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Nigeria Recognises Oba of Benin as Owner and Custodian of All Looted Benin Artefacts

The Oba shall be responsible for the management of all places where the repatriated artefacts – looted by a British military expedition in 1897 – are domiciled or located.

Nigeria’s federal government has officially recognised the Oba of Benin as the owner and custodian of all Benin artefacts looted and carted away from the shores of the country by a British military expedition in 1897.

This was revealed in an official government Gazette seen by ARISE News.

By the announced law, all artefacts must be delivered to the Oba of Benin who exercises the rights of original owner. This covers the ones already repatriated and those yet to be repatriated.

The official document which was titled: “Notice of Presidential Declaration on the Recognition of Ownership and an Order Vesting Custody and Management of Repatriated Looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin” was issued on 23rd March, 2023.

Going forward, the Federal Government of Nigeria in collaboration with the Oba of Benin shall superintend on matters of safety and security of any repatriated aertefact, while the Oba is at liberty to engage with national and international institutions in respect of the artefacts.

The Nigerian government says the repatriated artefacts may be kept within the Palace of the Oba or such other locations within Benin City, or any other place that the Oba and the federal government may consider secure and safe.

Hundreds of thousands of historical artworks from Africa remain outside the continent, including (clockwise from top left): an Oduduwa helmet mask made of bronze from Benin City in Nigeria, housed at the British Museum in London; the “Royal Seat of the Kingdom of Dahomey” from Benin Republic, at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris; an ivory receptacle with figurative relief and stopper from the Loango coast, part of modern-day Republic of Congo, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; a Central African power figure from the coast of Congo and Angola, now at the Met; a Mbangu mask from southern Bandundu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, housed at the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium; a head of a royal ancestor from the former Benin Kingdom, a part of modern-day Nigeria, displayed at the Quai Branly; and a carved ivory pendant mask of Queen Idia, inlaid with iron and bronze, from Benin Kingdom, now at the British Museum. CREDIT: © Trustees of the British Museum; Gerard Julien/AFP via Getty Images; Metropolitan Museum of Art; Royal Museum for Central Africa; Philippe Wojazer/Reuters; © Trustees of the British Museum

Also, the Oba shall be responsible for the management of all places where the repatriated artefacts are domiciled or located.

Also known as the Benin Bronzes, the artefacts are a group of several thousand metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now Edo State, Nigeria.

Collectively, the objects form the best examples of Benin art and were created by artists of the Edo people.

Some of the dramatic sculptures date back to the thirteenth century, but the bulk of the collection dates to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The two largest collections of Benin Bronzes are located in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and in the British Museum in London, with other notable collections in the United States.

Some of the artefacts have already been been repatriated with many more in the process of being returned to Nigeria.

Demola Ojo 

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