Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, has asked the Federal Government to temporarily take custody of 1,130 stolen Benin artefacts after they are repatriated from Europe amid the controversy surrounding where the artefacts will be housed.
The Benin Palace and the Edo State Government have been at loggerheads over where the artefacts will be housed. While the palace wants the artefacts kept in the Benin Royal Museum, which will be built within the palace, the state government wants the items preserved in the proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts.
But Oba Ewuare II, at a world press conference on Friday at the palace, said that there was no controversy over the issue, as an agreement had been reached that the artefacts would be housed in the royal museum.
However, a press release from the Government House also on Friday quoted Governor Godwin Obaseki as saying in Germany that a “transformational” museum would be built in Benin to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.
The artefacts were allegedly looted during the invasion of the Benin Kingdom in 1897 by the British led by Captain Philip.
Speaking at his palace on Friday, Oba Ewuare II insisted that the right and only legitimate destination of the about-to-be-repatriated artefacts was the Benin Royal Museum
He said, “I have called this meeting today (Friday) to intimate you of the matter of the Benin artefacts in Europe on the verge of being repatriated, which I am sure you have heard and read about in recent weeks. You may also have heard about the recent activities of a group of individuals who incorporated a company since January 2020 called Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.
“It has become germane to note that the advocacy and demands for the return of the artefacts looted from the Benin Kingdom in 1897 have been going on for decades before the emergence of the incumbent Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki. I must sincerely thank the governor for joining the struggle and showing commitment to retrieve our stolen cultural heritage from Europe.
“While anticipating the return of the looted artefacts from Europe, I want to note that attempts to divert the destination or the right of custody of the artefacts is not in the interest of the people of Benin Kingdom, to whom the Palace of the Oba of Benin provides leadership. The looted artefacts awaiting repatriation from Europe are the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom created by our ancestors and forefathers within the traditional norms and rites of the kingdom.
“They are not property of the state government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin Kingdom. The right and only legitimate destination for the artefacts to be repatriated as already pronounced by my father is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum that will be sited within the precincts of the Palace of the Oba of Benin, from where they were looted, and also, the proper traditional institution that is also the custodian of all the cultural heritage of the Benin Kingdom.
“The palace, therefore, strongly advises that anyone, group, organisation, or government – national and international – that is dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the looted artefacts from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.”
Oba Ewuare II said he did not believe that the move by a privately registered company, Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd, and the purported establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts, were in consonance with the wishes of the people of Benin Kingdom, adding that after his ascension to the throne, he had several discussions with Obaseki on the plan for the Benin Royal Museum.
The monarch said the governor expressed his readiness to work with the palace to actualise the wish of his late father, adding that he had acquired additional plots of land from different families within the Adesogbe area near the palace for the purpose of building the Benin Royal Museum.