The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, has disclosed that his administration is bracing up to build a museum, as discussions are underway for several returns of Benin Bronze from western museums and private collectors in 2021 in a move that is capable of jump-starting broader movements across Africa and beyond, seeking pre colonial- era loot.
This was disclosed by the Governor during a discussion with the press in the capital city of Edo State, Benin City.
According to a News report by Reuters, Governor Obaseki disclosed that plans had been drawn up to build a centre to store and study the returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025.
He said that the whole Black Lives Matter movement has added some urgency to the conversation and emphasized that the worldwide anti-racism protests had forced Western nations to re-examine their colonial pasts, which played a huge part in advancing negotiations on finding a compromise.
However, several museums including the British Museum and the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna have formed a Benin Dialogue Group – to discuss the sculptures and work on displaying them in a museum in Benin City, with some of them officially on loan.
What you should know
According to sources, the Governor disclosed that British soldiers seized thousands of metal castings and sculptures during a raid on the then separate Kingdom of Benin in 1897.
The “bronzes” – actually copper alloy relief sculptures, many showing court figures – were auctioned off and then spread among institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the United States, with the biggest collection in London.
However, despite several demands for repatriation, the British Museum resisted calls for the full repatriation of its collection of bronzes – as well as of Ethiopia’s ‘Magdala treasures’ and Greece’s ‘Elgin marbles’ – often citing legislation banning it from disposing of artefacts.
What they are saying
In a statement by the British Museum on the discussions, and also on repatriation of artefacts, they said, “There is the question of the objects that will feature in the new museum in Benin and how many will be determined through discussion with our Nigerian colleagues.”
However, Governor Obaseki said, “A private collector returned one item in August and four others had expressed interest in recent months in doing the same as early as next year.
“An independent trust has been set up to raise funds including representatives of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the royal palace of the Oba of Benin. Funds will be raised over the next two years to build the three-storey Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA), and work on a research office to store the first returns which would start in March,” the Governor said.