The Federal Government says in line with operative conventions and laws, it will take possession of the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes being expected from Germany.
Information and culture minister Lai Mohammed on Saturday in Lagos address a news conference on federal government efforts to repatriate the looted artifacts from around the world.
Mohammed was reacting to the controversy that had trailed who will take possession of the expected artifact between the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II and Edo state Governor, Godwin Obaseki.
While the Oba wants the artefacts stolen from Benin Palace in 1987 returned to a museum to be built within the Palace premises, the governor prefers a private trust to take custody and manage the artifacts.
The Minister however said the federal government was the entity recognised by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from the country.
“The Federal Government is aware of the widely-reported controversy on who will take possession of the Benin Bronzes when they are returned from Germany.
“Let me state clearly here that, in line with international best practice and the operative Conventions and laws, the return of the artefacts is being negotiated bilaterally between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany.
“Nigeria is the entity recognised by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating from Nigeria.
“The relevant international Conventions treat heritage properties as properties belonging to the nation and not to individuals or subnational groups,’’ he said.
The minister cited the 1970 UNESCO Convention, in its Article 1 which defines cultural property as property specifically designated by that nation.
He said the provision allows individual nations to determine what it regards as their cultural property.
He, however, noted that the provision notwithstanding, his ministry had been working over the past years to repatriate looted artifacts in partnership with traditional institutions and state governments.
“What we are saying, in essence, is that the federal government will take possession of these antiquities, because it is its duty to do so, in line with the extant laws.
“We have always exercised this right in cognizance of that culture that produced the artworks.
“That is why the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always involved both the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities,’’ he said.
The minister said the federal government was not just involved in the repatriation of Benin artifacts.
He said his ministry was also working on repatriating Ife Bronzes and Terracotta, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, the arts of the Benue River Valley, the Igbo Ukwu and the arts of Bida, Igala, Jukun etc.
Mohammed commended the Government of Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artifacts that were looted from Nigeria and from the African continent.
“As I said during the meeting in Berlin, we see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artifacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead.
He also applauded the development that the repatriation of the artifacts would be the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations and cultural diplomacy between Nigeria and Germany.
He disclosed that there would be archaeological training for Nigerians among other benefits accruing from the ongoing talks.
“The Nigerian side and the German side agreed to Nigeria’s proposal to use the repatriated artifacts and other works of art to inspire Nigeria’s Creative Industry towards realising its high potential.
“For this and other purposes, it was agreed that the Germans will facilitate the establishment of an academy in Nigeria,’’ he said.
The minister equally thanked Gov. Godwin Obaseki for his commitment as well as the Oba for sending the Benin Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Ezelekhae Ewuare, to be a part of the Nigerian delegation to Berlin. (NAN)