*Decision ends tussle between monarch, Edo governor
Emmanuel Addeh and Alex Enumah in Abuja
The federal government has in an order of recognition of ownership vested custody and management of repatriated looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin Kingdom.
The government made the order in notice No. 25 in the official gazette No. 57 in Volume 110 at pages A245-247, dated March 28, 2023.
The document was titled: “Notice of Presidential Declaration in the Recognition of Ownership and an Order Vesting Custody and Management of Repatriated Looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin issued on 23rd March, 2023.”
The government by the order said it recognised and vested ownership, custody and management of looted Benin artefacts consequent upon the ‘unfortunate’ British Military expedition known as The Benin Massacre of 1897, in the Oba of Benin as an institution “to the exclusion of any other person or persons and or institutions.”
It added that all repatriated artefacts therefore must be delivered to the Oba of Benin and that the right of the original owner therein affirmed in the Oba, covers all looted Benin artefacts both repatriated and or yet to be repatriated.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria and the Oba of Benin shall superintend on matters of safety and security of any repatriated looted Benin artefacts while the Oba is at liberty henceforth to engage with national and international institutions in respect of these looted Benin artefacts,” the document stated.
The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, had attempted to douse the tension raised by who should have custody over the artefacts by promising that his administration will not engage in “disrespectful exchanges” with the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, over stolen artefacts.
But the Oba of Benin had warned that the artefacts to be returned, was not the property of the state government or any private corporate entity that is not a creation of the Benin kingdom.
The monarch warned that no state government or any individual could pose to be a legitimate destination for the artefacts to be repatriated, adding that the Benin Royal Museum was designed and will be sited within the precinct of the Palace of the Oba of Benin from where they were looted.
“The Oba of Benin Kingdom is globally recognised as the traditional ruler, symbol and custodian of the culture, tradition and heritage of the Benin Kingdom and people now located within Edo State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the March 23, gazette stated.
The federal government recalled that following a military expedition in February 1897, known as the Benin massacre, the British Royal Marines invaded the ancient Palace of the Oba, looted and carted away thousands of artefacts of Benin origin from the Palace of the Oba and other parts of Benin kingdom .
It stated that after the invasion of the palace and the kingdom, the looted artefacts were taken to different museums and private collections around the world through gifts, loans, exchanges. purchases and other means.
In addition, it said that the earliest known auction of some of the looted artefacts was in 1897, through, an advertisement in the British Times Newspaper in May, 1897, for the sale of the artefacts.
According to the document, as the custodian of the culture, tradition and heritage of the Benin kingdom and people, the ownership and title of the artefacts and other art works such as crafts, creative works and other cultural endowments made of bronze, clay, charcoal, iron, ivory, raffia, silver, wood are attributed ascribed and known to symbolically belong to the Oba.
It noted that the Oba and the Federal Government of Nigeria had been making concerted and frantic efforts to secure the repatriation of the looted artefacts from the custody of all the museums and private collections located in different parts of the world, for the preservation of Benin culture, heritage and tradition in line with the 1970 UNESCO Convention.
Quoting several conventions, the federal government stated that in consequence of the request for the repatriation of the artefacts, the Oba received some architects repatriated from Jesus College, Cambridge, and is awaiting the release of further looted artefacts .
“As the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and in the exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 5 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as altered, l, Muhammadu Buhari, hereby give notice, declare and order that the ownership of the artefacts looted from the ancient Palace of the Oba and other parts of Benin kingdom be and is vested in the Oba
“That custody of the repatriated artefacts, shall, from wherever and whenever they are brought into Nigeria be handed over to the Oba as the original owner and custodian of the culture, heritage and tradition of the people of Benin kingdom in Edo State of Nigeria.
“That repatriated artefacts may be kept within the Palace of the Oba or such other locations within Benin City, or any other place that the Oba and the Federal Government of Nigeria may consider secure and safe,
“That the Oba shall be responsible for the management of all places where the repatriated artefacts are domiciled or located and the Oba shall work jointly with any recognised national or international institution to ensure the preservation and security of the repatriated artefacts for the benefit of humanity,” the federal government stated.
It explained that the repatriated artefacts shall not be taken out of the designated custody without the written consent and authorisation of the Oba, and upon such return, the artefacts shall first be inspected and authenticated by the Oba before it is accepted and restored to its designated custody.
“This notice may be cited as the Recognition of Ownership, and an Order Vesting Custody and Management of the Repatriated Looted Benin Artefacts in the Oba of Benin Kingdom, 2023,” the document added.