By Orobosa Omo-Ojo JP
The current needless hostility sorrounding the planned return of the looted Benin artefacts in 1897, will be resolved amicably by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The Director General of the National Commission of Museum and Monuments, Abba Isa Tijani declared the government position when he spoke with Barnaby Phillips, a freelance writer with the BBC.
The DG explained that, the dispute between Oba Ewuare II and Edo State Government, was ‘a private matter between them’. He also insisted that ‘local politics cannot slow down restitution’.
On the recent call by the Benin monarch on the National Museum to receive the 1,130 artefacts from Germany, in place of Edo State Government, Isa Tijani submitted that a “compromise” solution, whereby the artefacts will return to the “various museums within Benin City”, including the proposed Benin Royal Museum within the palace grounds as well as the more “ambitious” EMOWAA outside its walls.
The report by Phillips highlighted the escalation of the disapproval of EMOWAA and the Lagacy Restoration Trust by Oba Ewuare II as a possible reason that could “jeopardise plans for the return of some of Africa’s most famous artefacts, the Benin Bronzes.”
Phillips recapped the recent meeting held at the palace of the Benin monarch, thus: “Hundreds answered the Oba’s call and assembled in his palace, dressed in handsome robes, singing his praises. Ewuare II, the great-great grandson of the Oba who was toppled by the British in 1897, warned of an attempt by what he called an ‘artificial group’ to ‘divert’ the return of the Bronzes.” The mood and utterances during the meeting according to him was charged.
Barnaby Phillips who last April, released ‘Loots’ – a historical compilation of ‘Britain and the Benin Bronzes’, agreed that Oba Ewuare II argument is compelling, “but awkwardly, his son and designated heir, crown prince Ezelekhae Ewuare, attends the board meetings of the LRT he professes to know nothing about. So does Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, representing the federal government.”
According to the BBC report, the call by Oba Ewuare II to disown the EMOWAA project may have come too late.
“Governor Obaseki has convinced a celebrated architect, Sir David Adjaye, to design the new museum, bringing prestige and a wave of positive international publicity to the project.
” Although the Oba now warns anybody dealing with the LRT, that they do so ‘at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom’, he must worry it is already too late.” The report stated!
The British Museum has signed a deal with the LRT for an archaeology project in Benin City. The German government is discussing doing the same, and funding an LRT building to initially house returned Bronzes. These contracts are worth millions of dollars.
There are also insinuations and accusations that a section of those agitating for the control of the works are allegedly more interested in financial gains – “either from the Bronzes themselves or the contracts around a new museum, than in rectifying an historical injustice.”
The BBC source reported that, a German government official told him that: “Those who think there’s money to be made from this new museum (EMOWAA) are mistaken. A museum is somewhere you spend money, you don’t make it”.
Also, Phillips quoted a director of a European museum which has a large collection of Bronzes, who had previously spoken in favour of their return, as saying that, their policy is that, if claimants are in dispute amongst themselves, “we wait until they resolve it.”
From the onset, Midwest Herald had insisted that the EMOWAA cultural project and Oba Ewuare II proposed Royal Museum would be ‘Win-Win’ for Edo people and Edo State. Understandably, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the National Commission for Museum and Monuments, relying on UNESCO convention, is rightly applying the 50-50 principle, that will accommodate government and the host community to restitute all interests.