We won’t accept attempts to divert looted artifacts – Oba of Benin

The faceoff between Oba of Benin, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II and Edo Governor Godwin Obaseki over return of looted artifacts from Europe deepened on Friday.

The first class monarch raised the alarm over what he described as attempts to divert destination/right of custody of the stolen cultural heritage.

He declared at a well-attended meeting with palace chiefs and Enigies on repatriation of the looted Benin artifacts that Obaseki had reneged on the original agreements with him to return the artifacts to Benin Kingdom.

He condemned activities of the Obaseki-backed Legacy Restoration Trust Limited and establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA), stating the artifacts belonged to Benin Kingdom and not private corporate entities.

German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters had assured 1,130 artifacts would be returned to Nigeria from early 2022.

The traditional ruler called on the Federal Government to take custody of the artifacts, on behalf of the palace of Benin kingdom, until the Benin Royal Museum was ready for their collection.

He warned that under no circumstance should custody of Benin Kingdom’s age-old artifacts be handed to any privately-contrived entity like the Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.

He said: “I called this meeting to intimate you of the matter of the Benin artifacts in Europe, at the verge of being repatriated. You may 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 artifacts 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.

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“While anticipating return of the looted artifacts from Europe, I want to note that attempts to divert the destination or the right of custody of the artifacts are not in the interest of the people of Benin Kingdom to whom the Palace of the Oba of Benin provides leadership.

“The looted artifacts, 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 Edo State government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin kingdom.

“The right and only legitimate destination for the artifacts to be repatriated, as already pronounced by my father, is under the aegis of the Benin Royal Museum that will be sited within the precinct 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 artifacts from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.”

The monarch also declared there was no alternative native authority and custodian of the cultural heritage of the Benin kingdom outside the Oba of Benin as constituted by the royal palace.

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He said: “I do not believe that the move by a privately-registered company, the Legacy Restoration Trust Limited and the purported establishment of Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) are in consonance with the wishes of the people of Benin Kingdom.

“It is pertinent to note that shortly after my ascension to the throne, I had several discussions with the Governor on the plan for the Benin Royal Museum and he expressed his readiness to work with the Palace to actualise this laudable wish of my father.

“I made efforts and acquired additional plots of land from different families within the Adesogbe area near the present day palace for this purpose.

“I was, however, surprised to read from the Governor’s letter to the Palace, where reference was being made to the fact that a new museum to be known as EMOWAA is now being proposed, which will be funded and executed through the vehicle of another body now referred to as Legacy Restoration Trust Limited.

“When Governor Godwin Obaseki informed me, in his correspondence, of another implementation framework, using the so-called Legacy Restoration Trust Limited and the Edo Museum of West Africa Arts (EMOWAA), my response was that the setting up of another organisation or legal entity in whatever form or guise will not be necessary or acceptable.

“I informed him that Oba Ewuare II Foundation has been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and has worked out a framework for not only receiving the artifacts, but also building a modern structure – The Benin Royal Museum – within the precincts of the Palace and that land has been secured for the building of the Benin Royal Museum, under the supervision of the traditional institution.

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“For reasons best known to him, the Governor (Obaseki) has gone against the understanding, given recent events.

“We wish to use this medium to call on the Federal Government to take custody of these artifacts on behalf of the Palace until the Benin Royal Museum is ready for their collection.

“Under no circumstances should custody of our age old artifacts be handed to any privately contrived entity like the Legacy Restoration Trust.”

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