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Obaseki wants Benin Bronzes stolen by colonisers returned without conditions



Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State has called on all foreign holders of Benin Bronzes to return them to Nigeria without having to deal with the stress of conditions set by institutions that acquired them immorally.

Artefacts stolen from the old Benin Kingdom during a British invasion in 1897 have been scattered all over the world, displayed in museums and other institutions in the United States, United Kingdom and the rest of Europe.


Over the past few years, many institutions across the world have started to cave to the pressure of returning these artefacts to their real owners. However, the negotiations to return them often come with conditions set by the illegal owners to assure them the real owners plan to adequately preserve and even display the artefacts in public.


Obaseki told journalists in Lagos on Sunday, October 15, 2023 the artefacts must return to Nigeria simply by virtue of ownership, and not based on any other conditions.


“They belong to us and must be transferred first before we decide on how and where they’re held. Where they should be returned to is not the business of the holders,” the 66-year-old said.


While the Nigerian government has led engagement with the international community for the return of the artefacts, the issue of who controls them has caused division locally, especially between the Benin royal family and the Obaseki-led State Government. Because the artefacts were looted from the palace before Edo became a Nigerian entity, the royal family has insisted it must be in charge of the returned artefacts, a position the government disagrees with.


While the government’s plan is for the artefacts to be displayed at the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) in Edo, the Oba of Benin has other plans, and received a boost to his claims with a public show of support from Muhammadu Buhari, weeks before the end of his presidency. The outgoing president said all the returned artefacts should be handed over to the king who is “responsible for the management of all places” they’re kept.


Obaseki said on Sunday the local control battle should not get in the way of the retrieval of the artefacts and even accused foreigners of stirring the conflict.


The governor said, “It’s not an issue of Obaseki or anyone else, but about Nigerian and our sovereignty. I hope we continue the conversations along those lines and ignore politics which has deliberately been planted by the foreigners to create confusion to hold back these pieces. All the things you see in the paper today about all sorts of instruments created is just a distraction. The key thing is the works belong to us and you must send them back to us.”


Numerous institutions in the United Kingdom, United States, and Germany have already announced plans to return the artefacts but only a handful have returned.

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