The Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, has received two stolen artifacts Cockerel (Okpa) and Uhunwun Elao (Oba head) from Europe valued at £2.5 million at his palace.
The artifacts were handed over to the first-class monarch by the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Mr. Tunji Ishola, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, 125 years after they were looted from the Benin palace.
Ishola disclosed the two artifacts were preserved in their original forms while the value of the Cockerel was put at £2 million, with the Oba head valued at £500,000.
The High Commissioner stated he was directed by President Buhari to hand over the artifacts to the Oba of Benin.
Ishola hailed the British government for preserving the artifacts in their original forms while disclosing that efforts were still on to make sure that many of the stolen artifacts were returned to Benin’s palace.
The two artifacts, out of the no fewer than 10,000 , which were taken from the palace of Oba of Benin during the British expedition of 1897 were returned by Jesus College of Cambridge University and University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
Besides Ishola, the event was also attended by the Director General, National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani; eminent Benin sons and daughters; prominent traditional rulers; security chiefs and other distinguished personalities.
Tijani stated that it was historical that the artifacts were returned in his tenure, while many attempts in the past were frustrated by the holding countries.
He said: “I have on many occasions met the holders (of the artifacts) and told them that the Benin artifacts were not artworks, but life arts and part of the history of Benin people, not works for commercial value or aesthetics.
“We are making history, because none of us was here, when the artifacts were taken away in 1897, but we are here to receive them. I have already scheduled to visit other countries in Europe, to convince the holders to return them.”
While receiving the artifacts, Oba of Benin, whose speech was presented by his younger brother, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, stated that the artifacts mere arts but mostly of religious significance while the two bronzes would return to where they rightly belonged.
He said: “We are witnessing today the beginning of the restitution of our artifacts, which were looted in 1897. Contrary to reports that the military expedition of 1897 was a retaliation for the killing of some British soldiers, 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 civilisation, which equalled or even surpassed that of the aggressors. It was thought that the kingdom (Benin), 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 places of origin.
“For this, we commend both Jesus College of Cambridge University and University of Aberdeen, Scotland for their pacesetting 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 on, whereby our ownership of the artifacts, having been established, those museums will continue to enjoy the presence of our artifacts.”
The Benin monarch also hailed President Buhari for taking keen interest in the repatriation of the artifacts while pleading with persons who were genuinely interested in the cause to join him, in the interest of peace, tranquility and the substance of Benin cultural heritage.
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