The promise by Germany to repatriate stolen Benin artefacts to Nigeria is being threatened by a disagreement between the Governor of Edo State Godwin Obaseki, and the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, over the resting place for the works of art.
On May 18, 2021, the German Minister of State for Culture, Monica Grutters, announced that her country would be making a “substantial return” of the 1,130 looted artefacts from the beginning of 2022.
Similarly, some museums in the United Kingdom have agreed to return looted artefacts to Nigeria.
Both the State Governor and the Oba are contending over who takes custody of the artefacts.
The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki said “a transformational museum is to be built in Benin City, to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city”.
The governor is doing this alongside a Legacy Restoration Trust (LRT) group.
The Oba of Benin reacted to the Governor’s statement, saying the stolen bronzes do not belong to the Edo state government but that of the Benin kingdom, and emphasized that the “only legitimate destination for the artefacts” is the Benin royal museum which will be sited within the vicinity of the Oba of Benin’s palace.
The BBC stated that the British Museum has reached an agreement with LRT for an archaeology project in Benin City, and discussions with the German government ongoing for the funding of an LRT building worth millions of dollars to initially house returned Bronzes.
The British and German officials, including other Europeans, are said to have accepted the LRT in part because they believed all the parties were working in agreement.
The disagreement may threaten the agreement.
A Director of a European museum in possession of a large collection of the bronzes and has previously spoken in favour of repatriation of the artefacts to their land of origin said, “Our policy is that if claimants are in dispute amongst themselves, we wait until they resolve it”.
The Director of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland Museum, Neil Curtis, had stated earlier this year that his museum would return a Benin bronze head unconditionally, noted that he will be “very uncomfortable” if it is returned to Nigeria amidst disagreement among parties that should be working together.
The Federal Government has also stated that it will take possession of the repatriated Benin artefacts and be mindful of the culture that produced the artworks.