For fifty eight (58) years Nigeria has solicited the return of her priceless artifacts looted by British soldiers during the colonial era, most of which have become highly regarded must-sees in British museums today.
The Kingdom of Benin was the most affected by the rapine which robbed them of a lot more than just bronze treasures, but symbols that embody their cultural ancestry.
After more than a century since the artifacts were taken, last month a deal was struck by the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG), that would see “some of the most iconic pieces” make a return to Nigeria, howbeit temporarily to form an exhibition at the new Benin Royal Museum in Edo State within three years.
The returns are dependent on the timely completion of a new Royal Museum, adjacent to the Royal Palace that once housed many of the bronzes before the colonialists came knocking on our doors.
Nigerian officials presented the proposal for the museum at the BDG meeting in October, with a working plan to form a syndicate of European museums that would lease Benin artifacts in their possessions to the new Royal museum for a stipulated time.
The BDG was formed in 2007 to address restitution claims, and it comprises of representatives of several European museums, the Royal Court of Benin, Edo State Government, and Nigeria’sNational Commission for Museums and Monuments.
As yet there are no clear details on which pieces will be returned and for how long, however a spokesman for the British Museum has assured that European Museums would play a key role in developing an ideal facility suitable for housing the artifacts.
“The key agenda item (at the October meeting) was how partners can work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums.
“The museums in attendance have all agreed to lend artifacts to the Benin Royal Museum on a rotating basis, to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition design, and to cooperate with the Nigerian partners in developing training, funding, and a legal framework for the display in a new planned museum.”
— British Museum
Recovering our relics
Though this a good move on the part of European museums, it is however not enough to lease back artifacts that once belonged to us.
Crusoe Osagie, spokesman for the Governor of Edo State, told CNN that this is only a first step to the permanent recovery of our relics.
Earlier, the government of France announced that it would return 26 ill-gotten artworks to the state of Benin, with further restitution to follow. This is a huge step in the right path, howbeit a slow one for the French government who presently hold an estimated 90,000 artifacts of sub-Saharan African origin in French institutions.
More pressure will have to be put on foreign governments to speed up the process of permanent recovery of our nation’s priceless relics.
In today’s digital age where our customs are quickly fading away, it is only right that we have our historical artifacts to remind us of where we began and how far we have come as a people.