There are indications that a major face-off is looming between Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State and the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, over the housing of the stolen artefacts that are currently being repatriated to the country as the monarch on Friday warned against plans to hand over the ancient artworks to a private trust.
Oba Ewuare II made the palace position known in response to reports that Governor Obaseki had initiated moves to have the proposed returned artworks housed in a new museum to be known as Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA). The museum is to be built by the state government and a private initiative.
The monarch said any group, organisation or government dealing with private trust in the process of returning the looted artefacts would be doing so against the will of the people of Benin kingdom.
The artefacts were stolen from the Benin palace during the 1897 invasion of the then Benin Empire, known in history as the Benin Massacre of 1897.
The repatriation of the artefacts from Germany and the United Kingdom is currently underway.
But the Oba of Benin insisted that the looted artefacts remain the property of the Benin people, hence they should not be appropriated to private trust as being planned by the Governor.
“I do not believe that the move by a privately registered company, the Legacy Restoration Trust, Ltd. and the purported establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) are in consonance with the wishes of the people of Benin Kingdom,” the Oba said.
The Benin monarch in the address read by the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, said he and Governor Obaseki had initially had a mutual agreement on the plan to construct a Benin Royal Museum to house the artefacts, noting that the Governor has now deviated with the recent development.
“I informed him that Oba Ewuare II Foundation has been registered with the CAC and has worked out a framework for not only receiving the artefacts but also building a modern structure – The Benin Royal Museum – within the precincts of the Palace and that land has been secured for the building of the Benin Royal Museum under the supervision of the traditional institution.
“But for reasons best known to him the governor has gone against the understanding, given recent events. As a matter of fact, the people of Benin kingdom and other stakeholders especially the Benin Dialogue Group, had at different meetings endorsed the Benin Royal Museum to be built within the Palace, as well as endorsing the Oba Ewuare II Foundation for fundraising and other requisite administration processes,” the Oba said.
He, therefore, called on the Federal Government to take custody of the artefacts on behalf of the Palace until the Benin Royal Museum is ready for their collection.
The Oba further warned that “Under no circumstances should custody of our age-old artefacts be handed to any privately contrived entity like the Legacy Restoration Trust.”
Meanwhile, a tripartite delegation which includes Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and the Crown Prince of Benin Kingdom, Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare have met with the German Government on the return of the artworks.
A press statement issued on Friday by Crusoe Osagie, Media Assistant to Governor Obaseki of Edo State, said that the Federal Government, the Edo State Government and the Benin Royal Family had concluded a meeting in Germany towards the return of stolen artefacts to Edo State.
The meeting in Berlin, according to the statement, was attended by the German Minister of State for Culture, Professor Monika Grutters, and Foreign Minister, Mr Heiko Maas, while the Nigerian delegation included the Minister of Information and Culture and the Edo State Governor, Obaseki.
“At the meeting, Lai Mohammed 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. He said this in the wake of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make a ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts.
“Mohammed said the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the artworks, noting, “That they are known as Benin Bronzes, which is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin),” the statement added.