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21.10.2008 Feature Article

Dissatisfaction With Lack Of Progress In Restitution Of Benin Artefacts

Dissatisfaction With Lack Of Progress In Restitution Of Benin Artefacts

Who knows how great his inspiration might have been on Nigerian music had he stayed in Benin rather than be hidden in the British Museum?

The lack of reaction from Western holders of Benin artefacts to the several calls

by Nigerians for restitution is causing anger in many circles.

The report below deals with the renewed calls by the Benin National Council for restitution and a declaration of intention to resort to legal proceedings and what is described as “self-help”.

Anyone who has been following the recent wave of restitution of cultural objects to Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Greece and Italy would wonder why there has not been a single act of restitution to Nigeria. The British Museum, London, The Ethnology Museum, Berlin, The Art Institute of Chicago and Field Museum, Chicago have all remained silent. It will be recalled that the museums in Chicago offered to return the Benin artefacts if such demands were made. We understand that such written demands were made some time ago but so far there has been no response.

The BNC estimates the value of the stolen artefacts as $100m. It is difficult to assess this evaluation in the absence of numbers and other specific facts. Unfortunately, the western museums refuse to give information on the numbers of Benin artefacts they hold. Many of these objects are hidden in depots and only brought out occasionally for exhibitions. There are no catalogues indicating what the museums have. It shows how seriously the museums take their obligation to educate their public.

The people and Government of Nigeria must decide how far they are willing to tolerate the lack of respect and consideration the western museums have been demonstrating in this matter. Can a leading African State be content with such a situation?

Kwame Opoku,20 October,2008.

'Why BNC opposed minister's proposal'

By Fidelis Soriwei, Benin

Published: Monday, 20 Oct 2008, PUNCH,

The Benin National Council has opposed the proposal by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Reorientation, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), to invest $400, 000, in the National Museum in Benin.

The BNC, which is in the vanguard of the retrieval of the stolen Benin artifacts from Britain and other Western countries, is recommending the construction of an ultra modern arts gallery in Igun or Owina Street which are prominent for the development of arts in the city.

The council's comments were contained in a letter to the minister, and signed by one Blessing Igbinoba and Mr. Owenaze Guobadia.

It was sent through an e-mail to our correspondent on Sunday and said that the construction of such a gallery was the most effective means of immmortalising those who produced the famous works of art in Benin.

The group urged the foreign powers who were in possession of the stolen artifacts to ”emulate recent gestures” by returning them to the country for a special exhibition in Benin.

The council said that its decision to adopt peaceful measures in the campaign for the return of the stolen artifacts to the country should not be mistaken as an act of cowardice.

According to the letter, the membership of the council have also threatened to drag the British Government to court in relation with the lingering controversy over the stolen Benin artifacts which they said, were worth $100m.

It warned that the Bini people were on the verge of resorting to self-help as the use of dialogue as a tool for the settlement of the issue of the stolen items had not yielded the desired results.

Relief Plaque, Drummer with slit drums, Benin, Nigeria,
now in British Museum, London, Great Britain.
Relief Plaque, Drummer with slit drums, Benin, Nigeria,
now in British Museum, London, Great Britain.

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

This author has authored 251 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: KwameOpoku

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