The Federal Government has demanded a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin Bronzes that were looted from the African nation in the 19th century and domiciled in German museums.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the demand in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, during separate meetings with the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and the German Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas.
Reacting to comments by Prof. Grutters that Germany was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts, Alhaji Mohammed, who led the Nigerian delegation to the talks, said the return should be whole rather than substantial.
He also said 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, adding: ”That they are known as Benin Bronzes is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin).”
Later, at a meeting with the German Foreign Minister, Alhaji Mohammed said there should be ”absolutely no conditions attached” to the return of the artefacts, which he described as an idea whose time has come.
Saying there was the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes, the Minister of Information and Culture said it was necessary to conclude all necessary negotiations in a very short term.
He said the ongoing discussion between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the artworks is not just the end of an era but the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between both countries.
Alhaji Mohammed thanked the Government of Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and indeed from 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
The Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who is also a member of the Nigerian delegation, said a ”transformational” museum is being built in Benin city to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.
The Governor said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) royal family and the people of Edo State..
For 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.
”This is an opportunity that must not be missed. Minor issues should not delay the repatriation,” he said, commending the government of Germany for taking the lead in the repatriation process.
Earlier, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Grutters, said ”the way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past,” describing the issues as a ”an important personal concern.”
She disclosed that the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from the beginning of 2022.
Prof. Gutters noted that the fact that Germany has twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation is an indication that both sides have moved beyond mere talks, saying all the Museums in Germany that are holding Benin Bronzes have agreed to cooperate.
The Nigerian delegation, which also includes the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani, and the Benin Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Ezelekhae Ewuare, was 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