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November 10, 2018 | Opinions Feature Article

Nigeria To Borrow Looted Nigerian Artefacts From Successors Of Looters: Neo-Colonialist Cultural Imperialism At Work.

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

“…I cannot accept that a large part of cultural heritage of several African countries is in France. There are historical explanations for that, but no valid justifications that are durable and unconditional. African heritage cannot only be in private collections and European museums. African heritage must be highlighted in Paris, but also in Dakar, in Lagos, in Cotonou, this will be one of my priorities. I want conditions to be met within the next five years for the temporary or permanent restitution of African heritage to Africa’.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France (1)

If someone had asked us some months ago, after recommending to Ethiopia not to accept the loan offer of looted Ethiopian artefacts by the Victoria and Albert Museum, whether Nigeria too would reject a similar disgraceful proposal, we would have said, without hesitation, that the representatives of Nigeria, a land of proud peoples, would not accept a humiliating offer that turns logic, history, and morality upside down. And yet this appears to be the path that the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments appears to be treading despite the press statement issued recently by the NCMM that:

The National Commission for Museums and Monuments has called for the unconditional return of cultural artefacts and works taken illegally from Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Mr Dapo Sijuade, the Head of Public Relation of the commission made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Abuja.

“Our objects of traditional and cultural values illegally taken away should unconditionally be released and returned by all who hold them back to their various countries of origin.

“African cultural objects are invaluable, the very reason why museums in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular view restitution as the last stage of complete decolonization.

“Africa has made several pleas and conscious attempts towards the return of these cultural properties but has received poor responses compared to the magnitude of loot’. (2)

According to a statement issued by the so-called Benin Dialogue Group, Europe’s major museums have reached an agreement to loan looted Benin artefacts to Nigeria, for the planned Royal Museum in Benin City. (3) The major European Museums from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, representatives of Nigeria and Britain, meeting within the framework of the Benin Dialogue Group in Leiden on 19 October,2018, have agreed to establish a rotating display of Nigerian artefacts including the Benin bronzes in the new museum to be completed in Benin City in 2021. The Western museums have agreed to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition, design, and to cooperate with Nigeria in developing training, funding and legal framework for the display in the new museum. The artefacts to be loaned have so far not been specified.

Although the display is intended to be permanent, the objects to be displayed will rotate. Apparently, Europeans cannot do without the Benin artefacts that will be on loan in any case. The group emphasized that Nigeria has not waived its claim to ownership of the looted objects. The group will meet again in 2019 in Benin City,2020 at the British Museum and in 2021 in Hamburg. The statement from the Benin Dialogue group declares that restitution in not included in the dialogue or mandate of the group: ‘This event occurs within a wider context and does not imply that Nigerian partners have waived claims for the eventual return of works of art removed from the Royal Court of Benin, nor have the European museums excluded the possibility of such returns. However, this is not part of the business of the Benin Dialogue Group.’

We were, to put it very mildy, surprised by the statement that restitution of the Benin artefacts was not part of the mandate of the Benin Dialogue. Have we all been living under an illusion most of the time? Did we all misunderstand the terms of reference of the Benin Dialogue Group that drafted The Benin Plan of Action for Restitution in 2013? If restitution was not part of the terms of reference of the group, why will the group add the word ‘restitution’ to its first document? Just to deceive the Nigerian public? The meeting at which this miserable document was prepared on February 19, 2013, happened to be the same date on which the British carried on their nefarious attack on Benin in 1897. Was this a mere coincidence? Was this to honour the dead or to insult them and solidify the ownership of the looters? The brother of the late Oba, Prince Edun Egharese, Enogie of Obazuwa who attended many of the meetings of the group was tired of them:

“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.” (4)

Our own impression was that the group’s main aim was to serve the interests of the Western museums that are illegally holding the Benin artefacts looted by the British in 1897 and sold some to other European museums that are still hanging on to the illegal loot. Our conclusion was:

The document reads more like a book of lamentations on all the weaknesses of the Nigerian museums system, a catalogue of diagnoses of the Nigerian museums. Such a text does not appear to be calculated to bring home quickly the precious national treasures to a system diagnosed to be seriously sick. Was this a condictio sine qua non of the holders of the looted artefacts? Greeks, Italians and Turks received back their looted artefacts without the holders insisting on confession and admission of their weaknesses. Why must Nigeria indulge in self-exposure without even a promise of restitution? (5)

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Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom. Will she finally be allowed to return home in Benin City from British exile since 1897? Will the British play the same game as they played when Nigeria asked for the sculpture for FESTAC?

The National Commission on Museums and Monuments that has the legal function of preserving Nigeria’s artefacts has over the last decades given the impression that it was busy talking with its European partners about restitution and has reaffirmed Nigeria’s determination to recover the looted artefacts.

At the meeting in 2013 the Nigerian Minister of Tourism, Culture and National is reported to have pleaded with the visitors and noted “the hurdles placed on our way by the various Conventions and applicable international laws that govern repatriation of heritage objects”. Indeed, the item was to be put on the agenda of the next meeting of the group. Were they discussing the items of restitution and the UNESCO Convention of 1970 which were not within their terms of reference and none of the lawyers present drew their attention to this? If the Benin Dialogue Group does not discuss the restitution of the Benin artefacts, then the MCNN must tell us with whom it has been discussing the issue since 2007. Or has the Commission not been discussing the issue with any of the major holders of the Benin artefacts? The Ethnology Museum, Berlin, through the Berlin Government, is on record for saying that they never discussed the issue of restitution with the Commission and this assertion has never been challenged.

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Oba Ovonramwen, during whose reign the British looted the Benin Bronzes with guards on board ship on his way to exile in Calabar in 1897. The gown he is wearing hides his shackles. Photograph by the Ibani Ijo photographer J. A. Green. From the Howie photo album in the archives of the Merseyside Maritime Museum

The Benin Dialogue Group may have decided themselves at some point during the existence of the group that restitution was such a difficult topic, especially if the successors to the looters do not want to discuss the issue, that it might be easier to exclude it for the time being. Note that the British were not present at the earlier meetings of the group and may have reinforced the group excluding restitution from discussion. However much one may wish to discuss without dealing with restitution, Benin artefacts and restitution have become twin ideas for more than a hundred years. Any aspect of discussion on the notorious British invasion of 1897 or on the Benin artefacts calls forth immediately, the question of restitution and the group, that so far does not publish any detail reports, must have faced this several times. Many of the issues they discussed could only be possible with assumptions relating to restitution.

Could one, for example, discuss loans of artefacts without first clarifying the question of ownership? Can anyone loan an object he or she does not own or for which he has no mandate from the owner to loan? One could of course discuss these issues on the assumption that those presently holding the Benin artefacts are the’ owners’’ or have the right to loan them. This must have been the assumption on which the Benin Dialogue Group has been working. The suggestion must have come from the Austrians, British, Germans and Dutch and accepted by the Nigerians, adding a caveat that they reserve their original right of ownership in the Benin artefacts. But does this really protect the ownership rights of Benin and Nigeria in the artefacts?

It is noteworthy that whilst declaring that the Benin Dialogue Group has no mandate to discuss restitution, the European museums declared they have not excluded the possibility of eventual restitutions. This is interesting. They declare they have no mandate to discuss restitution but immediately discuss the possibility of eventual restitutions. Did they have the mandate to discuss future restitutions? Those who refuse to discuss restitution must not necessarily be the best persons to make conjectural estimation of future actions of those with power to decide restitution. It seems after winning a major victory in excluding discussions on restitution, the Europeans felt they had to give the Nigerians a ray of hope for the future. Anybody can make any predictions regarding the future and will not be held to his predictions and thus the value of such predictive statements need not necessarily be very high.

As everyone knows, the British Museum has always insisted that it is prepared to loan Parthenon Marbles to Greece, if Greece first recognizes the Museum’s rights of ownership in the Marbles. Greece that claims original ownership in the precious marbles has always logically and consistently refused to recognize British ownership in the Marbles. The European participants must have agreed to the Nigerian reservation, knowing or believing that the issue will never come before a court and that if the matter were raised before a court their chance of winning would be more than 50%.

Should the question of ownership come before a court, in Nigeria, Britain or United States, the doctrine of estoppel could be crucial. Estoppel basically means that if a party leads the other to believe in the existence of certain facts, for instance, that the ownership of the other is acknowledged by him, that party cannot turn around at a later date and deny the ownership thus acknowledged. Thus, if Nigeria expressly or by conduct leads the European museums to believe that they are the owners of the Benin artefacts, Nigeria may not be allowed to argue that the European museums are not the owners. Nigeria may be faced with the arguments such as:

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Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, formerly in the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, Germany, now in the Bode Museum, Berlin, on her way to the Humboldt Forum, Berlin. Would she come to Benin City for a short visit or return home to stay?

1. Since the invasion and looting of the Benin artefacts in 1897 there has not been any clear consistent official demand for restitution;

2. Nigeria never brought the issue of restitution of the Benin artefacts before the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee specifically set up to deal with such claims, even during the time Nigeria held the chairmanship of the committee; Nigeria’s own leading expert on this issue had urged the government to bring the matter before this body. Prof. Shyllon has written: 'It is a matter of surprise indeed that to date Nigeria which at various times served on the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation (she was in fact a foundation member of the Committee) has never sought the good offices of the Committee on the matter. (6)

3. Nigeria had agreed to loans of Benin artefacts from the European museums; loans necessarily imply recognition and acknowledgement of the ownership rights of the party granting a loan by the party accepting the loan.

With such arguments, Nigeria’s claims of ownership could be rejected, the claim of the people of Benin to their artefacts could also be denied. Our argument here is not that Nigeria has lost its right of ownership or that the people of Benin have renounced any of their rights. We wish to show that by entering into agreements and arrangements such as are now being proposed, Nigerians put their rights at a risk.

The neo-colonial character of the arrangements for the new museum comes out well in the composition of the Steering Committee which includes representatives of European Museums-Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen and Kunste der Welt, Hamburg; Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin; British Museum, London; NWVW, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, Edo State Government and the Royal Court of Benin. The Steering Committee’s function is to ‘drive forward the decisions made in Leiden by the Benin Dialogue Group’. This is remarkable. A museum project in Nigeria is to be run by a body that consists of representative of 4 European museums and 3 Nigerian institutions. Thus, the Europeans start with a majority of voices in running the project. Whose interests are likely to prevail in such a constellation? The voices of the very institutions illegally holding the Benin artefacts and the British museum that is largely responsible for the reluctance of many European museum to envisage restitution. That museum was also mainly responsible for the formulation of the notorious Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museum (2002). By this declaration, the major museums of the West demonstrated their unwillingness to return any of the looted artefacts and their determination to resist any attempt at restitution. How come that some people consider that such institutions, representing those holding on to the looted Benin artefacts could restore the Benin treasures and ensure that future generations of Nigerians have the possibility to learn about the glorious past of Benin through the new proposed Royal Museum at Benin? This neo-colonialist arrangement resembles IMF schemes that ensure that their schemes are effectively controlled by IMF officials and approved experts. The assisted country usually ends up very badly for good advice and assistance are very expensive. Are those taking such decisions aware that they are dealing with an institution in an African State and that the heavy involvement of Europeans and their dominance in the steering committee requires some explanation?

The European partners who refuse to discuss restitution, are to offer, as requested, advice ‘in areas including building and exhibition design’. They will also work ‘to develop training, funding, and legal frameworks to facilitate the permanent display of Benin works of art in the new museum’. Is it being suggested that Nigeria cannot alone manage the tasks in these areas without our former colonial masters? We have in various articles stated that training and scholarships should not be accepted as alternative to returning the Benin treasures.

As usual, this dialogue group does not offer much details about its deliberations, fearing perhaps, the negative reaction of the Nigerian public if details of arrangements and side arrangements were made clear. For instance, the sentence that the Europeans and Nigerians would develop alegal frameworks to facilitate the permanent display of Benin works of art in the new museum’ may be intended to hide the suggestion that Nigeria should enact specific legislation granting immunity to loaned artworks from seizure and other legal measures that could be issued against the looted objects when they return to the place from where they were looted. In other words, the looted artworks should be protected from legal actions by their original Nigerian owners. The history of the acquisition of the Benin artefacts by Europeans would be turned upside down and the true history of British arrogance and desire for power and expansion in Africa, thousands of miles from the British Isles, would continue to be distorted. (7)

We have expressed in earlier articles our main objections to the idea of any African country taking a loan of artefacts from the former colonial powers that looted, inter alia, our artefacts. The recent press release of the Benin Dialogue group has largely confirmed our fears and suspicions that Nigeria is faced with an insulting neo-colonial proposal. No other country has been confronted with such a project in response to demand for restitution of looted artefacts. Turkey, Italy, Peru, Greece and others received their looted artefacts without such impositions. This proposal to loan Nigerian artefacts to Nigeria reminds us of a thief who has stolen my Mercedes-Benz and in response to demand for restitution declares that he would consider returning the vehicle for short period, if I the owner would build a suitable garage according to his specifications, to be completed within an agreed period. To do this, he sets up a committee to supervise the construction and completion of the garage. Restitution could be discussed later.

We have written in previous articles that the proposed arrangements are not the best and should not be seen as an appropriate answer to the more than one hundred years demand for the restitution of looted Nigerian artefacts, including the famous Benin treasures which, because of the cruel and violent means employed in their acquisition ‘have been often cited world-wide as an atrocious example of imperialist aggression and cultural spoliation.

The Benin artefacts have become symbols of African culture and their fate is also a matter of general African concern, especially for the youth that has been fed on Western racist propaganda that often depicts our Continent as devoid of any worthwhile cultural advancement whilst at the same time Europeans steal and loot objects such as the Benin artefacts that could disprove many racist European ideas about the African’s capacity to develop when freed from domination of the West.

As we have always mentioned, measures regarding restitution of the Benin artefacts could affect other African claims such as Ethiopia’s demand for restitution of the looted Maqdala treasures as well as the demand for the restitution of the Asante gold looted/stolen from Ghana as well as the various claims from the Republic of Benin for the restitution of the Royal Dahomean Sculptures and demands from Mali, Senegal and other African States.

Readers will recall that the scheme by the British Museum and the other European museums to lend Benin artefacts to Nigeria has been launched at a time when President Macron of France has announced his objective to return African artefacts to Africa.(8) The French are going to return artefacts to Africa and not just lend them as the British, the Austrians, Germans and Dutch are proposing to do with Benin bronzes. The French approach of returning African artefacts would make it possible to end this shameful scene of having looted African artefacts in European museums whilst at the same time pretending to lend these same artefacts to the African owners. True that that the mere physical return of artefacts does not end the obligations of the Europeans arising looting and destruction. But we need to bring this regrettable situation to an end and lending these artefacts would only complicate and worsen the situation by prolonging a situation where one cannot distinguish owners from looters and their successors.

The German answer to Macron was to produce Guidelines on Dealing with Collections from Colonial Contexts which do not provide any solution to issues of restitution. The Germans have been desperately trying to create the impression that they are willing to return looted African artefacts, but no concrete step has been taken in that direction, much of this is clearly make-belief for internal German consumption aimed at diverting attention from the massive and consistent attacks on the Humboldt-Forum from NGOs such as Berlin Postkolonial. The main concern of the German authorities appears to do everything possible to ensure that the 600million Euros project can be opened in November 2019, with various looted African artefacts, including the Benin artefacts. The proposed arrangements for Benin, helps at least to postpone serious discussions and action on the Benin treasures for at least three years. However, discussions on this issue is more likely to intensify in the coming years.

Belgians have not shown any clear disposition to respond positively to the challenge thrown by Macron but demands for restitution are on the increase in the land ruled by King Leopold II, one of the cruellest rulers that our unfortunate continent has known. (9) The Royal Museum for Central Africa-Tervuren, has not taken any position on Macron, but it appears that in the new exhibition display that will be seen when the museum reopens on Satrurday,8 December,2018, now renamed AfricaMuseum in Tervuren, it will ban to its depots many of the objects that gave offence to African visitors. This will, of course, not be enough. Some museums tend to deflect the criticism about ownership to criticism about mode of display. There may well be both criticisms, but the major question of our time is about ownership. A display of our looted artefacts, whether in the West or in Africa is not enough. The looted artefacts must be returned to their countries of origin as several UNESCO and United Nations resolutions have demanded since 1972.

Returning looted artefacts as loans may satisfy persons who are not well informed about their conditions of capture and of return. They may rejoice at the sight of the revered objects. But with due respect to all, this is like kidnappers showing us that our kidnapped children are alive and may return if we fulfil certain conditions in future. What parents want to see is not only that their children are alive but that they are back for good and that the period of captivity is over. Europeans are promising to return for display the Benin artefacts that were looted with violence, arson, war and terror more than hundred ago. It is good to see that the sculptures of Queen-mother Idia, Akenzua I, Ewuare and others are intact and not maimed. But this we know from our visits to London, Berlin Vienna and other European capitals that have shamelessly being displaying our looted artefacts for ages. But are these loan objects our own? What shall we tell our children? Can we tell them they are not yet ours and that we borrowed them from Europe?

Can we tell them the truth about our defeat and inability to secure their return over more than hundred years? Can we instil in them love, reverence and pride in our ancestors? With all due respect to our mighty capitalists, the importance of our artefacts lay not in their market value in a European dominated market but in their symbolism. Will these objects now symbolize our defeat or our pride? I see already room created for falsification of history by some who cannot tell nor accept the full history of the new presence of the artefacts in Benin City.

Our contemporary Westerners seem to be in these matters worse than their forbearers who, under deceitful European theories may have thought they could commit crimes against Africans and go scot-free, in the firm belief that they were superior beings and were doing God’s work in enslaving, colonizing and brutalizing us. Our contemporary Westerners, in general, express their abhorrence of such racist ideas and acts. Yet they are not prepared to say ’sorry’ for evil acts committed in their name. Nobody is prepared to say to the African peoples’ sorry’ for the evil deeds of their ancestors. They reject ostensibly colonialism, but they are not prepared to return artefacts stolen in colonial times. They seem to think they need African artefacts more than the African peoples and shamelessly display artefacts looted from African peoples as if they were badges of honour. They have banned morality from the area of art and replaced it with the might of the sword.

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Court Dwarfs, Benin, Nigeria, now in World Museum, formerly Völkerkunde Museum, Vienna,

We should remind the European museums/States and ourselves, that the restitution of the Benin artefacts is one case, undoubtedly a very important one. There are many other looted African artefacts that are still in the European museums and their depots. Nigeria is still waiting for the restitution of Ife, Igbo, Nok and other works looted during the colonial period. On the continent, we are still waiting for the restitution of artefacts looted from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Sudan and other States. Would there be or are there Dialogue Groups on all these cases? How long will it take to ensure that a considerable number of looted African artefacts are returned to the owners by the present holders? The Benin Dialogue Group that has been in existence since 2007, with varying participation by the European States, is nowhere near the completion of their objectives, declaring the restitution question outside their mandate. They are thus not involved with the most important question that interests African States: restitution of our looted artefacts. They seem more interested in presenting themselves as museum-builders in Africa even though this should not be their primary business.

We, Europeans, who have received and transmitted and continue to transmit these objects, are on the side of the conquerors. To a certain extent, this is also a ‘heritage that weighs us down’. But there is no fatality. The good news is that in 2017 the history of Europe being what it is and has also been for centuries, a history of enmity between our nations of bloody wars and discriminations painfully overcome after the Second World War, we have within ourselves the sources and resources to understand the sadness, or the anger or hatred of those who, in other tropics, much further away, poorer, weaker, and have been subjected in the past to the intensive absorbing power of our continent. Or to put it simply: it would be sufficient today to make a v

very tiny effort of introspection and a slight step aside for us to enter into empathy with the dispossessed peoples.’’ Bénédicte Savoy (10)

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Stool of Oba Eres yen, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, soon to be transferred to the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

K. Opoku
NOTES
1. Emmanuel Macron, Le discours de Ouagadougou d’Emmanuel Macron. Le Monde Afrique ,29.11.2017 Restitution du patrimoine africain

‘… je ne peux pas accepter qu’une large part du patrimoine culturel de plusieurs pays africains soit en France. Il y a des explications historiques à cela mais il n’y a pas de justification valable, durable et inconditionnelle, le patrimoine africain ne peut pas être uniquement dans des collections privées et des musées européens. Le patrimoine africain doit être mis en valeur à Paris mais aussi à Dakar, à Lagos, à Cotonou, ce sera une de mes priorités. Je veux que d’ici cinq ans les conditions soient réunies pour des restitutions temporaires ou définitives du patrimoine africain en Afrique.’

Discours du 28 novembre 2017 d'Emmanuel Macron à Ouagadougou ...

Macron Promises To Return African Artefacts In French Museums: A ...

2. K. Opoku, Nigeria Demands Unconditional Return of Looted Artefacts: A Season of Miracles?..

3. Annex. Statement from the Benin Dialogue Group.

4. K. Opoku, “Benin Plan of Action” (2): Will This Miserable Project Be the Last ...

5. Ibid.,
6. K. Opoku Will Nigeria Finally Raise Restitution Of Benin Artefacts At Unesco ...

7. Even today, the British Museum is not prepared to tell the true history of British attempt at hegemony in the area. The disguised army that went to Benin against the will of the Oba and against the advice of British allies in the area is still presented at as a diplomatic mission that was going to have trade talks with the Oba. That this was a military expedition of 241 soldiers, disguised as carriers, with guns in their boxes, led by 8 officers who intended to surprise the Oba and replace him is never mentioned. The British Museum has even today on its walls, the following statement for public consumption:

At the beginning of 1897 Benin forces attacked and massacred a British diplomatic mission. In a wave of nationalist outrage the British organized a punitive expedition against Benin and took the capital Some900 brass plaques were found half-buried in a storehouse.’

The same mendacious statement is repeated at page 54 of a guide for visitors to the museum, The British Museum, A-Z Companion to the Collections, British Museum Press,1999

8. K.Opoku, European museums to 'loan' looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria...

Macron Promises to Return African Artefacts in French .Museums.. - The Easel

9. See King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild , for a study on Belgian colonialism.

10. Bénédicte Savoy, Objets du désir. d’objets Histoire culturelle du Désir patrimoine artistique en Europe. XVIIIe–XXe siècles Leçon inaugurale prononcée au Collège de France le 30 mars 2017

https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-benedicte-savoy/inaugural-lecture-2017-03-30-18h00.htm

The official English text of the brilliant lecture in French by Professor Savoy at the Collège de France is not yet available but I found her ideas so encouraging that I decided to provide an English translation based on the French text and the simultaneous English interpretation for my readers. We will bring the English text to the attention of readers when available.

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Cast brass plaques from Benin City at British Museum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

ANNEX
Statement from the Benin Dialogue Group, Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, The Netherlan pds, 19 October 2018.

The Benin Dialogue Group is a multi-lateral collaborative working group that brings together museum representatives from Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom with key representatives from Nigeria.

A central objective for the Benin Dialogue Group is to work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums in collaboration with the Edo State Government and the Royal Court of Benin, with the support of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

On 19 October 2018, at the National Museum of World Cultures, the Netherlands, the Benin Dialogue Group agreed a number of proposals towards the establishment of a new museum in Benin City (Benin Royal Museum) where a permanent display of Benin art works from European and Nigerian museums will be shown. His Excellency Mr Godwin Obaseki, the Governor of Edo State, presented concrete plans for the Benin Royal Museum being developed by the Edo State Government and the Royal Court of Benin with the support of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria.

The Benin Dialogue Group (2018) discussed the development of the new museum in Benin City to which all the listed European and Nigerian partners will contribute from their collections on a rotating basis. The agreement is that all parties will work to a three-year time frame for the delivery of a permanent display of the historic arts of Benin, including some of the most iconic pieces.

The Benin Dialogue Group established a Steering Committee composed of representatives from European museums (Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK); Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin; British Museum London; NWVW), the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, Edo State Government and the Royal Court of Benin. This Steering Committee is formed to drive forward the decisions made in Leiden by the Benin Dialogue Group. These are significant steps forward to realise the goals agreed at the previous Benin Dialogue Group meeting (2017, Cambridge).

The Benin Dialogue Group will meet again in 2019 in Benin City, Nigeria, in 2020 at the British Museum, London, and in 2021 at the Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) in Hamburg.

As the planning of the Benin Royal Museum moves forward in Benin City, the European partners will provide advice, as requested, in areas including building and exhibition design. European and Nigerian partners will work collaboratively to develop training, funding, and legal frameworks to facilitate the permanent display of Benin works of art in the new museum.

This event occurs within a wider context and does not imply that Nigerian partners have waived claims for the eventual return of works of art removed from the Royal Court of Benin, nor have the European museums excluded the possibility of such returns. However, this is not part of the business of the Benin Dialogue Group

Questions of return are bilateral issues and are best addressed with individual museums within their national systems of governance.

HRH Prince Gregory Akenzua, Enogie of Evbobanosa

“The Benin Dialogue Group meeting in Leiden was very fruitful; all the partners were open and frank in their discussion. I am happy we are making progress in the effort to give our people the opportunity to once more access our heritage that was looted.”

Stijn Schoonderwoerd, Direction, NMVW.

“We were very impressed by the progress made by our Nigerian partners towards the new museum. We are grateful to Governor Obaseki for coming to Leiden to present plans for its development. The European museums are excited to collaborate on this project and have shown their commitment today to making historical Benin works of art available in Nigeria.”

List of participants in the Benin Dialogue Group, Leiden, 2018

The Royal Court of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria

Edo State Government
National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja, Nigeria

Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria

British Museum, London UK
Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford UK
Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, UK

Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany

Museum am Rothenbaum, Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK), Hamburg, Germany

Linden Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

Statens museer för världskultur/ National Museums of World Culture, Sweden

Weltmuseum, Vienna, Austria
Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden, the Netherlands.

Kwame Opoku, Dr.
Kwame Opoku, Dr.

The author has authored 231 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author's column: KwameOpoku

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Kwame Opoku, Dr. and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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