There was great jubilation among the royal family and people of Benin Kingdom on Saturday following the official handover of two artefacts: Cockerel and a bronze bust to the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II.
The returned Cockerel is valued at £2million while the Oba’s head is valued and insured for £500,000 pounds.
The two were part of the hundreds of looted artefacts during the British invasion of the kingdom in 1897. This is coming as the African Union (AU) has added its voice to the call on European countries to return Africa’s artefacts in their possession.
The two artefacts were presented on Saturday to the Oba of Benin by the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Mr. Sarafa Isola.
Speaking during the presentation, Oba Ewuare II, described the return as the beginning of the restitution of the artefacts that were looted in1897 during the military expedition by the British in Benin Kingdom.
The monarch, who spoke through Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, said: “For us, our bronze does not transcend mere art. They are mostly of religious significance to us and these two bronze pieces will return to where they rightly belong.
“I will reiterate that the bronze and other works that were looted from the palace must be returned back here directly or through the agency of the federal government,” the monarch explained.
While expressing appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari for expressly directing that the two bronzes be handed to him directly, the Benin monarch also commended both Jesus College of Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen for their pace-setting initiative in returning these two bronzes.On his part, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Isola, said history was being made as the artifacts were being returned to right the wrongs of the past.
“My assignment here is to directly bring these objects to the Oba of Benin Kingdom. That is the presidential directive.
“Value has been added to these artefacts. I am not aware of the value as at when it was taken away but as at today, the Cockerel is valued at £2million while the Oba’s head is valued and insured for £500,000 pounds. We will still see many of them come back and it is a great treasure for Benin Kingdom and Nigeria.” Ishola also commended the British Government for granting export licenses for the artefacts at no cost to Nigeria, hoping that more of the looted artworks would be returned.
Also speaking, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, represented by his Chief of Staff, Osaigbovo Iyoha, pledged to support the palace in the return of the artefacts.
He said any institution willing to return the artefacts should liaise with the palace.
Earlier, the Director General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof Abba Isa Tijani, said history had started to take its proper shape during the reign of Oba Ewuare II, as the looted artefacts have started coming to their place of origin.
According to him, these artefacts are living arts, artefacts of the Benin people.
“They are not produced for the sake of money, aesthetics but part of their history, culture and daily life,” he added.Meanwhile, AU has added its voice to the call on European countries to return Africa’s artefacts in their possession.
President of AU, Mr. Macky Sall, made this known during his speech at the ongoing EU-AU summit in Brussels.
He said the restitution of African works would remain a matter of high priority, insisting that they were part of Africa’s ‘civilisational identity’.
“If we want to build a new Europe-Africa relational ethic, based on respect and recognition of historical facts, we must pursue the work already started through the recommendations of the Savoy-Sarr report,” Sall explained.
His position was part of the eight proposals by African leaders as their contribution to the new partnership with Europe.
As colonial masters ‘conquered’ Africa, thousands of its cultural artefacts were stolen. The conquerors took Africans as slaves to work on plantations and to build their countries while the artefacts were displayed in museums.
For instance, in 1897, the British launched a punitive expedition against Benin, in response to an attack on a British diplomatic expedition.
Apart from bronze sculptures and plaques, innumerable royal objects were taken as a result of the mission and these are scattered all over the world.
While restitution has begun, Sall’s call has reinforced the stance of the African people on the ruins of colonialism and the clamour for the return of their stolen heritage.
Sall also called for a revision of the investment risk evaluation criteria in Africa, noting that, “the risk perception remains considerably higher than the real risk, which results in high insurance costs, penalises investment and reduces competitiveness of our economies.”
Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City