Nigeria and Germany yesterday in Berlin signed a historic joint declaration that will pave the way for the return of 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, 125 years after they were looted from the ancient Benin Kingdom during the Benin Expedition of 1897.
The minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and the minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, signed for Nigeria, while the minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Ms Annalena Baerbock, and the minister of State for Culture and the Media, Ms. Claudia Roth, signed for Germany.
In his remarks before the signing, Alhaji Mohammed thanked the government and people of Germany for what he described as the “single largest repatriation of artefacts anywhere in the world”.
“We also want to most sincerely thank the authorities of the various German regions, cities, museums, and institutions that have been working in concert to ensure the manifestation of the history-making event that we are witnessing today. By this singular action, Germany has taken the lead in correcting the wrongs of the past,” he said.
The minister of Information and Culture said Germany did not colonize Nigeria and was not part of the looting of the artefacts, adding that many of the Benin Bronzes in German public institutions got there via trade and donations.
“Yet, Germany and the great people of this nation decided it is better to shape the future by correcting the ills of the past. I have no doubt in my mind that this pace-setting action by the Federal Government of Germany will become a harbinger of more repatriation of cultural property to their place of origin, as other museums and institutions are expected to take a cue from what Germany has done.
“Germany has gained more friends in Nigeria and all over the world by returning to Nigeria what rightfully belongs to it,” he said.
On his part, the minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, called Germany the ‘champion of justice and fairness’.
Also Speaking, the minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Ms Baerbock, said: “It was wrong to take the (Benin) bronzes.
It was wrong to keep them for (125 years). This is the beginning to right the wrong.”
In a symbolic gesture signifying the impending return of the artefacts, two of the Benin Bronzes were handed over to Nigeria at the signing ceremony.
The signing was witnessed by top Nigerian and German government officials, including the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar, and the director-general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Tijani.