20.09.2021 Feature Article

Benin Bronzes Belong To Oba Of Benin

Metal vessel, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin, Germany.Metal vessel, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin, Germany.
20.09.2021 LISTEN

As for the ownership status of the works, who does not know that Benin is the true owner despite the semantics and legalese by the international community?

We have had enough of these meetings which only end as academic exercise.’ - Prince Edun Agharese Akenzua, Enogie of Obazuwa. (1)

We have recently been asked whether the famous Benin bronzes belong to the Nigerian Federal Government or the Oba of Benin. Our answer has always been unambiguous: Benin artefacts belong to the Oba of Benin who is the traditional king of the Edo people, also known as Benin people. My position has been reinforced by statements of leading scholars of Benin art such as Sylvester Ogbechie:

"Benin kings imported large quantities of copper and bronze in various forms from Europe that were then used by its court artists to create outstanding commemorative heads...."in Making History: African Collections and the Canon of African Art. (2)

Peju Layiwola has in a recent powerful statement reminded us that Benin art is court art:

“Can anyone with the knowledge of the colonial violence unleashed on Benin, its monarchy and its people with the attendant plundering of thousands of Benin artefacts from the palace of the king contest ownership with His royal Majesty? The Oba of Benin is the custodian of Benin art and these looted objects are clearly his heirloom. The Oba must therefore be a key figure in any discussions regarding the return of Benin cultural treasures. In addition, the property rights of these objects must remain with him. The Oba had always held the objects in trust for his people. He instituted and catered for the guilds that produced these treasures.’ (3)

It is surely no accident that the best exhibition of Benin art, curated by Barbara Plankensteiner, was entitled “Benin Kings and Rituals-Court Arts from Nigeria. This magnificent exhibition that started in Vienna, went to Paris, Berlin, and Chicago, exploring in detail the court art and the history of Benin. (4)

Those who plundered the Benin treasures on the order of the British Government in 1897 and their descendants would be the first to admit that the artefacts were stolen from the Palace of Oba Ovonramwen in Benin City.

Until very recently then, one would have considered the question of ownership as somewhat odd and absurd since nobody had any doubt that the famous treasures belonged to the Oba of Benin whose ancestors have since the 15th Century owned the exquisite treasures that record and recount the history of the valiant Benin people whose famous civilization was brutally and violently truncated by imperialist Great Britain in 1897. Oba Ovonramwen from whose palace the British soldiers stole these precious objects had been considered by the invading British as an impediment to British hegemonic objectives in West Africa and therefore, had to be eliminated, just like King Jaja of Opobo and the Asante kings.

The invasion of 1897 which had been planned long beforehand, looted at least 3000-5000 artefacts. The King was sent into exile in Calabar where he died in 1914. Other Benin nobles were hanged after kangaroo trials. Houses and other properties were burnt. Innocent women, children, and men were callously killed by the British troops. No compensation has so far been paid by the United Kingdom for these wanton destructions and nobody seems to be concerned about this. Do Black Lives Matter?

The people of Benin have been asking for the restitution of their looted treasures for more than 120 years but to no avail. The British who stole the precious Benin bronzes, kept a large number, perhaps 1700 artefacts and sold the remaining to the Germans, Dutch, other Europeans, and Americans. The plunderers and their accomplices were declaring hundred years later, inter alia, that the artefacts belonged to them and were best kept in the universal museums of the Western world. All pleas from the Africans fell on deaf ears until very recently.

In 2017, a young president in France, Emmanuel Macron, declared to the astonishment of all that it was unjustifiable to keep so many African artefacts, mostly looted, in Western museums and institutions whilst Africans had nothing to show of their glorious culture. He added that conditions must be established inFrance within the following five years for returning some of the artefacts as permanent or temporary restitution. Shaken to their bones by this audacious French president, the Germans tried to counter this earth-shaking declaration with a publication, Leitfaden zum Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten (Guidelines for dealing with artefact acquired from colonial contexts) which pretended to resolve the problem of restitution of looted African artefacts in German museums. The Leitfaden that were neither binding nor issued by a political authority, solved nothing and were revised twice in rapid succession. (5)

In the meanwhile, the report by Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics, commissioned by the French President, recommended that looted African objects that had been taken without the consent of the African owners in the colonial period, should be restituted. This restitution report sent around the world of museums and galleries shock waves that are still felt in many Western institutions. (6)

The struggle for the return of looted African artefacts crystallized in due course into a fight for the restitution of looted Benin objects mainly because of the brutal way those artefacts were violently looted by the British army in 1897. In the meanwhile, France decided to return 26 looted artefacts to the Republic of Benin (the former French colony of Dahomey, not to be confused with the Kingdom of Benin now in Nigeria from where the famous Benin bronzes were stolen). France decided also to return to Senegal a sword and its sheath which had been taken from Omar Saidou Tall, a Muslim leader and founder of the Toucouleur Empire, an anti-colonialist leader who resisted French hegemonic invasions.

The Dutch responded to the French challenge with new rules that would facilitate restitution. The Belgians, after some delay, decided to restitute to the Democratic Republic of Congo, artefacts stolen during the colonial regime. (7)

The British who started the whole colonial robbery, remain opposed to restitution of looted African artefacts.

New British guidelines on handling colonial objects commissioned by the Arts Council England (ACE ) in 2020, do not appear to be ready yet. We can assume that any new British guidelines will not recommend restitution of looted African artefacts but endorse the idea of loans propagated by the Benin Dialogue Group. The present strategy as far as Benin artefacts are concerned seems to be this: encourage as many as possible British institutions with small numbers of Benin artefacts to restitute them whilst institutions with large number of Benin artefacts such as a Pitt-Rivers and British Museum, spread the argument that the big institutions such as British Museum and Pitt-Rivers are prevented by law from returning any object by the British Museum Act, 1963. This is, of course, not true. We should look at section 5 of the Act which states clearly that the British Museum may remove objects from its collection under specific conditions. The museum has substituted its negative policy for an interpretation of the law. Surprisingly many scholars, including those ostensibly supporting restitution go about spreading this myth. Why do they not propose a modification of the law if this is an obstacle to the restitution that they so ardently seek?

After some hesitations and delaying tactics, Germany decided on 29th April 2021 to restitute the Benin artefacts and in June 2021, finally announced it would restitute to the Oba of Benin and Nigeria, Benin objects, including those that were to go on display in the Humboldt Forum, the new € 800 m museum that finally opened on 20 July 2021 after various difficulties, including the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic. (8)

After the German decision to restitute 1131 looted Benin artefacts to the Oba and Nigeria, questions arose as to whether the restituted artefacts are owned by the Oba.

In anticipation of the historic restitution of the Benin bronzes, it was announced that a new museum would be constructed in Benin City, designated Edo Museum of West African Art (EDOWAA), designed by the famous Ghanaian-British architect, David Adjaye. A trust fund, Legacy Restoration Trust was announced as having been entrusted with the function of managing the museum that will house the restituted Benin artefacts.

We read the following statement from the British Museum blog:

“Together with our partners, the Legacy Restoration Trust (Nigeria) and Adjaye Associates, we are excited to announce a major new archaeology project, linked to the construction of the new Edo Museum for West African Art (EMOWAA) in Benin City, Nigeria.

This innovative project will investigate the archaeology of the Kingdom of Benin, including excavating historical remains of the capital buried below the proposed site of a new museum. This will be the most extensive archaeological excavation ever undertaken in Benin City, Nigeria. The project is developed with the approval of the Benin Royal Court, the Edo State Government and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The Legacy Restoration Trust in partnership with the British Museum has secured the equivalent of £3 million of funding to enable this archaeological project.

The new Edo Museum of West African Art initiative – led by the Legacy Restoration Trust, and being designed by the commissioned architects Adjaye Associates – is focused on reuniting Benin art works currently within international collections, as well as investigating and presenting the wider histories that these represent. The EMOWAA Archaeology Project is a fundamental element of the early phase work for the building of the new museum, which will house the most comprehensive display in the world of Benin Bronzes, alongside other collections’(9)

After the announcement of a trust to administer the new museum, it became obvious that a major dispute was in the making. Before this statement, most of us knew a new museum, the Royal Museum, was to be built within or close to the existing Palace. None of us was aware that another museum, independent of the Benin Monarchy, was in planning and would be run by a trust that did not depend on the Oba, the owner of the Benin artefacts. The Governor of Edo State in which Benin City is located, Godwin Obaseki, issued several statements that amounted to a claim by the Edo State to have an important role in the restitution of the looted artefacts and their future management. Many had not heard before of the Legacy Restoration Trust. A certain amount of confusion of roles seemed to be developing. Under these circumstances, it was not surprising that the Oba felt it necessary to clarify his stand on the restitution issues.

The Oba issued a statement reasserting the centuries-old ownership rights of the Benin Monarchy in the artefacts looted in 1897. The monarch denounced the Legacy Restoration Trust as a private firm that does not represent the Oba and the people of Benin. He reiterated the plans to build a new Royal Museum on grounds already allocated:

“There is no alternative native authority and custodian of the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom outside the Oba of Benin as constituted by the Royal Palace. I do not believe that the move by a privately registered company, the Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd. and the purported establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) are in consonance with the wishes of the people of Benin Kingdom .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 actualize 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 organization or legal entity in whatever form or guise will not be necessary nor acceptable.’’ (10)

The differences between Oba Ewuare II and Governor Godwin Obaseki regarding the control over the Benin artefacts expected from Germany, developed into an open conflict, played out openly in the Nigerian media to the dismay of many friends of the Benin Monarchy and Nigeria, both in Africa and outside the Continent. The Oba requested the Federal Government to receive the restituted objects and keep them until the new Royal Palace to be built in Benin City was ready. He stated further that under no circumstance should the returned artefacts be handed over to the government of Edo State.

Various groups in Benin have expressed their views on the positions of the Oba and of the Governor. (11) However, certain questions arising out of the dispute between the King and the Governor need to be clarified:

  1. Was the Oba not fully informed about the establishment of the Legacy Restoration Trust?
  2. Was the composition of the members of the trust fund agreed upon by the Oba and the Governor, with the British Museum and the German government?
  3. What were the roles of the British Museum and the German Government in the establishment of the LRT?
  4. Who decided that the administration of the EMOWAA, housing the Benin artefacts, should be entrusted to the LRT?
  5. Did the Germans or the British Museum ever express any preference for the LRT over the Benin Oba for the management of the returned treasures?
  6. Can employees of the Nigerian or German State serve on board of trustees of private NGO’s?
  7. What was the role of Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare, Crown Prince of Benin and son of Oba Ewuare, in all this?

Governor Obaseki’s reaction to the hard-hitting speech of the Oba seemed, at least on the surface, aimed at avoiding further escalation of a dispute which will not further the interest of the Edo state whose current governor he is.

In a press statement, Godwin Obaseki referred to the statement of the Oba that ‘appears to have created the impression that there is a major conflict between the interest of the EDSG (Edo State Government) and His Royal Majesty with regards to the laudable national milestone of having our highly valued artifacts returned to Nigeria’

According to Obaseki,” The Government of the Edo State and the Governor have always acted transparently and in consonance with existing Federal and State laws in all matters relating to the proposed return of the artefacts and the monuments.

The Governor will continue to display immense respect for our traditional institutions and therefore will continue to make effort to secure a private audience with His Royal Majesty’’. (12)

Whether these conciliatory words of Governor Obaseki will bring the Governor and the Oba away from a potentially dangerous confrontation remains to be seen. One party or the other must give up his plans for a new museum in Benin to house the returned Benin artefacts. It seems to us the Governor must give up his plans for the Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) and join forces with the Oba to build a new Royal Museum in Benin City.

As if the differences between the Oba and the Governor were not enough, the Nigerian Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, declared not only that the Federal Government was taking possession of the Benin artefacts, as the Oba has requested, but also seemed to be making claims on behalf of the Federal Government as regards the Benin bronzes to be returned from Germany. The Minister did not expressly claim ownership of the artefacts on behalf of the Federal Government but his statement that the Government was taking possession of the artefacts may have led many to believe he was claiming ownership rights for the Government.

‘Let me state clearly here that, in line with international best practice and the operative Conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany. Nigeria is the entity recognized by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from Nigeria. The relevant international Conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or subnational groups. For example, the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its article 1, defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation. This allows individual nations to determine what it regards as its cultural property. Nevertheless, the Nigerian state – through the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments – has in working assiduously over the past years to repatriate our looted artefacts carried along our important traditional institutions and state governments.

What I am saying in essence is that the Federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws. But we have always exercised this right in cognizance of that culture that produced the art works. That is why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always involved both the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities. Please note that we are not just involved in the repatriation of Benin artefacts. We are also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu, the arts of Bida, the arts of Igala, Jukun etc. Recall, gentlemen, our efforts over the Igbo statues that were auctioned at Christie’s in Year 2020, and the fact that we took the British and Belgian authorities to ICPRCP in 2019 over an Ife object. (13)

The Minister is right insofar as concerns the Federal Government’s taking custody of the returned Benin objects. However, the remarks that the Nigerian Federal Government is recognized as the authority in control of artefacts originating in Nigeria and that heritage conventions treat heritage property as belonging to Nigeria and not individuals or subnational groups, and the reference to the 1970 UNESCO Convention may have created the misleading impression that International Law makes the Nigerian Federal Government owner of all heritage in Nigeria.

First, most of us know that the 1970 UNESCO convention is not retroactive and therefore not applicable to objects stolen in 1897. One cannot, therefore, use the provisions of that convention and apply them to the Benin treasures stolen in1897. (14) Moreover, the article of the convention cited, does not deal with questions of ownership at all but with the definition of what the national State may designate as part of its national cultural heritage, in case of dispute with other States.

As to possible retroactive application of the Convention to historical events, the leading commentary on the Convention states as follows:

’’The fear is misplaced. As the paragraph above shows, cultural property displaced during historic times, no matter what the circumstances, is not the subject of the 1970 Convention.” (15)

Article 1 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, like the whole convention, is only applicable to disputes with other States and not to disputes between the State and other entities within the country. Here the internal law of the State would be exclusively applicable. One cannot resort to the UNESCO 1970 convention to settle proprietary disputes between Nigerian contestants. Can anyone imagine an international convention that makes States owners of all cultural objects within the territory of the State?

More serious than the application of a non-applicable international convention, is the effect of such an application on the Continent, if this extension of the authority of the State to cultural objects were to be accepted. Attempts by modern African States to high jack the looted African treasures now in Western museums and are likely to be returned soon, would set the Continent on fire. The very notion of the State taking over treasures of traditional rulers reveals lack of consideration of the history of the relations between traditional rulers and modern African rulers just before and after Independence. Serious conflicts between the modern elite and traditional rulers would ensue. Moreover, such attempts may be, in some cases, unconstitutional and may upset compromises that had been reached before the gaining of Independence.

Suggestions that restituted looted treasures be handed over to the ownership of the central government would display a complete disregard of the sources of the strength and dynamism of African culture. We know that much of the power of African art derives from the traditional rulers and their courts who live with and develop our cultures. They really care for the artefacts. Resistance to European aggression was always organized around traditional rulers such as Ovonramven whose troops resisted imperialist invaders. Much of our cultural festivals which are not there for entertainment or tourism but serve to spread and reinforce knowledge of our culture and history center around traditional rulers.

The renaissance and renovation of African culture that some expect from the restitution of looted treasures from Western institutions can only take place when the looted treasures are returned to those places and institutions that created and cared for them before Europeans came and stole them. Placing most of the restituted cultural objects under the control of central national institutions would most likely result in superficial tourist attractions in areas frequented by Western tourists but not to rebirth or strengthening of our cultures. Many of those elites in control of our central institutions have their eyes and minds turned to New York and London. They never think of Kumasi or Ife. The continuation of colonialist objectives, involving the destruction and replacement of African culture, is in the sure control of many an elite.

We should also remember that attempts by the modern State to hijack looted cultural objects returning home run the risk of putting into question the legitimacy and authority of the modern State. Most traditional authorities have a longer legitimacy going back centuries before colonization whereas our modern States hardly existed before Independence and cannot boast of a legitimacy and authority older than 60 years. Their creation would not have the ideological and religious aura of traditional authorities many of whom have centuries of religious underpinnings. A State already showing signs of secessionist and other divisive tendencies may well be advised not to raise any unnecessary competition with traditional authorities.

A probable and likely effect of the dispute between the Oba of Benin and the Governor of Edo State or Federal Government would be to delay restitution. Those who were never keen on the restitution of looted African treasures may now think they have a legitimate ground for delay or postponement of restitution. They are surely mistaken. They should realize that they are not responsible for the future of the looted African objects that are to return to Africa. For example, the Germans who have been negotiating with the Nigerian Government which usually sends a delegation that includes representatives of the Oba, have no excuse for not following the agreed programme of completing the restitution that begins and finishes in 2022. The assumption has always been that the restituted treasures would be returned to Benin City where they were looted by the notorious British punitive expedition. Where individual objects are finally placed, is not the business of the German government. This is up to the Nigerians to decide.

We should remember that in the last decades, whenever a Benin treasure was returned to Nigeria, it was returned directly to the Oba of Benin, in Benin City.

Who can forget the joy and enthusiasm with which Dr. Mark Walker, a British doctor, was greeted in Benin City in 2014 when he returned two Benin artefacts to the Oba of Benin, Oba Erediauwa, before an assembly of hundreds of excited and enthusiastic Edo who were witnessing a historic event of great dimensions? The speeches and music on that day embraced the unique nature of the historic event. Dr. Walker brought two looted objects he inherited from his great-grandfather who was a member of the notorious punitive expedition of 1897. (16)

In 1938 when Britain returned pieces of Oba Ovonramven’s coral regalia to Benin, it was sent directly to Oba Akenzua II who sang and danced with joy at this gesture from the British.

Whenever the British Museum, with its usual concern for Nigerian culture, sold Benin artefacts to the Nigerian government, they were sent to the central government, then in Lagos. (17)

There should be no misunderstanding as regards the current situation of looted African artefacts in the Western world. Germany should no doubt be congratulated for having finally taken the decision to restitute looted Benin artefacts in 2022. This is a great achievement considering the more than 124 years delay in which spurious and baseless arguments were presented to avoid restitution.

But what about the remaining Benin treasures in the German institutions that are not part of the Benin Dialogue Group and whose Benin objects are not listed on the official German site? Supposing those museums and institutions refuse to restitute their Benin artefacts, what will happen? Can the Federal German government put pressure on them to hand over the objects to Benin? (18) We will also have to ensure that the lists are complete and account for losses, damages and sales or exchanges with other institutions in or outside Germany.

Germany has not yet agreed to return the other looted Nigerian and African artefacts in German institutions. These also must be returned to their original owners. Other European States such as the Netherlands and Belgium have announced plans which if implemented will result in restitution, but no concrete restitution has taken place yet. Museums in the United States have not declared their intention to restitute the thousands of looted African artefacts they are detaining in their hall and depots. But those institutions are beginning to examine their stock of looted African artefacts.

The State that is principally responsible for much of the looting of African artefacts in Ethiopia, in Ghana, in Benin, and elsewhere has so far rejected restitution. At most, the United Kingdom, has generously offered to loan to Nigerians some of the Benin treasures the mighty Empire stole in 1897. We do know whether this offer of loans includes the ivory hip mask of Queen-mother Idia which the British refused to loan to Nigeria for the purpose of FESTAC’77, the great pan- African cultural festival in1977.

The British Secretary of State for culture has advised British museums and other cultural institutions not to remove statues or return artefacts. They must retain and explain them as part of the glorious colonial history. The minister has threatened to withdraw funds from institutions that do not follow the government’s policy. New staff must sign a written document accepting the government’s policy before they are offered a contract. (19)

Obas Akenzua, Esigie, Ewuakpe, Ewuare, Ovonramwen and others may have thought they were recording Benin history and customs when they commissioned bronze-casters to record the history and customs of their people. We now know for sure that what they were really recording was to become part of the history of the British Empire and of the British Isles. The British Secretary for Culture and a number of historians on the Isles seem to support this view. Moreover, a recent poll by YouGov indicates that a third of the British population shares the view that the Benin artefacts are part of British History. (20)

After all, it was the British who looted the Benin treasures in 1897 and made them thereby famous. This is part of their history. In the face of such theories and arguments, most people are easily discouraged. Readers may forgive me for not offering vigorous ripostes to such arguments. The sheer audacity of the argument is enough to disarm seasoned polemicists from offering counterarguments, for fear of descending to a level of argumentation hitherto unknown even in restitution debates.

Based on the new thinking coming from the British Isles, we may allow bank-robbers to keep the millions they have stolen from the bank because the stolen objects become part of their histories. As for the deprived owners, tough luck! We cannot undo history. Morality has also been jettisoned into the sea.

Colonialist and racist ideologies have not disappeared entirely from Europe despite recent progress, due largely to the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement that has shaken not only slavery and colonialist statues but also many museums and cultural institutions. But the old problems survive, and Europeans are not yet ready to apologize for their past crimes and amend their arrogant and unlawful methods

Some British intellectuals have suggested that the British Museum should keep the Benin artefacts because the resources Benin used in purchasing metal from Europe derived from slave trade. It makes you wonder how widespread knowledge about slavery is in the United Kingdom even among intellectuals. Supposing we suggested that all objects in the United Kingdom which somehow involved slavery finance were free to be taken? Would the British Museum, Liverpool Museum, and Oxford University survive the consequential assaults? The right-wing of course believes that Britain freed all of us from slavery.

Britain cannot go on forever against the direction of history. Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands and other States have understood and recognized the movement of history and its direction for freedom and the ever-growing demands for justice, including reparation for colonial injustice and restitution of looted artefacts. Will Britain, the home of Magna Carta and the mother of all parliaments, be the last to recognize this and the growing demands for self-determination? (21)

No matter what the inhabitants of the British Isles may think about the ownership of the looted Benin artefacts, the majority of the citizens of mainland Europe seems to have accepted that the looted African artefacts should be returned to their owners in Africa and their governments are organizing themselves to do what should have been done hundred years ago: restitute the objects to the owners. The British are now having problems on restitution of the Benin bronzes. They should be reminded that we are still waiting for the restitution of Asante gold, Ethiopian crosses, manuscripts and crosses as well as many other looted artefacts that were illegally taken during the colonial period.

The great Ekpo Eyo has underlined the importance of Benin art to the contemporary court of the Oba of Benin:

‘The many artforms created over centuries by the carvers and metal workers for the royal court of the Benin Kingdom still resonate in Benin City; many of the rituals, forms of regalia and commemorative ancestral practices continue to function today in much the same way as in the illustrious times of Benin’s powerful predecessors’. (22)

The Benin artefacts will be returned to the Oba of Benin, in Benin City, Nigeria.

Kwame Opoku


1.On the so-so-called Benin Plan of Action, see Kwame Opoku, “Benin Plan of Action” (2): Will this Miserable Project be the Last Word on the Looted Benin Artefacts? One can sympathize with the frustration of Prince Edun Akenzua, brother of the late Oba Erediauwa, wh om he represented at various meetings on the Benin artefacts that did not seem to be going anywhere close to the issue of restitution of Benin artefacts; his disappointment was specifically caused by the meeting of the so-called Benin Dialogue Group in 2013,in Benin City which issued the ‘The Benin Plan of Action for Restitution. This document did not constitute a plan nor was it about restitution.

That the Benin Dialogue Group was not interested in restitution was made much clearer when that group in later years issued a statement that itg was removing the item restitution from its agenda. When we reported on this, the late Prof. Folarin, our predecessor in the area of restitution, attacked us for reporting this.

‘Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution of Benin Artefacts from Its Agenda’

Members of the group were at most willing to consider loans of the looted Benin artefacts to Nigeria. Later, as pressure was brought on Germany to agree to restitutions to the Nigerians, the group appeared to pretend it had worked all the time towards restitution. Historians will no doubt provide us the true historical account.

2.Making History: African Collectors and the Canon of African Art, 5 Continents Editions, Milan,2011,p.174.

See also Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan, ‘ the ancient city walls of Great Benin: Colonialism, urban heritage and cultural identity in contemporary Nigeria’, in Marta Anico and Elsa Peralta(eds.), Heritage and Identity :Engagement and Demission in the Contemporary World, Routeledge,200,p.165.

3. Peju Layiwola, Let Us be Reminded that Benin Art is Court Art

4. Barbara Plankensteiner, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, Gent: Snoek, 2007.

5. Leitfaden zum Umgang mit Sammlungsgut aus kolonialen Kontexten (Guidelines for dealing with artefacts acquired from colonial contexts) issued by the German Museums Association(Deutsche Museumsbund-DMB on 14 May 2018.

6. Felwine Sarr and Benedicte Savoy, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics

7. K. Opoku,’Dutch are taking Giant Steps towards Restitution of Looted Artefacts,

K. Opoku, ’Will Belgium Hear the Call for Restitution of Looted African Artefacts? Are Western museums the last Bastions of Colonialism and Imperialism?

K. Opoku, Proposed Belgian Guidelines Re-Introduce Ethics Into Restitution Debate,

Belgians may have entered late the recent discussions on restitution of looted African artefacts but their recent publications show an intellectual rigour and seriousness not surpassed anywhere else. Have they learnt from the experience of others?

Rapport sur l’avenir des collections extra-europeenes conservee en federation Wallonie-Bruxelles, Academie Royal de Belgique, 2021, Marie-Sophie de Clippele et Yasmin Zian.

La restitution :la proposition de Thomas Dermine

8. K. Opoku, “Berlin Decision on Benin Restitution: Germany on The Way to Restitution of Looted African Artefacts”

9. Major new archaeology project on site of new museum in Benin

10. K. Opoku, Oba of Benin speaks on the Return of Artefacts,

11.Benin Bronzes: Nigeria dispute jeopardises return of artefacts

Oba of Benin, Obaseki Set for Showdown over Looted Artefacts

Stolen artefacts should be returned to Oba of Benin —SANs, historians, Benin leaders

12. Return of Looted Artefacts: No Rift Between Me and Oba of Benin-Obaseki

13. ‘FG to ‘take possession’ of repatriated Benin artefacts-Lai Mohammed’

14. Patrick J. O’Keefe, Commentary on the 1970 UNESCO Convention, Institute of Art and Law, 2007, p.9.

15. P. J. O’Keefe, ibid.

16. K. Opoku, Man With Conscience Returned His Grandfather’s Looted Benin The Bronzes K. Opoku, ‘Mark Walker’s Second Attempt to Return Looted Benin Artefacts: Innovative Approach by Pitt Rivers Museum?’ Jubilation in Benin as Oba receives artefacts returned from Britain

17. Forbes, British Museum Sold Benin Bronzes British Guardian, British Museum sold precious bronzes The great Ekpo Eyo reported that the price of Benin bronzes had risen so high in the 1960s that the Nigerian authorities could not afford to buy any when a new museum was being established in Benin City.

18. German Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts

The 1151 at this website, so far come from museums that are members of the Benin Dialogue Group. But there are several German that are not part of this group but hold several looted Benin artefacts

19. Katharina Massing, Statues: the UK’s plan to retain and explain problem monuments is a backward step

Helen Holmes, ‘British Cultural Leaders are being told to ‘Retain and Explain Problematic Monuments,’


Queen Victoria statue defrocked after ex-politician Nigel Farage blasts public art project addressing UK’s slavery history

Do Historical Objects Belong in their Country of Origin?

21.Nigeria,s battle to reclaim looted Benin Bronzes

This short video of the British Channel 4 demonstrates beyond doubt the bankruptcy of the British arguments for holding onto the looted Benin bronzes and the helplessness of the present defendants of that position. In the interview, the British Secretary for Culture is visibly uncomfortable and unconvincingin the answers he gives.

22.Ekpo Eyo, From Shrines to Showcases; Masterpieces of Nigeria Art, 2008, Federal Ministry of Information and Communication, Abuja, Federal Republic of Nigeria.


The Earl of Plymouth (right) visiting the oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua II

Oba Akenzua II holding the coral regalia of Oba Ovonramven that the British returned in 1938.

Dr.Mark Walker and Prince Edun Akenzua in 2014 restitution ceremony.

Portuguese soldier with gun, Benin, Nigeria now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation ,Berlin, Germany.

Armband, depicting Portuguese ,Benin, Nigeria now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin, Germany.

Metal vessel, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin, Germany.

Queen-mother Idia, Benin ,Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin Germany.

Throne Stool of Oba Eresoyen ,Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germany.

Altar group with Oba Ewuakpe, Benin,Nigeria,now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation,Berlin, Germany.

Altar group with Oba Akenzua I,Benin, Nigeria,now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, Berlin, Germany.

A noble from an altar group, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germany.

A Portuguese holding a trident, Benin ,Nigeria ,now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin , Germany.

Saltcellar with cover depicting a European, Benin Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germany.

Relief plaque of an equestrian Oba and his followers, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germany.

Oduduwa, Benin, Nigeria ,now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germany.

Hornblower, Benin, Nigeria now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germay.

Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

Commemorative head of a queen-mother, Benin, Nigeria now in Prussian Heritage Foundation Germany.

A Benin noble, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin ,Germany.

Royal Messenger ,Benin, Nigeria, now in the Ethnographic Collection in Dresden, Germany.

Ivory pendant depicting Queen-mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany.

Container in the form of an antelope’s head, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin, Germany.

Goddess Irhevbu or Princess Edeleyo, Benin, Nigeria, now in Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Berlin,.

Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK).