By Andrew Onyejuruuwa
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said that the United States of America has repatriated to Nigeria, 23 Benin Bronzes, part of the thousands of artifacts that were looted by the British colonial masters during their invasion of Benin Kingdom in 1897.
Speaking at the repatriation ceremony in Washington DC, on Tuesday, Lai Mohammed, commended the United States for the repatriation of the looted cultural heritage. His commendation was contained in a statement issued on Tuesday by the Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and Culture, Segun Adeyemi.
The statement stated, “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,” the minister was quoted to have said.
Mohammed thanked 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.
The minister disclosed that Nigeria will soon launch an international traveling exhibition with the artifacts being repatriated “in a manner that will win more friends and promote greater goodwill for Nigeria and the ethnic groups that produced the artifacts”.
He said the release of the Benin Bronzes found in the US was a testament to the success of the Campaign For The Return and Restitution of Nigeria’s Looted/Smuggled Artifacts 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,” Mohammed said.
The minister 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 artifacts.
“This agreement solidifies our 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,” he said.
In his remarks, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G. Bunch III, said the Institution was “humbled and honored to play a small role in transferring ownership of the art works to Nigeria.”
He added that ethical consideration should be at the heart of what Smithsonian as an institution did. As contained in the statement, the returned artifacts comprise 21 from the Smithsonian and one each from the National Gallery of Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design.
The statement listed those present at the ceremony to include the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monument, Prof. Abba Tijani; and representative of the Oba of Benin, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa.
Others were the Director of the US National Museum for African Art (NMAfA), Ngaire Blankenberg; and the Director, US National Gallery of Art, Kaywin Feldman.