As President Muhammadu Buhari welcomed the official handover of the Okwukor and the bronze heads of an Oba of Benin, he equally appealed to nations, institutions, and individual collectors still in custody of Nigerian artefacts to return them.
And he made clear the works will be returned to the original owner.
”These artefacts are part of the records of the history of the Benin people,” he said in a statement released by his media aide Garba Sheu on Monday.
The current cache of works were repatriated from the University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen, Britain, and were handed over officially on Sa5turday to to the Oba of Benin, His Royal Highness, Oba Ewuare II.
”These are unprecedented moves worth emulating by others,” he said, thanking the government of the UK that facilitated the return by issuing the prerequisite Export Permits to Nigeria at no cost.
He equally extended his appreciation to the universities which agreed to return these artefacts.
The ancient works of art left the UK for its provenance after 125 years.
”I also want to appreciate the Federal Republic of Germany which is planning the process of repatriating 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria from many of Germany’s public museums. These returns are scheduled for this year,” the president said.
Urging other countries to take a cue from the institutions, the president vowed that the federal government will pursue the repatriation of Nigerian artefacts vigorously.
He also noted that in line with international law and practice, export, import and control over antiquities are matters within the purview of national governments to be exercised on behalf of sub-national authorities, institutions and bodies.
”I also want to appreciate the Federal Republic of Germany which is planning the process of repatriating 1,130 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria from many of Germany’s public museums. These returns are scheduled for this year.”
And he pledged the government will ensure that works are put to good and proper use on their return in museums and other facilities in conjunction with the royal families and kingdoms that lost these artefacts.
In the statement, Buhari made a particular point of the repatriation to the original owner—the royal family.
”My directive to return these artefacts to the Oba of Benin marks the beginning of another aspect in the highly valued relationship between the Federal Government of Nigeria and our traditional institutions who are indeed the true custodians of our history, customs and traditions,’ he said.
”This directive is also significant because it will introduce a working relationship between the Federal Government as represented by the NCMM and the traditional institutions whereby this Commission negotiates the release of antiquities from foreign museums and institutions on behalf of Nigeria and the traditional institutions that lost the antiquities and jointly they all take steps to ensure the valourisation of Nigerian and Nigerian people through these great arts and cultural emblems.”
The Edo government made effort to edge out the Oba of Benin in the return of the Benin artefacts, and the ploy generated a lot of furore in 2021
According to Buhari, several others are currently in the process of being returned while discussions are ongoing to repatriate many more.