Mon, 17 Apr 2023 Feature Article

Are Western Museums Entitled To Loans Of African Artefacts After Reluctant ‘partial’ Restitution?

Court dwarfs, Benin, Nigeria, now in World Museum, Vienna, Austria.  Would they ever come home to  Benin City, Nigeria?Court dwarfs, Benin, Nigeria, now in World Museum, Vienna, Austria. Would they ever come home to Benin City, Nigeria?

‘’Did the thieves acknowledge that they stole these objects, and that by stealing these objects they killed communities, they killed life-giving practices? That is where there is a crime. There is a crime because of the spiritual loss, the rupture of an evolution and the impossibility of a transmission of knowledge. And this immaterial knowledge cannot be reinvented. It is a very serious crime and, for me, to collect thousands of objects to bring us two or three, no. And to ask us if we have museums to keep them, no. Where have we seen a thief ask the owner to create the conditions to bring back stolen goods? When you steal and you are caught, you return. If the owner wants to burn, he burns, if he wants to throw away, he throws away, if he wants to desecrate, he desecrates, if he wants to make sacred again, he does so.’’ Massamba Gueye,

Massamba Gueye: “We need a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on restitutions between Africa and Europe” -

We read that Nigeria agreed to loan many Benin artefacts to Germany. (1) Many questions arise from such loans. Are all the objects on temporary or permanent loans? We have no evidence to support a permanent or temporary loan. There is nowhere to check since the memorandum of understanding that regulates the matter has yet to be made public. However, the director of Hamburg’s Museum am Rothenbaum–World Cultures and Arts speaking for her museum stated:

The bronzes won’t leave an empty space in my museum’s collection, partly because we are allowed to keep some on a permanent loan.”

A third of the 179 Benin pieces in the Hamburg museum will remain there. (2)

Three of the 92 Benin artefacts in Rautenstrauch–Jost Museum, Cologne, were given to Nigeria, and fifty-two will follow. The remaining thirty-seven will stay in Cologne on loan for at least ten years, renewable.

The German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and the Culture Minister Claudia Roth brought back 20 artefacts to Nigeria during their visit of 18-20 December,2022.

Horniman Museum transferred legal rights in seventy-two pieces to Nigeria, from which six were returned. The remaining sixty-six are subject to pending agreement between Nigeria and Horniman.

Oxford University’s Pitt-Rivers Museum and Ashmolean Museum will return 97 Benin items. The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University transferred legal rights in 116 Benin objects and will sign an agreement with Nigeria in May 2023 to transfer more than one hundred pieces.

What is the legal nature of these permanent loans? Are they the kind of loan that the late Professor Folarin Shyllon was trying to explain to us, a permanent loan that both parties consider or understand as permanent in transferring full rights? I had argued that the offer of loans of Benin artefacts proposed by the Benin Dialogue Group to Benin/Nigeria was insufficient and that only the total transfer of all legal rights in the artefacts would answer the historical need for restitution. (3)

Do Nigeria’s recent permanent loans to Germany imply full rights transfer in the artefacts? Could a future Nigerian government request their return, or is this excluded? The Germans are so happy with the agreement that we can only conclude that the loan is permanent.

By which criteria was it determined which objects would remain in Western museums and which should return to Nigeria? Who made the selection? Was the representative of the Oba of Benin actively involved in the selection process?

The timing of the Nigerian loans led us to wonder whether the people of Benin were consulted. The speed with which the loans were made led us to conclude that the persons involved have adopted the Western concept of our artefacts as objects merely for aesthetic contemplation and museum displays and not for any religious or spiritual veneration purpose.

One question that has so far not been raised or considered

is whether there should be loans there any loans to those museums that have held the objects for a hundred years and until very recently refused to acknowledge even their presence in the museums? Some argued the Benin objects were legally acquired as war booty and refused to discuss eventual restitution. Others had allegedly bought them from the free market, conveniently forgetting that they knew the British had looted them in a violent invasion of Benin City in 1897. (4)

Western States and museums denied Africans any capacity to look after their artefacts. Usually, if you approach any bank for a loan, they will first examine your creditworthiness; banks usually will not loan to those who cast aspersions on their reputation or those known to have stolen or misappropriated funds.

So, what is the relationship between an African State such as Nigeria and a Western State such as Germany, which will authorize us to assume we should loan to Germany artefacts Britain stole in 1897?

We have no objections to loans of artefacts to Western states and their museums, but we must be clear about the basis of such actions.

Slavery and the colonial period, the worst and cruel period of relationships between Western states and African peoples, do not offer convincing evidence to support loans of cultural items.

Why should Africans loan national treasures to former enslavers and colonialists? Would Westerners loan national treasures to Nigerians?

Has the Independence period offered a more acceptable basis other than the personal friendships established between some individual Africans and non-African directors? Evidence for improved relations that also extends to African peoples must be provided.

If Nigeria lends so generously to former imperialist powers, how would it lend to African states such as Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, and Togo? What about Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Russia, Suriname, and all those other states that supported us in the liberation struggle and thus made our Independence and the consequent restitution demands a real possibility? Shall we treat them also generously, or are they not as important as the former colonialists and imperialists? Would the Kunstkammer, St. Petersburg, Russia, keep a third of its 28 Benin artefacts she holds? (5)

Undoubtedly, the Nigerian authorities have thought about the future needs of their museums. There are now fifty-eight national museums in Nigeria, and by the end of the decade, they may well be a hundred museums in Nigeria with

a population of 250 million. How will these museums be provided with sufficient artefacts? Will they have to borrow from Germany and other European States?

Would the Germans be so generous to Nigerians in providing the African state with national icons of German culture? Or do Nigerians not need to learn and appreciate German art by having well-known German artworks in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Enugu, and Benin City? Does the principle of reciprocity not apply in cultural relations between states?

Non-African states and museums that have recently restituted Benin artefacts to Nigeria received loans of Benin artefacts at the same time as the restitution took place. Did they make loans a necessary condition for restitution? (6) I have heard a senior Nigerian official say that one cannot leave these European museums empty. But is there any danger of those Western museums holding Benin artefacts becoming empty because of the removal of those artefacts? Most African items in Western museums are in museum basements. Museums hardly display more than one percent of their total stocks.

Should we be talking about restitution and not minimal restitution? If we paid back five thousand nairas out of a debt of ten thousand nairas to a bank, the bank would speak of partial payment of the debt and not payment. Would this not be more accurate and remind us of the African artefacts that are still under the control of non-Africans? Could there be useful comparisons between partial restitution and partial Independence?

In all discussions about loans of African art to non-African museums, people have yet to mention the possibility of loans of Western art to African museums. What does this say about the relations between African and non-African museums? One of mutual respect or utter contempt of Western museums for Africans? When it was first suggested that Western museums might loan Benin bronzes to Nigeria, three years was proposed as a regular loan period. The British Museum has just loaned Tahiti a Tahitian sculpture for three years. (7)

How long will museum education remain in arrangements between non-African museums and African states? How long shall we be pupils learning from colonial teachers and their institutions? Why can we not establish our schools of Museology? Do we have the will to be independent of Western colonialism but subordinate to Western education, including the negative theories purveyed by the discredited European Enlightenment that conveyed mostly racist ideology about Africans and their intelligence? We will not be able to free ourselves from the racist colonialist ideology at the basis of Western museums if we do not have the will to be free and independent. There has been a general call for Western museums to decolonize. But can they decolonize if African museums are not decolonizing and energetic in this direction?

We have always maintained that what Nigeria does in this area and other spheres is of tremendous importance to the rest of our African Continent. Not only is Nigeria one of the largest African states with a population of two hundred million and vast resources, but also a country with thousands of looted artefacts now in Western museums. Arrangements that Nigeria reaches with non -African States would soon be advanced as the model to follow. But can we follow without carefully examining every step in this restitution process, which has only just started after a hundred years of illegal detention?

Could we, in good conscience, propose to Egypt, Ethiopia, and Ghana to loan a third of their artefacts to states that hitherto have illegally held on to their looted artefacts and refused even to discuss the possibility of restitution?

We understand the subtitle of the Sarr-Savoy report, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics (2018) to mean that we should work towards a new relationship between Africa and Europe, based on mutual benefit and mutual respect. We should ban the arrogance and will to dominate by one party, and the acceptance by the other party of unequal and unjust relations, either out of fear or following the centuries-old tradition of colonial submission.

The relationships between Africans and Europeans extend far beyond looted cultural artefacts; the main objective of the Sarr-Savoy report. But there is no reason not to try to improve our relationships as regards the extraordinary slavery period, colonialism, and neo-colonial relationships. We should abolish unequal relationships, and corrective or reparative justice should be the rule. That present ruling classes in African countries do not wish to extend the quest for corrective justice to other domains should not prevent African intellectuals from examining and offering their thoughts on the exploitation of our mineral resources, the exportation of timber, and other economic activities that do not seem to benefit the ordinary African but go to enrich foreign institutions.

Let there be no mistake. Like most Africans, we welcome the recent progress made in the restitution of Benin artefacts. But we must remember that what has so far been returned is only a tiny fraction of looted Benin artefacts in the West. Moreover, Benin artefacts, however important and prestigious they are, constitute only a fraction of stolen Nigerian artefacts in the West. We should discourage complacency about the restitution of artefacts and reject any impression that the struggle for justice has been won. It is only now beginning, and we should insist that looted African artefacts must be returned. The African peoples must first have the chance to look at their artefacts detained in the Western world for more than a hundred years before the same objects are loaned to the same previous holders.

We can understand that museum directors are exhilarated and looking forward to receiving more returned objects they can display. However, we need to examine whether what has been returned or promised is sufficient to think we have achieved our restitution aim. We need to ask whether our MINIMAL success will benefit other African peoples still hoping to retrieve their looted artefacts from the West. Benin has received some items, but what about the Egyptian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Yoruba, Igbo, and Igala treasures still in exile? What about the Asante golden artefacts that are still in London? Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia and other states are still waiting for their artefacts looted under the colonial regime. Do we care about the needs of other Africans? Good relations with non-African museum directors should not replace our desire for complete restitution.

We are surprised and worried by the ease and speed with which Nigeria has granted loans to holders of looted Benin treasures. Many Nigerian items have been away from Nigeria for over a hundred years, and only a tiny proportion is now trickling back from reluctant Western museums. Prudence would suggest that in such a situation of uncertainty, Nigeria would first take stock of its cultural treasures and wait until a considerable number of the items are returned from abroad before deciding to loan any abroad.

Should the Nigerian public not be allowed to see the treasures now legally transferred to Nigeria but still physically in Western museums before making loans? Many Nigerians will never see the full breadth of their culture. Perhaps the public is less important than we assume, and there is no intention to educate Nigerian people about their cultures, which Westerners still say they need to show to their people.

Will Ghanaians be expected to follow Nigerians and loan a third of their looted artefacts to those who have for one hundred years refused to return our treasures or even acknowledge their possession of our artefacts as mentioned in history books by their historians? Can anyone in good conscience recommend that a third of the Asante gold objects be loaned to the quiet museum in London, behind Selfridges, Oxford Street, at Manchester Square? Can we recommend leaving a third of the Asante gold rings and earrings to the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert Museum? (8)

Those countries and museums that have tried to embrace the new wave of restitution must be praised, but the extent of such praises must be clearly limited. These institutions still have a long way to go in terms of numbers of items returned. Not only are countries such as Germany still keeping hundreds of Benin and other African items, but they are also keeping non-European human remains. We rejoice that the University of Aberdeen has returned a Benin commemorative head, but we also learn that it has two hundred human remains from the colonial period. (9)

They return our cultural objects and keep our ancestors! A cruel situation for most Africans. France has returned twenty-six looted artefacts to the Republic of Benin, but how many African human remains are in France? (10) Sururu Mboro is still, after forty years, looking for the human remains of Manji Meli, a Tanzanian hero from his area hanged by the Germans who sent his skull to Germany. (11)

African artefacts and African human remains are fundamentally related. What may appear as a mere artefact may indeed be considered as the very embodiment of departed relatives, and thus keeping a kota or other memorials such as a commemorative head in a foreign museum may be regarded as blasphemy, as imprisonment of ancestors, preventing the descendants from performing their traditional duties towards their ancestors. These intermediaries between our world and the world of our ancestors cannot function effectively if they are enclosed in glass cases. Their destination is somewhere other than a foreign museum.

Western institutions have no valid excuse for keeping African human remains except to pretend they are unaware of the identity of the remains or their provenance.

We should recall that genocide is a fundamental policy of European imperialism. Examples from Latin America and Africa abundantly demonstrate this cornerstone of the Western will to dominate the world. Wherever organized societies were found, for example, the Aztecs, the Maya, the Herero, and the Nama unwilling to submit to European rule, they were massacred. European incursions into other peoples’ territories, in America, Africa, Australia, Tasmania and elsewhere, involved the decimation of the natives whom European Enlightenment had classified as inferior beings or sub-humans. The collection of human remains following such wars provided the practitioners of pseudo-science in Europe with materials for proving the inferiority of non-Europeans. (12)

We should not allow the current ‘popularity’ of restitution of artefacts among Western museums and intellectuals to overshadow the more critical issue of colonial human remains, which derives directly from Enlightenment doctrines that are also said to be the bases of the modern Western Museum. Western intellectuals would rather discuss artefacts than human remains.

The British Government and the British Museum, the museum with the most looted artefacts, thirteen million objects, refuse to be drawn into the current wave of minimal restitution of stolen artefacts or objects acquired under dubious circumstances to their owners. (13) The British Government and the British Museum have kept the world busy with occasional but well-timed statements that do not change much. British Museum says there is a chance of future arrangement with Greece over the Parthenon Marbles, and two weeks later, there is a statement from the Government that this is out of the question. The current state of play is in a study by Noel Malcolm, who recommends that ‘There should be no change to the British Museum Act 1963. (14)

A recent International Symposium for the Restitution of African Cultural Property to its countries of Origin, held at Dakar, Senegal, in its Declaration of 23 March,2023, urged African States to involve all stakeholders in restitution processes, communities, research institutes, civil society, and the diaspora. (15)

The current wave of partial restitution is only the first phase of a process that must continue, with or without the British Government and the British Museum. The conditions under which loans are made will have to be reviewed or revised. The lack of information for the public will have to be corrected. The reasons for leaving looted African treasures in the Western world must be properly explained to our peoples and the conditions of loans made abundantly transparent. African governments and their representatives must place the needs of their people above the temptations and pressures of western governments and museums.

The recent law by the Nigerian Federal Government recognizing the ownership of the Oba of Benin in the repatriated artefacts and the King’s right of control and administration of Benin artefacts (16) should end all doubts about his rights in these treasures, restoring to the monarch of the Edo his rights and duties in Benin cultural artefacts before a British army looted Benin artefacts in 1897 and burned Benin City.

‘It seemed as if the ground itself had caught fire and was burning.

There was a dim grandeur about it all, and also there seemed to be a fate. Here was this head-centre of iniquity, spared by us from its suitable end of burning, for the sake of holding the new seat of justice where barbarism had held sway. It had been given into our hands with the brand of blood soaked into every corner and relic which fire only could purge. Here, on our last day, we were to see its legitimate end overtake it, and, against our wishes, to see this centre of bloodshed burn before our eyes in retribution for the countless lives that had been wilfully sacrificed within its precincts.’ (17)

Reginald Bacon, an eyewitness account of the burning of Benin City in 1897 by British soldiers

1. Germany returns 21 Benin bronzes to Nigeria – amid frustration at Britain

"Ein Stück Gerechtigkeit"

‘‘Keine Geste, sondern ein Stück Gerechtigkeit" - so hatte es Außenministerin Baerbock im Sommer formuliert, als die deutsche und die nigerianische Regierung in Berlin die zentrale Vereinbarung zur Übertragung der Benin-Bronzen unterzeichneten. Verabredet ist auch, dass ein Drittel der Kunstwerke als Leihgaben in deutschen Museen bleiben können. ANDREAS KILB Jetzt sind die Museen am Zug.

2. The Guardian, Germany returns 21 Benin bronzes to Nigeria – amid frustration at Britain

Cologne Hands Back 92 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, But a Few will Remain in Germany on Long-Term Loan

Horniman retains sixty-six out of 72- after legal transfer and six returned.

Out of thirty-nine, Smithsonian will send twenty-nine and retain ten on loan.

Cambridge Museum, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Transferred legal rights in 116 Benin artefacts.

Oxford-for the return of ninety-seven objects in the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean Museum collections in Oxford, and 116 items from the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) at the University of Cambridge.

3. K. Opoku,

4. K Opoku, The Benin Bronzes, Restitution and Decolonization. The Debate on Colonial Loot and Reparations

5. Jos van Beurden, Inconvenient Heritage, 2022, Amsterdam University Press, p. 248. We recommend this book for discussions and information of recent restitutions. See also by the same author, Treasures in Trusted Hands: Negotiating the Future of Colonial Cultural Objects,2017. See recent declaration of the director of the Hermitage stating he did not accept restitution of colonial artefacts.

6. K. Opoku, Have Ethical Considerations Returned To Restitution For Good? Smithsonian Adopts A Policy On Ethical Returns

7. K. Opoku, Benin Dialogue Group Removes Restitution Of Benin Artefacts From Its Agenda,restitution%20of%20the%20Benin%20artefacts.

Martin Bailey, British Museum returns Oceanic Sculpture to Polynesia for three years. Bailey writes: The British Museum has lent the world’s most celebrated Oceanic sculpture to Tahiti’s main museum for three years. Known as A’a, the sculpture represents a deified ancestor of the people of Rurutu, a small island nearly 600km south of Tahiti.

8. It may be useful to read about the relations of the Asante with the British who tried for some decades to subjugate the powerful Asante kingdom in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). A good introduction is Stephen Manning, Britain at War with the Asante Nation 1823-1900. Pen and Sword Books, 2021, Barnsley, United Kingdom.

9. Hundreds of human skulls taken in colonial conquests found in Aberdeen University’s collection

Aberdeen University still has 200 indigenous skulls in collection (

The Fight to Repatriate African Skulls in European Museum Collections

K. Opoku, Return of stolen skulls by Germany to Namibia: Closure of a horrible chapter?

K. Opoku When Will Germany Finally Return All The Namibian Bones?

10. The New York Times, A Paris Museum Has 18,000 Skulls. It’s Reluctant to Say Whose.

Europe : les restes humains « coloniaux» font scandale

‘Le musée Pitt Rivers à Oxford a commencé en 2017 à restituer certains des 2 000 restes humains qu’il détient, dont sept têtes tatouées et momifiées de Maoris rendues à la Nouvelle-Zélande. Les comptes sont loin d’être soldés cependant, puisque le British Muséum garde 6 000 restes humains provenant du vaste empire colonial britannique, le Duckworth Laboratory en a 18 000 et le Natural History Museum plus de 25 000’.

Michel van Praet, Les restes humains dans les collections publiques, Vade-Mecum, 2019. We read from this small book that there were in France in 2017, 249 museums and 23 universities that declared they had human remains in their collections. These human remains were said to be more than 150,000, mainly from French origin. ’French origin’ presumably includes all French colonial territories.

UK museums willing to return skulls to Zimbabwe

11. The search in Germany for the lost skull of Tanzania's Mangi Meli See also, The Skeletons from Kilimanjaro,

12. Kehinde Andrews, The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. Penguin Books, 2022 Countless books demonstrate that violence and genocide are inherent aspects of colonialism. See, in addition to Kehinde Andrews, The New Age of Empire, Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost,1998, Manner Books.

David Olusoga and Casper W Erichsen, The Kaiser’s Holocaust, 2011,Faber and Faber.

Sven Linquist, Exterminate All the Brutes.

One Man’s Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide,1997, The New Press.

Jeremy Sarkin, Colonial Genocide and Reparations Claims in the 21ST Century, Praeger Security International, London ,2009.Also educative are, Franz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth,2017, Les Damnés de la Terre,1961).

Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, (Discours sur le colonialisme,1950)

Monthly Review Press, January,2001
13. K. Opoku, Even The Big Elephant In Bloomsbury Must Defend Itself: British Museum Reacts To Recent Wave Of Restitutions

K. Opoku, Will The New Guidelines Of The Arts Council England Help Restitution Of Looted Asante Gold And Benin Bronzes? (

See also Geoffrey Robertson, Who Owns History, Biteback Publishing, 2019.

Robertson who considers the British Museum the largest depot of stolen goods in the world, declared ‘ For the British establishment, whose wealthy members make up the great majority of museum trustees, possession of imperial artefacts must be forever; they might be briefly loaned for ‘cultural diplomacy’, although not to nations like Greece which might challenge their title’. p. 21.

14. Noel Malcolm, The Elgin Marbles Keep, Lend or Return? An Analysis K. Opoku, New Study Advises British Government and British Museum not to Restitute Parthenon Marbles


ECOWAS tasks Stakeholders On Restitution Of African Cultural Property To Its Country Of Origin

ECOWAS asks Stakeholders On Restitution Of African Cultural Property To Its Country Of Origin (

Restitution des biens culturels : la CEDEAO s’active pour un patrimoine culturel régional – Intelligences Magazine

CEDEAO : Fatou Sow Sarr appelle à une synergie d’actions pour la restitution des biens culturels africains (

ECOWAS tasks stakeholders on restitution of African cultural property to its country of origin ECOWAS tasks stakeholders on restitution of African cultural property to its country of origin | APAnews - African Press Agency

16. Annex I .
17. Reginald Bacon, The City of Blood, p.107,

cited by Robert Home, City of Blood Revisited, p.89, Rex Collins,London,1982.


Court dwarfs, Benin, Nigeria, now in World Museum, Vienna, Austria.

Would they ever come home to Benin City, Nigeria?

Queen-mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now on loan in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany. Would she ever come back home to Benin City? If this bust remains in Berlin, can we ask for the restitution of the famous Idia ivory hip-mask in the British Museum?

Queen-mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom. The British Museum refused to lend to Nigeria, this symbol of Pan- Africanism and the FESTAC’77.

Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumasi, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

Execution tree in Moshi, Tanzania, where Mangi Meli and nineteen other rulers and noblemen were hanged in public by the German colonial government in 1900.

Nigerian Federal Government Issues Order Recognising Oba of Benin As Sole Owner and Custodian of Repatriated Benin Artefacts

We publish below a report on a decree by the Federal Government of Nigeria dated March 28, 2023, recognising the ownership of the Oba of Benin of the repatriated Benin treasures, and vesting in him their custody. This law puts an end to all doubts and questions about the ownership, control, and custody of the restituted artefacts. Readers will recall that we have maintained that the traditional ruler of the Edo people has always owned these treasures and that attempts by others to contest his centuries-old ownership must be rejected.

See K. Opoku, Benin Bronzes Belong to Oba Of Benin,

FG Cedes Exclusive Custody of Returned Bini Artefacts to Oba of Benin Decision ends tussle between monarch ,Edo governor . Emmanuel Addeh and Alex Enumah in Abuja.

The Federal Government has issued an order of recognition of ownership vested custody and management of repatriated looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin Kingdom.

The government made the order in notice No. 25 in the official gazette No. 57 in Volume 110 at pages A245-247, dated March 28, 2023.

The document was titled: “Notice of Presidential Declaration in the Recognition of Ownership and an Order Vesting Custody and Management of Repatriated Looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin issued on 23rd March 2023.”

The government by the order said it recognised and vested ownership, custody and management of looted Benin artefacts consequent upon the ‘unfortunate’ British Military expedition known as The Benin Massacre of 1897, in the Oba of Benin as an institution “to the exclusion of any other person or persons and or institutions.”

It added that all repatriated artefacts therefore must be delivered to the Oba of Benin and that the right of the original owner therein affirmed in the Oba, covers all looted Benin artefacts both repatriated and or yet to be repatriated.

“The Federal Government of Nigeria and the Oba of Benin shall superintend on matters of safety and security of any repatriated looted Benin artefacts while the Oba is at liberty henceforth to engage with national and international institutions in respect of these looted Benin artefacts,” the document stated.

The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, had attempted to douse the tension raised by who should have custody over the artefacts by promising that his administration will not engage in “disrespectful exchanges” with the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, over stolen artefacts.

But the Oba of Benin had warned that the artefacts to be returned, was not the property of the state government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin kingdom.

The monarch warned that no state government or any individual could pose to be a legitimate destination for the artefacts to be repatriated, adding that the Benin Royal Museum was designed and will be sited within the precinct of the Palace of the Oba of Benin from where they were looted.

“The Oba of Benin Kingdom is globally recognised as the traditional ruler, symbol and custodian of the culture, tradition and heritage of the Benin Kingdom and people now located within Edo State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the March 23, gazette stated.

The federal government recalled that following a military expedition in February 1897, known as the Benin massacre, the British Royal Marines invaded the ancient Palace of the Oba, looted and carted away thousands of artefacts of Benin origin from the Palace of the Oba and other parts of Benin kingdom .

It stated that after the invasion of the palace and the kingdom, the looted artefacts were taken to different museums and private collections around the world through gifts, loans, exchanges. purchases and other means.

In addition, it said that the earliest known auction of some of the looted artefacts was in 1897, through, an advertisement in the British Times Newspaper in May 1897, for the sale of the artefacts.

According to the document, as the custodian of the culture, tradition and heritage of the Benin kingdom and people, the ownership and title of the artefacts and other art works such as crafts, creative works and other cultural endowments made of bronze, clay, charcoal, iron, ivory, raffia, silver, wood are attributed ascribed and known to symbolically belong to the Oba.

It noted that the Oba and the Federal Government of Nigeria had been making concerted and frantic efforts to secure the repatriation of the looted artefacts from the custody of all the museums and private collections located in different parts of the world, for the preservation of Benin culture, heritage and tradition in line with the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Quoting several conventions, the federal government stated that in consequence of the request for the repatriation of the artefacts, the Oba received some architects repatriated from Jesus College, Cambridge, and is awaiting the release of further looted artefacts .

“As the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and in the exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered, l, Muhammadu Buhari, hereby give notice, declare and order that the ownership of the artefacts looted from the ancient Palace of the Oba and other parts of Benin kingdom be and is vested in the Oba

“That custody of the repatriated artefacts, shall, from wherever and whenever they are brought into Nigeria be handed over to the Oba as the original owner and custodian of the culture, heritage and tradition of the people of Benin kingdom in Edo State of Nigeria.

“That repatriated artefacts may be kept within the Palace of the Oba or such other locations within Benin City, or any other place that the Oba and the Federal Government of Nigeria may consider secure and safe,

“That the Oba shall be responsible for the management of all places where the repatriated artefacts are domiciled or located and the Oba shall work jointly with any recognised national or international institution to ensure the preservation and security of the repatriated artefacts for the benefit of humanity,” the federal government stated.

It explained that the repatriated artefacts shall not be taken out of the designated custody without the written consent and authorisation of the Oba, and upon such return, the artefacts shall first be inspected and authenticated by the Oba before it is accepted and restored to its designated custody.

“This notice may be cited as the Recognition of Ownership, and an Order Vesting Custody and Management of the Repatriated Looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin Kingdom, 2023,” the document added.

FG Cedes Exclusive Custody of Bini Artefacts to Oba of Benin

Nigeria Recognises Oba of Benin as Owner and Custodian of All Looted Benin Artefacts Nigeria Recognises Oba of Benin as Owner and Custodian of All Looted Benin Artefacts - Arise News

Punch, Oba of Benin gets nod from FG to keep repatriated artefacts

Oba of Benin gets nod from FG to keep repatriated artefacts (

Nigeria Recognises Oba of Benin as Owner and Custodian of All Looted Benin Artefacts - Arise News


"Nonsense" in history lessons
Mnyaka Sururu Mboro was born in 1951 and lives in Berlin. He is a Tanzanian activist, co-founder of the NGO Berlin Postkolonial. He has been actively campaigning for the acknowledgment of German colonialism in the public sphere since the 1980s. He leads guided tours through the so-called “African Quarter” in Berlin and is board member of the NGO Decolonize Berlin. In this short piece, he tells us about his experience with colonial perspectives on history.

I come from Tanzania, and more precisely from the slopes of mountain Kilimanjaro. When I think about this piece of rock in Potsdam in the New Palace, it brings back quite a lot of memories.

I spent my childhood under British colonial rule and one day, during the history lesson, my teacher Mr. Michael asked us:

‘’ Hey children, you know our mountain, the one we can see from here?

‘’Yes of course we know it!
‘’But do you know discovered it?’’

‘’Discovered it? No, we don’t know.’’

‘’Listen very carefully and don’t forget that: mount Kilimanjaro was discovered by a German known as Mr. Rebmann in 1848. You get it?’’

‘’Yes sir!’’
That day, I do remember very well. I was pleased to learn such a new thing. When I came back home, I went straight to my grandmother, as I usually did. I was proud I could tell her:

‘’Grandma, today we learnt something very new!’’

She asked me: ‘’What then?’’

‘’Do you know who discovered mountain Kilimanjaro?’’

‘’What? She exclaimed. ‘’What are you trying to tell me?’’

‘’My teacher, Mr. Michael told us that it is Mr. Rebmann who discovered mountain Kilimanjaro in 1848.’’

‘’Shut up’’, she shouted. ‘’ Tomorrow in the morning we are going to see your teacher and he has to tell me what nonsense he teaches you.’’

During the night I couldn’t sleep because I was…I wouldn’t say afraid, but it is shameful for me to have my grandmother escort me to the school and having her confronting the teacher with what he taught us. But I didn’t have any way out.

We arrived at school early in the morning. We used to gather in the yard in rows like the military. Our school band would play the same song every morning and we had to sing along. It went: ‘’Salaam valme King George/ Salaam valme King George…’’ which means’’ Greet King George’’ the king of Britain back then.

So, after this ritual, my grandma went straight to Mr. Michael and asked him:

‘’What did you teach my boy yesterday?’’

‘’Sorry, Grandma Tawaia what are you talking about? I taught a lot of things.’’

‘’What about mountain Kilimanjaro?’’

‘’I don’t remember well…’’

‘’ Didn’t you tell them that Mr. Rebmann discovered mountain Kilimanjaro in 1848?’’

‘’ Oh yes! That’s true. They have to know this.’’

My grandmother could not hold it anymore. She raised her walking stick and started beating Mr. He started running away and she followed him. All the children were so pleased! They were laughing and shouting: ’’Yes, Bibi, beat him again!’’

Me, I was not pleased. I was ashamed of my grandmother. But today, as I’m

telling you this story, I think that I would be ready to give him some extra strokes…’’

Mboro, Nonsense in history lessons, how a German “discovered”

Mboro’s story will be useful for those who never experienced colonial schools. They would realize that attempts were made to sow in the heads of African children a feeling of inferiority in the presence of the European. A European came all the way from thousands of miles to discover a mountain that had always been there. We wish we had a resolute and determined grandmother as Mboro had. Most parents in the colonial period agreed with whatever the teacher said. They could not imagine questioning what Europeans had approved. Has this inferiority complex disappeared? Readers must decide for themselves. K.O.


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Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024