At last, the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, on Saturday received the first set of looted Benin Artefacts after years of expectation.

The two artefacts out of over 10,000 which were plundered during the Benin Massacre of 1897 were a cockerel (okpa) and Uhunwun Elao (Oba head).

The Oba formally received the two artefacts returned by Jesus College of Cambridge University and University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

The Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK, Ambassador Tunji Ishola, handed the two items to the Oba of Benin in a ceremony that was attended by prominent Benin sons and daughters, members of the royal family, societies and groups in the kingdom.

Also at the event were the Director General, National Commission of Museums and Monuments, Professor Abba Tijani, traditional rulers from Edo North and Edo Central senatorial districts, representative of the Ooni of Ife, the Hausa and Yoruba communities, the muslim community, men of the various security agencies and others.

The High Commissioner said that the Cockerel has a value of £2 million while the Oba head is valued at £500,000.

According to him, the two items have been preserved in the original forms in which they were taken away 125 years ago.

He said “When I came in December 2021, I promised to bring the objects here physically and today I have come to do that because we have a talk and do president in President Muhammadu Buhari who instructed that the objects must be handed over physically. I have come to do that.”

The High Commissioner said that he the artefacts were returned with their respective histories from who had possession of them from 1897 to date and how much they were priced and sold at various times.

He said that it was a thing of joy that they have been returned to the original owners and home where researchers would ask questions about them.

Speaking also, the Director General of NCMM, Professor Abba Tijani, said that he was delighted that after years of frustrated efforts, the works are finally returned in his tenure.

He said that he had told those holding them them the artefacts were beyond their perception as works of art but part of the history of the people.

He said that he had scheduled appointments to visit other countries in Europe to pave the way for the return of others.

“I have on many occasions met the holders and told them that these Benin artefacts are not art works, they are life arts, they are part of the history of these people, they are not works for commercial values or aesthetics, you can imagine that part of your life is taken from you.

“We are making history because none of us were here when they were taken away in 1897 but we are here to receive them. The Commission had made several efforts in the past to see to their return but we encountered many blockades.

“I have already scheduled to visit other countries in Europe to convince these holders to return them”

Oba Ewuare II said in a speech read by his younger brother, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa that the day was a unique day of joy to him and all Benin people.

He commended President Buhari for his commitment to the return of the artefacts.

He said that the history that Benin was attacked as a retaliatory action for the killing of British soldiers was untrue.

According to him, the kingdom was targeted for its rich artefacts and territorial dominance

“The truth is that there was a calculated and a deliberately conceived plan to attack Benin for its territorial dominance and also for her treasures. The result was a destruction of a civilization which equaled or even surpassed that of the aggressors. It was thought that the kingdom, totally decimated and in ruins in the aftermath of the war, would not rise again. By the grace of God and our Ancestors we are still standing.

“The current conversation is about restitution. International scholars and most museums now agree that keeping stolen items is immoral and illegal. There is consensus now that heritage items must be returned to their place of origin.

“For this we commend both Jesus College of Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen for their pace-setting initiative in returning these two bronzes. Of course, there remain a very large number of our artifacts out there. We are aware of the ongoing discussions which the Federal Government, through the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, is holding with various governments on our behalf.

“We are also aware that the major museums will miss having Benin Bronzes in their collections. I believe that a working arrangement can be agreed whereby our ownership of the artifacts having been established, those museums will continue to enjoy the presence of our artifacts.” He said


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