Notwithstanding, Nigeria, since she gained Independence in 1960, has clamoured for the repatriation of these priceless art pieces that were forcefully taken from them. General Olusegun Obasanjo, as a military ruler in 1976 requested the British authorities to borrow one of the looted pieces – Queen Idia Mask to the country, for use during the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, tagged FESTAC’77 as the festival symbol, but the Britons turned down the request on the grounds that the requested mask was too valuable and fragile to withstand the long-distance travel from the United Kingdom to Lagos. They even demanded a £2 million insurance deposit. Nigeria had to produce a replica that was expertly done by one Alufa Igbinovia. Meanwhile, there are several others scattered across the world that cannot be accounted for.
The formation, however, of a group known as the Benin Dialogue Group in 2007 reinforced the call for restitution in respect of the stolen arts. Comprising of representatives of the palace of the Oba of Benin, Edo state government, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, and several European museums, the group have negotiated deals and are negotiating with art stakeholders across the world to see that these priceless artefacts are returned to their rightful owners; even if not permanently, but temporarily.
The group’s negotiations have not been to relinquish the objects to the museums, instead, but to uphold the country’s claim of outright ownership of the pieces. They facilitated the return of two looted pieces to the palace of the Oba of Benin in 2014. It was a ‘Bird’ and a ‘Bell’ which Mark Walker inherited from his grandfather, Capt Herbert Walker, who took part in the expedition. In 2017, Students of Jesuit College in Cambridge passed a resolution that the cockerel sculpture at the college entrance hall looted during the Benin invasion by the British should be repatriated to Benin City where the artwork was looted from.
According to His Royal Highness Edun Akenzua, the Enogie (Duke) of Obazuwa-Iko who had lobbied the British parliament to return the looted objects, he argued that the British Museum should keep replicas instead because the Benin people view their removal in the first place like a grave injustice to them. In preparation for their return, if it ever gets to happen, the state government in collaboration with the Benin Monarch, Oba Ewuare II, plans to build a world-class royal museum to hold the stolen artefacts. Surprisingly, these artefacts would come back as a loan, and would be held in the new Museum due to open in 2021, and would display the looted bronzes temporarily for 3 years, following an agreement reached by the Benin Dialogue Group with museum curators from Germany, Austria, Sweden, Britain, and the Netherlands who will facilitate the exhibition.
Despite the three years agreement for the objects to be displayed in the yet to be constructed museum, their conservation will further make the state a destination of choice for tourists. However, an investigation conducted in 2017/2018 across three continents of Africa, the United States, and Europe by a team which include this writer, led by Dr Lutz Mükke, a German journalist and academic, some experts, academics and politicians in the West argued that the Benin Bronzes are world heritage, because of their historical importance and artistic ingenuity. This is true. They are really world heritage. But this fact does not mean that they have no owner or that the owners and guards of the Benin Bronzes should be the big “universal museums” of the West like the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, just to mention a few. Of course, some of the Benin Bronzes should be shown there as ambassadors of Benin, of Nigeria, of Africa. However, the ownership question is a different matter.
Source: Emmanuel Ikhenebome(Reporter)
Via: obaland magazine