Nigeria President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to countries, institutions, and bodies, both private and public, to return Nigeria’s artefacts in their possession. Buhari also disclosed that 1,130 Benin bronzes would be returned to Nigeria by the German government before the end of this year.
Reacting to the recent return of two important Nigerian artefacts from Britain, the president, in a statement in Monday by his spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, welcomed the official handover, on Saturday, of the Okwukor and the Head of an Oba of Benin Bronzes, to the Oba of Benin, His Royal Highness, Oba Ewuare II. The artefacts were repatriated from the University of Cambridge and University of Aberdeen, respectively, in the United Kingdom, after 125 years of their leaving the territory of present day Nigeria.
In a passionate plea for return of the objects, which form a significant part of the country’s rich cultural heritage, Buhari recalled that the artefacts, now returned to the Oba of Benin, were taken away by British soldiers in 1897, when they attacked the ancient Benin Kingdom and took thousands of items away.
According to the president, “These artefacts are part of the records of the history of the Benin people. My directive to return these artefacts to the Oba of Benin marks the beginning of another aspect in the highly valued relationship between the federal government of Nigeria and our traditional institutions who are, indeed, the true custodians of our history, customs, and traditions.
“This directive is also significant because it will introduce a working relationship between the federal government, as represented by the NCMM, and the traditional institutions whereby this commission negotiates the release of antiquities from foreign museums and institutions on behalf of Nigeria and the traditional institutions that lost the antiquities and jointly they all take steps to ensure the valourisation of Nigerian and Nigerian people through these great arts and cultural emblems.”
While urging other countries to take a cue from the institutions, the president vowed that the federal government would pursue the repatriation of Nigerian artefacts vigorously. He pledged that government would ensure that they were put to good and proper use on their return in museums and other facilities in conjunction with the royal families and kingdoms that lost these artefacts.
The president noted that in line with international law and practice, export, import, and control over antiquities were matters within the purview of national governments, to be exercised on behalf of sub-national authorities, institutions and bodies. He thanked the government of the United Kingdom that facilitated the return of the artefacts by issuing the prerequisite Export Permits to Nigeria at no cost, as well as the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen who agreed to return these artefacts to Nigeria.
“These are unprecedented moves worth emulating by others,” he said, adding that the federal government hopes to work hand in hand with the British authorities in the future to encourage the return of more Nigerian artefacts from the United Kingdom.
Buhari also appreciated the Federal Republic of Germany, which was planning the process of repatriating 1,130 Benin bronzes to Nigeria this year from many of Germany’s public museums.
He also commended the High Commissioner of Nigeria to the United Kingdom, Sarafa Ishola, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) for their collaborative works that led to the repatriation of the artefacts. According to him, it is noteworthy that several others are currently in the process of being returned while discussions are on-going to repatriate many more.
Deji Elumoye in Abuja