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23.07.2008 Feature Article

News From Nigeria On The Recovery Of The Stolen Benin Artefacts

British soldiers of the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 proudly posing with the looted Benin artefacts.British soldiers of the infamous Punitive Expedition of 1897 proudly posing with the looted Benin artefacts.

The information below indicates that the demand for the return of the Benin artefacts which the British looted in 1897 in the infamous Punitive Exhibition of 1897 is growing. This increase interest is no doubt due to the discussion on the exhibition, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria'
now at the Art Institute of Chicago.

The statement in the first report about UNESCO is probably due to a misunderstanding or a misinformation.

Kwame Opoku, July 22,2008

BNC gives FG 21-day ultimatum to render account on Benin artefacts

Written by Simon Ebegbulem
Tuesday, 22 July 2008

THE Benin National Congress (BNC), a socio-cultural organization, yesterday, handed a 21-day ultimatum to the federal government to render account of all the Benin artifacts at its disposal or face the wrath of the people of Benin Kingdom.

It also called on the federal government, to dissolve the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) because of their alleged failure to recover the Benin artifacts estimated at over one hundred million dollars, that were looted during the British invasion of the ancient Benin Kingdom.
In a statement signed by the National President of the BNC, Mr Aiyemenkhue Edokpolo made available to Vanguard, the group expressed their frustrations in bringing back the stolen artifacts, regretting the federal government through the NCMM had allegedly done nothing to recover the stolen artifacts which according to them “ is making the gods of our land unhappy”.

The BNC accused the Ministry of Tourism of allegedly using the object's continuous incarceration for “selfish interest as a means of traveling abroad on the guise of seeking their release and exhibition. We condemn in strong term the yes man attitude of the National Commission for Museum and Monuments NCMM in which they refused to employ radical measures in the reparation campaign.
“In our view, this is a tacit endorsement of the continuous incarceration of the objects. UNESCO has not helped matters because it prescribed conditions that are very stringent and almost insurmountable.

We expect to make a peaceful protest for the release of the objects but intelligent information available to us indicate that they are taking advantage of the jamboree, this is perhaps so because a Benin man is not the curator of Benin Museum or Director” it stated.

It therefore declared that “we hereby give a 21days ultimatum to the Federal Government of Nigeria to render an account of all Benin artifacts currently at its disposal and dissolve the National Commission for Museums and Monuments because they have succeeded in trading with our metaphysical object for their own good.

The minister has been carrying on as a tribal Minister, seeking the UNESCO accreditation of some cultural centers in which are insignificant to the least cultural centres in Edo State .
“The federal government should remember that patriotic Benins volunteered these objects for our collective good as a country and they as well as their offspring feel betrayed by the look warm attitude of the NCMM whom have failed to account for these objects” it stated.

VANGUARD ,July 22.2008.

Benin rulers renew campaign for artefacts' retrieval in U.S.

By Tajudeen Sowole (Lagos) and Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu (Benin)
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A GLOBAL arts event in Chicago, the United States of America (USA), has offered the Benin traditional institution an opportunity to remind the international community of the need to return all artefacts stolen from the ancient town.

The campaign for the recovery of the priceless art works was re-opened by representatives of the Benin royal house at an exhibition of antiquities carted away from the kingdom in the 18th century by Europeans.

The event tagged Benin - Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, which opened last week at Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, USA will run till September 21, 2008. It has on display over 200 artefacts of Benin origin.

Although the Benin team honoured the invitation to participate in the show, they have never hidden their desire to ensure that the cultural objects return to their original base in Benin.

At home, the Edo State Governor, Prof. Oserheimen Osunbor, yesterday commissioned the reconstructed Igun Road at a cost of N215 million. The two- kilometre road is the home of Benin bronze carvings, which attract foreigners to the state.

The governor said the road was re-built with drainages on both sides with a 15-mm thick asphalt layout.
At the opening of the Chicago exhibition, the leader of the Benin team, Chief Esosa Godwin Eghobamien, said that nothing short of the return of the artefacts would heal the wound inflicted on the people by the West.
His words: "People coming to see them, they don't know where these things come from. Most of these people don't know where Benin is on the map of the world. It is better for them to come to where these things were made, and see where civilisation started in Africa."

Eghobamien's remarks re-established the demand of the royal house contained in a memorandum forwarded to the British House of Commons eight years ago.

In 2000, the Benin monarchy through the presentation of Akenzua Enogie (Duke) of Obazuwa-Iko, brother of Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, great grandson of Omo N'Oba Ovonramwen, submitted a memorandum to the British House of Commons seeking "the official record of the property removed from the Palace of Benin in 1897 being made available to the owner, the Oba of Benin."

Not only that, the Royal House would also want "all the cultural property belonging to the Oba of Benin illegally taken away by the British in 1897 be returned to the rightful owner, the Oba of Benin.
"Britain, being the principal looter of the Benin Palace, should take full responsibility for retrieving the cultural property or the monetary compensation from all those to whom the British sold them."
A source at the venue of the exhibition said the delegation also included the daughter of Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, Theresa Erediauwa and head of Edo Arts and Cultural Heritage, Kingsley Ehi.

Theresa Erediauwa, the source continued, plans to build a museum in Benin and through diplomatic channels, hopes to get the artefacts, she referred to as family heirlooms, returned.

She said: "It's like taking the spirit out of something. So they've taken that out, so it's like taking the centre, the core out of something. If you bring it back, then it forms a whole."

The opening of the event, which was conducted with Benin rituals, had Ehi presenting the Benin case more explicitly:

"This is very beautiful. I think this is the first time in my whole life that I've seen such a collection from the city where I was really born. I think civilisation started as far as I'm concerned in Africa, and art, sculpture, history, we were all having those things before the white man came to Africa, even religion."

The organisers said they were more interested in promoting the cultural value of the objects than the controversy surrounding the artefacts.

The president of the institute, Jim Kuno said: "The Art Institute is not involved, it only holds a half dozen works from Benin. If these objects are distributed in multiple places, they will be seen by more people. They promote the principle of inquiry and tolerance, and they distribute the risk to them."
The event, a tour exhibition was earlier held in Vienna (Austria), Paris (France) and Berlin (Germany).

The organisers, in the brochure, stated that "there can be no doubt that the audience granted in 2006 by the reigning king of Benin, Omo N'Oba Erediauwa, was a highpoint in the preparations for the exhibition because it then became possible to receive objects on loan from the royal house for the first time in an exhibition outside Nigeria.

"In addition, we received generous support and cooperation from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and its Director-General, Dr. O.J. Eboreime, who describes the Benin exhibition in his foreword as probably one of the most outstanding cultural events of the decade to take place outside Nigeria in this field."

Shortly before the exhibition opened, the Sitting-in-for Director-General of NCMM, Ochi Achinivu, who responded to the issue of the role of government in the Berlin and Chicago exhibitions, said: "There is nothing wrong for the federal government to support any event aimed at promoting the nation's culture anywhere in the world, I think, it is a good idea," he said.
Osunbor said the road was one of the projects which contract he awarded in November last year, adding that it would help to decongest Akpakpava Road, which was prone to heavy traffic.
He also appealed to residents in the area not to drop refuse on the drainages but rather clean them so that the road would last.

"Igun is a street of prominence in cultural value in the state, country and internationally, many foreigners who have visited the Government House have always said they will visit Igun Street to see the bronze artwork that they have heard about and with this road, their visit will be made easier," he said.

© 2003 - 2007 @ Guardian Newspapers Limited (All Rights Reserved).

Kwame Opoku, Dr.
Kwame Opoku, Dr., © 2008

This author has authored 244 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwameOpoku

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