Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja
The federal government has applauded the United States of America over the repatriation to Nigeria, 23 Benin Bronzes, which were part of the thousands of artifacts that were looted by the British during their invasion of Benin Kingdom in 1897.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed gave the commendation at the Benin Bronzes’ repatriation ceremony in Washington, DC yesterday, noting the artefacts were vital to the culture that produced them.
“Please permit me, on behalf of the government and people of Nigeria, to most sincerely thank the United States and her major cultural heritage institutions for the return of these highly-cherished Benin Bronzes to Nigeria – which is the reason we are here today.
“These artifacts are intrinsic to the culture that produced them. A people ought not be denied the works of their forebears. It is in the light of this that we are delighted with today’s repatriation of the Benin Bronzes,” Mohammed, was quoted in a statement by Segun Adeyemi, the Special Assistant to the President (Media), Office of the Minister of Information and Culture to have said.
The minister acknowledged the Boards of Trustees of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the National Gallery of Art and the Rhode Island School of Design for engaging in the discussions with Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments that led to the repatriation of the artifacts.
He also said Nigeria would soon launch an international traveling exhibition with the artifacts being repatriated in a manner that would win more friends and promote greater goodwill for the country and the ethnic groups that produced the artefacts.
He described the release of the Benin Bronzes found in the US as a testament to the success of the campaign for the return and restitution of Nigeria’s looted/smuggled artefacts from around the world, which was launched in November 2019.
“We have also received or are in the process of receiving repatriated artifacts from The Netherlands, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, Mexico, the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Germany, among others,” he added.
He recalled that Nigeria and the US have signed a bilateral cultural property agreement to prevent illicit import into the United States of some categories of Nigerian artefacts, saying the agreement solidifies their shared commitment to combat looting and trafficking of precious cultural property, while also, “establishing a process for the return of trafficked cultural objects, thus reducing the incentive to loot sites in Nigeria,” the Minister said.
In his remarks, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G. Bunch III,, said the institution was humbled and honoured to play a small role in transferring ownership of the art works to Nigeria.
He averred that ethical consideration should be at the heart of what Smithsonian as an institution does.
The returned artifacts were made up 21 from the Smithsonian and one each from the National Gallery of Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Some members of the delegation at the ceremony included the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monument, Prof. Abba Tijani, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, who represented the Oba of Benin, Director of the US National Museum for African Art (NMAfA), Ngaire Blankenberg and Director, US National Gallery of Art (NGA), Kaywin Feldman.