A powerful Nigerian delegation visited Berlin on Wednesday, 7 July 2021, to pursue the return of the famous Benin bronze heads and other cultural artefacts that were pillaged from that country in the 19th Century during a punitive expedition of the British Army.
Led by Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the delegation included Mr Godwin Obaseki, the Governor 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.
German Foreign Minister Hieko Mass with the Nigerian delegation of Minister Lai Mohammed, Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar, Governor Godwin Obaseki and Crown Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare at the Foreign Office on Wednesday/Photo: Lolade Adewuyi
After Germany announced that it would return its collection of the world-famous artefacts earlier in the year, Nigeria is seeking a firm commitment to the return and the delegation was able to show that the government was taking a lead role.
“This is going to be the beginning of a very exciting cooperation between the German and Nigerian governments,” said Mr Mohammed at the first briefing with Dr Andreas Görgen, director of the Department of Culture and Communication at the Federal Foreign Office.
Minister Mohammed reiterated the Nigerian government’s preparedness to receive the 1,100 artefacts in further meetings with Prof Monika Grütters, the German Federal Minister for Culture and the Media as well as with Dr Heiko Maas, the German Foreign Minister.
Prof Grütters stated that the way in which the German government addresses the Benin Bronzes is important in addressing its colonial past.
“We intend to start the returns of the Benin Bronzes at the beginning of next year. I hope you feel that we are serious to cooperate with you,” she assured.
Dr Andreas Görgen, Governor Godwin Obaseki and Minister Lai Mohammed /Photo: Lolade Adewuyi
Ambassador Tuggar noted that the origins of the Benin Bronzes are not in doubt. “The issue of ownership of the Benin Bronzes is clear. It is a gift to the world but first and foremost, it is a Nigerian heritage,” he declared.
Prof Isa stated that “2021 is a great opportunity for us and the German people to demonstrate that we can move further. We are ready at the Nigerian Commission for Museum and Monuments to receive the Benin Bronzes.”
He also said that the Commission is happy with Sir Adjaye’s design of the Edo Museum for West African Art (EMOWAA) and looking forward to adopting it as a national monument.
Sir Adjaye, whose remarkable monuments include the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC and the National Cathedral in Accra, was praised for the openness of his design for EMOWAA.
After the visits to the ministers, the Nigerian delegation was taken on a tour of the newly installed Humboldt Forum that will open to the public in July 2021. They were able to see ongoing installations from Oceania as well as the Benin Bronzes installation.
The delegation will visit the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin-Dahlen during its second day.