Efforts by the Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki and the Benin Monarch, Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, to retrieve artefacts stolen from the state in the colonial era are yielding results as European governments have set modalities in place for either permanent or temporary return of the artworks.
Campaign for the return of the prized heritage objects has raged for decades, with Nigerian authorities mounting pressure on European governments and museums to return them, while the Europeans argue that holding the work was best for the preservation of the artefacts, as there were no structures in Africa to properly hold them.
However, while presenting the 2019 Budget proposal on Monday before a session of the House of Assembly, Governor Obaseki stressed his intention to make Benin the culture capital of West Africa with the planned return of the artefacts and proposed N500 million for the construction of the Benin Royal Museum, a facility to be constructed in collaboration with the Oba’s Palace and the Benin Dialogue Group, a multilateral group of major museums across Europe.
Addressing the legislators, he said, “To fulfill our commitment towards making Edo the culture capital of West Africa, we have earmarked N500 million in 2019 proposed Budget, to commence the development and construction of the Benin Royal Museum. This will be done in collaboration with the Palace of His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, Ogidigan”
The French government recently approved the return of 26 artefacts stolen from Benin Republic after a report recommended the move, raising the prospect of more of such moves from the European country.
After the approval for the return, the Elysée Palace said: “there will be a meeting at the start of 2019 between African and European nations to develop a new policy on the exchange of stolen artefacts.”
The French President was quoted as saying that he would ensure that “African youths have access to their heritage objects and the common heritage of humanity in Africa,” and assured of “a new intellectual connection between France and Africa.”
The Benin Dialogue Group, which is a major partner in the construction and management of the Benin Royal Museum, is also working on something similar. It has built a coalition that will set a framework for the European partners to provide advise, as requested, in areas including building and exhibition design, while European and Nigerian partners will work collaboratively to develop training, source funding, and legal frameworks to facilitate the permanent display of Benin artworks in the new museum.”
The Benin Dialogue Group consists of museum representatives from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom with key representatives from Nigeria.