President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday backed the planned ultramodern international standard Benin Royal Museum that would house the Benin Bronzes and other artefacts being returned to Nigeria, for the purpose of preserving history, tourism and education.
The President announced his support while receiving in audience at the State House, Abuja, the Oba of Benin, H.R.M. Omo N’Oba Uku Akpolokpolo Ewuare II, accompanied by members of the Royal Court of Benin and the Board of Trustees of the Benin Royal Museum.
The Royal Majesty was at the State House to thank the President on the recent return of two important Benin Bronzes to its original place of abode by the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen, both in the United Kingdom, after 125 years.
The Royal Museum, to be housed in the palace of the Oba of Benin, is in conjunction with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
The Oba of Benin told the President: “We want to reassure Mr. President that the Royal Court of Benin and NCMM are working closely to ensure safe custody, preservation and enhancement of these Benin Bronzes and artefacts, not only for their cultural and economic benefits, but more importantly towards the promotion of the tourism industry in Nigeria.”
The Royal Majesty reassured Nigerians that the Benin Bronzes and artefacts represent the country’s cultural heritage in particular and Africa in general, saying “we hold these objects in trust as the original owners in conjunction with NCMM for the benefit of all.”
Earlier, the President declared that the federal government would continue to vigorously pursue the repatriation of Nigeria’s looted artefacts from abroad, including 1,130 Benin Bronzes in Germany’s public museums and Ife terracotta/bronze heads in Netherlands and United States museums.
Speaking on the returned artefacts, Buhari expressed delight that it had brought immense goodwill and acclaim to Nigeria, the ancient Benin Kingdom, as well as happiness to the Oba of Benin.
He noted that while it was widely acknowledged around the world that some of the best ancient arts belong to Nigeria, including those from Benin, Ife, Nok and Igbo-Ukwu, many of these beautiful works were illicitly taken away, particularly during the colonial period.
Affirming that these great cultural and artistic works were records of history, the President vowed that Nigeria would not permit these great works to become properties of others, adding that this administration had made it an important task to ensure the return of the artefacts.
The President, therefore, assured the first-class traditional ruler that the federal Government would continue in this great cause with his support and that of other traditional rulers.
He said: “In furtherance to these efforts, an agreement between Nigeria and Germany is currently being prepared. When concluded, it will signify the return to Nigeria by Germany of all the 1,130 Benin Bronzes in Germany’s public museums. This will be a monumental achievement.
‘‘Furthermore, on the 7th of this month, the Glasgow City Council agreed to return 17 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. The legal issues are in the process of being sorted out.
‘‘Other success stories include the return by the Netherlands in October 2020 of a 600-year-old Ife Terracotta; the return in April 2021 of a bronze piece from Mexico; as well as the repatriation, in November 2021, of two Benin Bronzes and an Ife Bronze head from the Metropolitan Museum, New York.”
President Buhari announced that because of the determined efforts of this administration, “Nigeria is now regarded to be in the forefront globally in the struggle to repatriate illicitly-exported artefacts to their countries of origin.”
The President acknowledged the efforts of officials of the NCMM currently working with the Oxford University, the Great North Museum of Newcastle University, Rhode Island School and numerous other places on the modalities for the return of Nigerian antiquities, particularly the Benin Bronzes.
He expressed optimism that with careful planning and management, Nigeria could generate revenue from the repatriated antiquities.
Buhari said: “We look forward to a future when these returned antiquities and our arts and culture shall be deployed in generating revenue for the nation.
“I am glad to hear that the Ministry of Information and Culture and the NCMM are already working towards this by reaching out to other nations and cultural institutions on travelling exhibitions to showcase the rich culture of Nigeria through these antiquities.
“This can happen if officials in charge of these priceless artefacts take due care to maintain and preserve these treasures in good condition at all times.”
Also speaking, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, affirmed that Nigeria would continue to assert its rights over all its antiquities around the world.
He added that the country would not hesitate to implore nations, institutions, men and women of goodwill to see the unfairness in the affairs of one body holding on to the cultural property fashioned by the genius of another.
Deji Elumoye in Abuja