The Federal Government has demanded a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin Bronzes that were looted in the 19th century and domiciled in German museums.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the demand in Berlin, Germany,, during separate meetings with the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and the German Foreign Minister, Mr Heiko Maas.
A statement on the meeting was made available to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday by Mr Segun Adeyemi, the Special Assistant to the President (Media) Office of the minister.
As contained in the statement, Mohammed who led the Nigerian delegation to the talks, made the demand while reacting to comments by Grutters that Germany was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts,
He stressed that return of the looted artefacts should be whole rather than substantial.
The minister also said that the issue of provenance, which had to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the art works.
He contended “the fact that the looted artefacts are known as Benin Bronzes is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin).”
While meeting with the German Foreign Minister, Mohammed said there should be ”absolutely no conditions attached” to the return of the artefacts, which he described as “an ideal whose time has come”.
He said there was the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes, adding that it was necessary to conclude all negotiations in a very short term.
He said the ongoing discussion between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the art works was not just the end of an era but the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy between both countries.
The minister thanked the Government of Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and indeed from the African continent.
”We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead,” he said
Also in the statement, Edo Governor, Godwin Obaseki, a member of the delegation, disclosed that a ”transformational” museum is being built in Benin city to house the artefacts upon their return.
He said the museum was part of a new cultural district in the city.
The governor said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the Federal Government of Nigeria, the (Benin) royal family and the people of Edo State.
For his part, the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar, said the issue of the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes should be seen as an opportunity to take the cooperation between Nigeria and Germany to a greater height.
”This is an opportunity that must not be missed. Minor issues should not delay the repatriation,” he said, Tuggar commended the government of Germany for taking the lead in the repatriation process.
Earlier, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Grutters, said ”the way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past”, describing the issues as ”an important personal concern.”She disclosed that the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from the beginning of 2022.
Gutters noted that the fact that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation was an indication that both sides had moved beyond mere talks,
She disclosed that the Museums in Germany that were holding Benin Bronzes had agreed to cooperate.
The Nigerian delegation as listed in the statement also included the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani, and the Benin Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Ezelekhae Ewuare.
Adeyemi said that members of the delegation were taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace turned museum in the heart of Berlin that houses artworks from around the world.