliberations with the Nigerian officials that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation. She said such a move indicated that both sides had moved beyond mere talks, saying all the museums in Germany possessing Benin Bronzes had agreed to cooperate, Governor Obaseki reported in a press release.

Commemorative head of a king (Kingdom of Benin, dated 17th-18th Century, made of copper alloy), one of the African artworks exhibited in the Bode Museum under the theme “Beyond Compare”, December 2018. Thousands of African artworks are in the possession of European museums, most of which were taken illegally from the continent during the era of colonialism/ Photo: Femi Awoniyi

“I attended the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) Royal family and the people of Edo State,” Obaseki said.

“I noted that we are going to build a “transformational” museum in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city,” he added.

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Obaseki revealed that Minister Mohammed had “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.”

The information minister made the demand in response to remarks by Grütters that Germany was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts.

Bronzes from the royal palace of the then Kingdom of Benin can be found in numerous German museums. According to current plans, such valuable art treasures are also to be exhibited in Berlin’s Humboldt Forum. The Ethnological Museum has around 530 historical objects from the Kingdom of Benin, including about 440 bronzes. Most of the objects came from the British looting of the Benin royal palace of 1897.

Nigeria has been pressing for the return of the artefacts for many years. The campaign received an especial boost during the tenure of the country’s current ambassador to Germany, Alhaji Yusuf Tuggar. On 16 December 2020, on the occasion of the opening of the Humboldt Forum, Ambassador Tuggar renewed the demand for the restitution of the treasures looted during the colonial period that are in the possession of German museums. In early 2021, the artistic intervention of Emeka Ogboh in collaboration with the Museum für Völkerkunde of Dresden in Germany also made the same the demand.

Sola Jolaoso

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