Nigeria’s federal government has urged Germany to ensure an unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin artefacts that were looted from Nigeria in the 19th century and domiciled in German museums.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at meetings, held on Wednesday in Berlin with German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas, said the return should be whole rather than substantial on the heel of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make “substantial return” of the 1,130 looted artefacts.
He added that 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.
“That they are known as Benin Bronzes is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin),” Mohammed said.
At a separate meeting with Maas, the minister reiterated that no conditions should be attached to the return of the artefacts.
He stressed the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the artefacts, in addition to concluding all negotiations in a very short term.
He said the discussions between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the artworks were not the end of an era but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between both countries.
He thanked Germany for taking the lead
in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts looted from Nigeria and the African continent.
“We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead,” he said
Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation said a “transformational” museum was being
built-in Benin City to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.
He said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the federal government, the (Benin) royal family and the people of Edo State.
On his part, the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar, said the issue of the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes should be seen as an opportunity to take the cooperation between Nigeria and Germany to a greater height.
He commended Germany for taking the lead in the repatriation process.
Earlier, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Grutters, had said: “The way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past,” describing the issues as “an important personal concern.”
She assured the Nigerian delegation that the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from next year.
She stated that the fact that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation indicated that both sides had moved beyond mere talks, adding that all the museums in Germany stockpiling Benin Bronzes have agreed to cooperate.
Other people on the Nigerian delegation were Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani, and Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare, who was invited by the German government.
They were later taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace-turned-museum in the heart of Berlin that houses art works from around the world.