As the nation awaits the return of hundreds of artefacts looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897 from Germany, the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, on Friday alleged that some unscrupulous people were moving to hand over the artefacts to unauthorised private entities or third parties and that it would be resisted.
This is coming on the heels of the August 2022 deadline set by the federal government for the German government to ensure full return of hundreds of artefacts looted from the Bini Kingdom in 1897.
Obaseki had told THISDAY last Thursday that he was working on a tripartite arrangement, involving the federal and state governments, the Oba of Benin and a private trust that would manage the artefacts on behalf of the palace and the people.
But Oba Ewuare II, who addressed a press conference on Friday said he had agreed with the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki to house the artefacts in a palace museum and that the controversy around it was absolutely unnecessary.
He said: “I had a discussion with the governor about the need to return them to the palace. If he is here, I will ask him if that was not what we agreed upon. The international community must also know this.
“I will ask for prayer for the governor because it seems there are some unscrupulous people behind this arrangement, who might be doing it for financial gain.”
The Oba said he discussed with the Minister of Information and Culture on the direct repatriation of the artefacts to Benin Kingdom from where they were stolen.
He added that the federal government should take custody of the artefacts and not to hand it over to a private company or the state government, until the Benin Royal Palace Museum was built.
According to the Oba, “Thankfully just yesterday I spoke with the Hon. Minister for Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who is presently in Germany over the negotiation with the German Government over the plans for the repatriation of our artefacts. He assured me that the federal government remains committed to unconditional return of our artefacts and will guarantee their full custody for their onward transmission to Benin Kingdom to the exclusion of any unauthorised private entities or third parties.
“We once again thank the federal government for this commitment. It now behoves on the federal government to be the only level of government that can take custody of the artefacts with a view to transferring them to their original owner and their original place of abode, more so that there exist international treaties and laws guiding these processes.”
The Oba said he also discussed the destination of the expected artefacts with Obaseki, stating that they reached an understanding that the Palace would be in charge, but that he was surprised by his recent position.
“It is pertinent to note that shortly after my ascension to the throne, I had several discussions with the governor on the plan for the Benin Royal Museum and he expressed his readiness to work with the Palace to actualise this laudable wish of my father. I made efforts and acquired additional plots of land from different families within the Adesogbe area near the present day palace for this purpose.
“I was, however, surprised to read from the Governor’s letter to the Palace where reference was being made to the fact that a new Museum to be known as EMOWAA is now being proposed, which will be funded and executed through the vehicle of another body now referred to as Legacy Restoration Trust.
“When Governor Godwin Obaseki informed me in his correspondence of another implementation framework using the so-called Legacy Restoration Trust and the Edo Museum of West Africa Arts (EMOWAA), my response was that the setting up of another organisation or legal entity in whatever form or guise will not be necessary or acceptable.
“I informed him that Oba Ewuare II Foundation has been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and has worked out a framework for not only receiving the artefacts but also building a modern structure – The Benin Royal Museum – within the precincts of the Palace and that land has been secured for the building of the Benin Royal Museum under the supervision of the traditional institution. But for reasons best known to him the Governor has gone against the understanding, given recent events.
The Oba, who addressed Palace Chiefs, Enigies (Dukes) on the repatriation of the looted Benin artefacts, the Benin monarch strongly advised that anyone, group, organisation, or government – national and international that is dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the artefacts looted from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.
The Oba of Benin’s press conference was in reaction to a report yesterday by THISDAY that hinted at a possible showdown between him and the Edo State governor on the final destination of the looted artefacts.
Obaseki had told THISDAY that he was working on a tripartite arrangement, involving the federal and state governments, the Oba of Benin and a private trust that would manage the artefacts on behalf of the palace and the people.
“I intend to work with the Oba of Benin in an arrangement that would be led by the federal government,” he told THISDAY, accusing a palace chief, Elemai Oseni, of misinforming the revered monarch about his plans.”
The governor said he would straighten out things with the monarch on his return from Germany, where he and the Minister of Information and Culture, Mr. Lai Mohammed, are currently negotiating and insisting on unconditional repatriation of the artefacts.
Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City