The Director General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, on Wednesday disclosed that Nigeria’s federal government would accelerate action on the construction of a royal palace museum in the palace of the Oba of Benin where the Benin bronze artefacts that are to be repatriated from Germany next year would be kept.
This is just as Nigeria and Germany, on Wednesday in Abuja, signed a landmark memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the repatriation of the 1,130 pieces of the artefacts presently in German museums that were stolen during the colonial era.
Speaking on ‘The Morning Show’ on Arise News Channel, Tijani while responding to a question on where the artefacts would be kept when they are returned to the country, said the first consideration by the federal government was the Edo people.
This, according to him, was because, “the artefacts were actually looted from the palace of the Oba of Benin in 1897.”
“That unfortunate incidence is in our minds. So, these artefacts would go back to Edo and the people of the state and of course other Nigerians would have the opportunity to visit where they would be displayed.
“First of all we have proposed a royal palace museum in the court of Benin. We have some palace museums across Nigeria, which are managed by the NCMM. So, we had designed a palace museum in 2018; unfortunately we were not able to start the project because of funding.
“But now that the objects are ready to come to Nigeria, we have to expedite the process of constructing a palace museum in the palace of the Oba of Benin, where some of these objects can be displayed,” he explained.
He however, pointed out palace museum are restricted places because it is usually situated in the court of the royal father. “Therefore, the idea is when the Oba gets very important visitors, he can take them round these museums. So, the entrance is restricted to members of the public and can be opened only during weekends.
“Therefore, there is need for us to have another public museum of international standard. So, part of our negotiation with our partners who are holding these objects is that they should support us with the construction of an international museum,” he added.
According to him, the issue of repatriation of the artefacts dates back to the 70s when the country made a formal request for the return of the objects from Europe and other continent.
“Now that the objects have acclimatised with wherever they were, we need to prepare ourselves to get these artefacts back. We are going through the process of negotiation with the German federal government who would in turn negotiate with the country’s regional governments for the release of the artefacts.
“In Germany alone we are talking about 1,130 Benin bronzes. Therefore, if these 1,130 Benin bronzes are sent to Nigeria today, where are they going to be? Therefore, we need to prepare.
“So, we need to have plan to receive these artefacts. Don’t forget that Benin bronzes have assumed certain value in the international market. Therefore, if they are to come back to Nigeria, we have to make sure that the security provided for the safekeeping of the artefacts are up to international level so that they won’t be re-looted. Therefore, we are looking at the objects arriving from July 2022,” he added.
Meanwhile, the MoU was signed on behalf of the federal government by Tijani and the Director-General for Culture and Communication of the German Federal Foreign Office, Dr. Andreas Gorgen.
The MoU in Abuja was a precursor to the conclusion of the framework agreement on the repatriation of the bronze pieces that would be concluded in Benin in December 2021.
Members of the German delegation included the Director of the Museum at Rothebbaum, Prof. Barbara Plankensteiner; President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Prof. Hermann Parzinger and the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Birgitt Ory.
After an initial visit to Nigeria in May, a visit by a Nigerian delegation to Berlin two months later and the latest visit to Abuja, in line with the terms of the MoU that stipulates that the return of the Benin artefacts from German museums would be embedded in a broad collaboration in the areas of archeology, museum facilities and museum collaboration.
Both sides resolved that the process leading to the return of Benin bronzes would commence in the second quarter of 2022 with the transfer of ownership to Nigeria.
Yesterday’s agreement also stated that the Benin Bronzes would continue to be exhibited in German museums while there would cooperation on exhibition projects.
Ory said: “I am delighted that the German delegation achieved so much progress. This underlines again our commitment to the Nigerian- German cooperation in this field. We commend our Nigerian partners for their cooperation and are looking forward to the next steps.”
The leader of the German delegation, Gorgen expressed delight with the agreement.
He said: “I am very pleased that after the previous meetings, we were able to create a reliable basis for the return of Benin bronzes and for further cooperation. I am sure that our joint engagement will put Nigerian-German cultural relations on a new foundation.”
He described the release of the artefacts as part of a cultural policy that would contribute to healing the wound inflicted by the looting of the artifacts from Nigeria and to establishing a new relationship between Germany and Nigeria.
He commended the efforts of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, saying the MoU was based on what the Minister initiated during his visit to Germany earlier in the year.
Meanwhile, the minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while receiving the German delegation, described the MoU between both countries as a major step towards the repatriation of hundreds of Benin Bronzes from Germany next year.
He said a team of experts would leave Nigeria soon to engage with stakeholders in Germany on the repatriation of the artifacts.
“A team of experts will be visiting some museum in Germany very soon and the whole idea is again confidence building to especially assuage their feeling of loss and make it lighter and easier for them and to also make their position more tenable with the people,” Mohammed said.
The minister said even though Germany acquired the artefacts through global trading in artefacts, it had voluntarily agreed to relinquished them in order to further strengthen the bilateral ties between Nigeria and Germany.
“The German Government and the German people have taken a bold step by agreeing to voluntarily, without too much coercion on the part of Nigeria, to return these artefacts. Because what the return of the artefacts will do is that it is going to really cement further relationship between Nigeria and Germany. Culture today has become one of the effective tools for soft diplomacy,” he said.
He noted that with this gesture, German has become the first country to willingly decide to return about 1,130 pieces of artifacts to Nigeria, stressing that the gesture will further endear Nigerians, especially the people of Edo State, to the people and Government of Germany.
“The return of the artifacts should not be an end of an era but rather the beginning of further cooperation between the two parties,” he said.
Gorgen commended the efforts of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and said the signed MoU was based on what the Minister initiated during his visit to Germany earlier in the year.
Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja