Lagos Writes British Museum, Demands Return of Stolen Sculpture

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Steve Ayorinde

By Gboyega Akinsanmi

The Lagos State Government has formally requested to the British Museum in London for the return of an extremely important sculptural wood carving, known in the UK as the Lander Stool.

The state government has equally disclosed its plan to unveil the John K. Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, a world-class cultural institution, before the end of May, noting that the project “is already 85 per cent completed.”

This was revealed in a statement issued by the state Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mr. Steve Ayorinde.

 The statement added that the request was formally delivered at a two-day symposium on emerging museum projects in Africa at the British Museum on Saturday.

Ayorinde said the sculpture was believed “to have been taken from Nigeria in 1830 by one of the earliest known explorers of the interior, Richard Lander, who was instrumental in pioneering colonisation of Nigeria.

“Richard Lander was a celebrated figure in the UK who was given the Royal Geographical Society Founder’s Medal in 1832, but died of a musket ball wound, shot by inhabitants defending their territory during his final trip through the South-west region.”

At the symposium, the statement said Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki announced the intention of his government “to formally seek the return of some Benin Bronze artefacts from various British museums once it completes its new Royal Museum project.

“Both Lagos and Edo States were joined by Ghana at the colloquium to outline plans for their various new museum projects. Of the three participating entities, only Lagos is ready with the J.K Randle Centre, which has reached 85 per cent completion stage and is slated for unveiling in May before Governor Ambode leaves office.”

Ayorinde, who represented the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode at the symposium, said the J.K Randle Centre “is a world-class cultural institution that will enable the Yoruba people to reclaim their heritage from a colonial narrative and present for the first time a high standard cultural and resource centre for millions of people in the state.”

He explained that the centre would indeed be a befitting and conducive gallery space, which according to him, could host on a permanent basis some of the Nigerian artefacts expected to be returned from Europe and America.

He noted that the Lander stool, one of the very first works taken from Nigeria, would form a fitting centre-piece “to this opening exhibition that is expected to take place at the centre, as it represents the very beginning of the colonial story that led to the formation of the Royal Niger Company and ultimately the colonial state of Nigeria.”

According to the commissioner, the Lander Stool is currently in storage in the British Museum and is an important element of the restitution debate.

 Prominent academics from around the world have expressed support for the initiative by the Lagos State Government. A Nigerian academic at Amherst College in the US and adviser to the J.K Randle project, Prof. Rowland Abiodun described the Lander Stool as highly significant in the colonial story and of the new Centre.

Abiodun noted that the centre “will not just be a monument. Rather, it will also serve as a living realisation for posterity, of the fountainhead of the arts, history, thought, philosophy, religion, politics, language, and indeed, the essence of the intellectual tradition of Yoruba people and their descendants globally.”

Similarly, one of the architects on the project, Mr. Seun Oduwole said reclaiming artefacts from the British Museum for the centre would be a significant achievement, noting that this would give Nigerians the opportunity to see their lost history.