A trip begun by two guys from Benin in London two years ago has resulted in one of the largest repatriation ceremonies for Benin artifacts to date. Contracts were signed and ownership of 72 artifacts was transferred from the United Kingdom to Nigeria at a ceremony conducted at the Horniman Museum in London on the evening of Monday, 28 November 2022.
British soldiers were known to have stolen approximately 2,000 artifacts from the palace of the Oba of Benin during a punitive mission in 1897. Some of the stolen Bronzes are now making their way back to The Oba’s Palace thanks to the efforts of two Benin men, Mr. Ehiobuogbe Edwin Igue and Mr. Pius Osewengie Iyen.
After being stolen from Benin 125 years ago, the artifacts have been sold to private collectors and museums all around the world. It is not surprising that the finest museums in the world, including the British Museum, the Smithsonian Institute, Cambridge College, the University of Aberdeen, the Horniman Museum, and others, are home to Benin Bronzes because of their superior quality compared to anything the world had seen up to that point. The bronzes on display in museums and private collections are in pristine condition. As a testament to their attractiveness and high standard, lines form to view them. Due to the international fame and prestige of the Benin Bronzes, their history is taught in classrooms across England, Europe, and the United States.
The inhabitants of Benin have been left with nothing after a massive theft in 1897. The Bronzes were essential to their religion and history, yet they were taken from them without their will. Since recently, Benin people everywhere have been demanding that any western institution that has these Bronzes do the right thing and return them.
Mr. Pius Osewengie Iyen, a London resident, just began working as a curator at the Horniman Museum. He addressed his superiors after spotting several Benin Bronzes on exhibit and asked to have a chat about them. The Horniman Museum treated him kindly right away, but there was still a great deal of prep work to be done. Establishing ownership of these Bronzes and engaging in the necessary negotiations to secure their return were both time-consuming and labor-intensive processes. Pius Iyen reached out to Mr. Ehiobuogbe Edwin Igue to recruit his help. These two gentlemen were present for all meetings with organizations, universities, and municipalities. They argued that the Museum should return the “BENIN” Bronzes because they are culturally significant to the people of Benin and are essential to restoring their sense of identity.
Mr. Ehibuogbe Edwin Igue said that the Horniman Museum’s conduct was exceptional throughout the ordeal. The Horniman Museum has continued with the transfer of ownership to guarantee that the people of Benin receive what is rightly theirs, despite opposition from the British Museum’s chairman who claimed that the British Museum Act of 1969 forbids the handover of artifacts. As part of the historic arrangement he had negotiated with the Horniman Museum for the repatriation of their Benin Bronzes, Mr. Edwin Igue was invited to the Oba’s Palace Benin in October 2022.
Seventy-two Benin artifacts that belonged to the Horniman Museum were restored to the Benin People at a ceremony on November 28, 2022, at the Horniman Museum in London. Six of the artifacts were brought up to the platform in advance of their return to the Oba’s Palace. The Edo State museum which will eventually house the remaining 64 artifacts has requested that they remain at the Horniman for another year.
Members of His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare II’s delegation witnessed the signing. Prince Aghatise, Chief Edosomwan (SAN), the Obasuyi of Benin, Chief Billy Adesuwa Osawaru, the Obazunhumwunwa of Benin, and Chief Nosakhare, the Ebagua of Benin, were all dispatched as representatives to accept the Bronzes on the country’s behalf.
After the event, in his remarks, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa expressed his gratitude to the Horniman Museum for taking such a stand. In addition, he declared that any and all Benin Bronzes now in private hands outside of Benin were and always would be considered stolen.
Edo State Governor Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, Prof. Abba Tijani, director of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museum and Monuments, and Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Isola, Nigeria’s high commissioner to the United Kingdom, were also in attendance. In this meeting, Pastor Monday Ibude and Mr. Osaretin Ajayi spoke on behalf of the UK Benin Community.
It is with deep gratitude that the global Edo Community extends its thanks to Mr. Ehiobuogbe Edwin Igue and Mr. Pius
Thanks a lot, Osewengie Iyen. Your accomplishments have made us extremely happy.
Mr. Michael Salter-Church (Chair of the Horniman Museum Trustees), Dr. Nick Merriman (CEO of the Horniman Museum and Gardens), and Ms. Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp deserve special recognition for their contributions to this work. The people of Edo State and the Benin Kingdom appreciate your efforts to do things right. When it comes to returning artifacts to Benin, the Horniman Museum is the first British museum to do so. As a result of their efforts to involve and empower locals, they have also been named Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022. The two of us appreciate it.