Some Benin Bronzes

Germany set to return 1,130 looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria: Minister

*Lai Mohammed, Minister for Information and Culture, says the US and Germany are beginning to realise that the matter of returning stolen artifacts to Nigeria is not of law but of morality, doing the right thing

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

The Federal Government of Nigeria has disclosed Germany will return looted Benin Bronze artifacts to the West African country.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister for Information and Culture, said he had inked an agreement with the European country for the repatriation of over 1,130 looted Benin Bronze artifacts to Nigeria.

Mohammed noted this development Tuesday, October 11, 2022, during an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria, in Washington, D.C., United States (US).

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Honourable Minister for Information and Culture

This is coming a few months after the museums in the US had repatriated 31 Benin Bronze artifacts to the country.

While commending the German Government for that effort, the Minister said that Nigeria also, had been receiving positive responses from France and Mexico to return some of the country’s stolen artifacts.

Mohammed stated that reclaiming the looted artifacts is important to enhance the cultural values of those art works, adding that Nigeria would continue to intensify its campaign for their repatriation.

It is recalled that during a unprovoked British raid on Benin 1897, the royal palace was torched and looted, and the Oba (ruler) was exiled.

The British thereafter looted all the royal treasures while giving some to individual officers, and taking most to auction in London, in the United Kingdom (UK).

The estimated 3,000 objects eventually made their ways into museums and private collections around the world.

According to Alhaji Mohammed, the world has seen that it was an ethical and moral issue to return the artifacts to their original owners.

It is not a matter of law as claimed by the British Government, stated he.

The Minister said: “This is important for the British Museum to understand and for the British Government to know, because I was also in the British Museum to ask them to return thousands of the artifacts in its custody.

“The standard response is that until the British Parliament changes the status, they are not in position to so do.”

He further stated: “The US and Germany are now seeing that this matter is not of law but of morality, is about doing the right thing.

“I hope that the British government will also learn from the two countries and so same.”

Nigeria is planning to sign an agreement with the British Government November 28 to return about 86 other artifacts from various museums in the UK, Mohammed stated.

The Minister added that the campaign of the current administration for the return of and restitution of Nigeria’s looted/smuggled artifacts from around the world, which was launched in November 2019, was yielding positive result.

He also noted that in January this year, Nigeria and the US signed the bilateral cultural property agreement to prevent illicit import into the U.S. of some categories of Nigerian artifacts.

He said: “This agreement solidifies our shared commitment to combat looting and trafficking of precious cultural property while also establishing a process for the return of trafficked cultural objects, thus reducing the incentives to loot sites in Nigeria.’’

Mohammed added: “Because for many art lovers, they don’t see beyond the aesthetic of these artifacts; these artifacts are also intrinsic and integral part of our history.

“Our culture is followed by social life, so it’s only fair to return them. It is moral to do so, it would enhance and improve youth understanding of their cultural background and history.

“Some of these cultural artifacts looted are used for certain ceremonies such as coronation of a new Oba (king). Sometimes they are use as calendars to mark events in the community.’’ he said.

Besides, the minister noted that the Nigerian government was working on an arrangement to embark on travelling exhibitions of the returned artifacts.

He stated: “We are starting it very soon, and in conjunction with stakeholders, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria will embark on international travelling exhibitions.

“We want to embark on International travelling exhibitions with the artifacts being repatriated in a manner that will win more friends and promote greater goodwill and ethnic groups that produced the artifacts.”

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