Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has described the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed between Nigeria and Germany in Abuja on Wednesday, as a major step toward the repatriation of hundreds of Benin Bronzes from Germany next year.
The Minister, who spoke when he received the German government delegation that came to Nigeria for the signing of the MoU, said it marked the beginning of efforts that will culminate in the signing, in December 2021, of the agreement on the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes.
He said a team of experts would leave Nigeria very soon to engage with stakeholders in Germany on the repatriation of the artifacts.
“A team of experts will be visiting the some museum in Germany very soon and the whole idea is again confidence building to especially assuage their feeling of loss and make it lighter and easier for them and to also make their position more tenable with the people,” he said.
Alhaji Mohammed said even though Germany acquired the artifacts through global trading in artifacts, it had voluntarily agreed to relinquish them in order to further strengthen the bilateral ties between Nigeria and Germany.
“The German Government and the German people have taken a bold step by agreeing to voluntarily, without too much coercion on the part of Nigeria, to return these artifacts. Because what the return of the artifacts will do is that it’s going to really cement further relationship between Nigeria and Germany. Culture today has become one of the effective tools for soft diplomacy,” he said.
The Minister said with this gesture, German has become the first country to willingly decide to return about 1,130 pieces of artifact to Nigeria, stressing that the gesture will further endear Nigerians, especially the people of Edo State, to the people and Government of Germany.
“The return of the artifacts should not be an end of an era but rather the beginning of further cooperation between the two parties,” he said.
In his remarks, the Director General for Culture and Communication of the German Federal Foreign Office, Dr. Andreas Gorgen, said the release of the artifacts was part of a cultural policy that would contribute to healing the wound inflicted by the looting of the artifacts from Nigeria and to establishing new relationship between Germany and Nigeria.
He commended the efforts of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and said the signed MoU was based on what the Minister initiated during his visit to Germany earlier in the year.
Members of the German delegation included the Director of the Museum at Rothebbaum, Prof. Barbara Plankensteiner; President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Prof. Hermann Parzinger, and the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Birgitt Ory.
* The author is the Special Assistant To The President (Media), Office of the Minister of Information and Culture, Abuja