Opinion: Nigeria must reclaim artefacts worth N313 billion

By Kwame Opoku | Mon 6 January 2014

One of a pair of leopard figures, now in the Royal Collection Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.The commanders of the British Punitive Expedition force sent a pair of leopards to the British Queen Victoria soon after the looting and burning of Benin City in1897

Kwame Opoku explains why numbers may be important in restituion matters when seeking to recover looted Nigerian artefacts

Numbers may under specific circumstances be very important but I believe the real question now is what are we doing about the known artefacts that are in museums and other places we know about?
What serious and genuine efforts have been made to recover the looted/stolen artefacts?

We may never know the exact number of Nigerian artefacts that are abroad and are decorating foreign public institutions and private residences. Do we really need to know exactly how many bronzes are in the British Museum, especially as the venerable museum refuses to tell us but has been known to sell some of these looted objects? Besides we are not asking that all the Nigerian objects be returned immediately.

This would please some of the mischievous museum directors who pretend that some of us want to empty their museums. Nobody is asking the British Museum, Louvre, Ethnology Museum Berlin, Ethnology Museum, Vienna (now World Museum) to return all the looted, stolen artefacts or objects acquired under doubtful circumstances.

What we have been demanding is that they enter into arrangements with the owners that would permit Nigeria to recover a considerable number of its stolen national treasures We have suggested, for example, that the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, that admittedly holds 507 Benin artefacts (we believe they should be more, at least 580.) should in agreement with Nigerian authorities return some 307 to Nigeria and arrangements be made for returning temporally the rest if Nigeria so requests, But instead of entering into such arrangements, the Germans have denied that Nigerian authorities have ever asked for the return of the objects. And what has been the official Nigerian response to this arrogant assertion by the Germans?

Looted: Queen-Mother Idia, hip mask, Benin, Nigeria, Quartz stool from shrine at Oluorogbo, Ife, Nigeria, both now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom

Reparation overdue

We have had the so called Benin Plan of Action for restitution in which the European museums holding Benin artefacts have declared they have no intention of returning our artefacts. What has been the reaction of the Nigerian authorities?

It is clear that for any serious movement in questions of restitution, both the owners and the holders have to make efforts at reaching acceptable arrangements. But if one side does not act vigorously?

(L) Members of the notorious British Punitive Expedition of 1897 against Benin (R) Oba Ovonramwen, during whose reign the British looted the Benin Bronzes with guards on his way to exile in Calabar in 1897. The gown he is wearing hides his shackles.

External Links
Nigeria: Centenary - Where Are Nigeria
Retrospective: British Museum and Africas stolen artefacts

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Opinion: Africa must raise restitution with UNESCO

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Many Nigerian artefacts are still being held in European and American museums... that were stolen, plundered, or collected through stealth,

Dr. Zacharys Anger Gundu, President of Archaeological Association of Nigeria (AAN)

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