Nigeria demands unconditional repatriation of looted Benin art works from Germany

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has said that allies of the arrested leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu will all be prosecuted.

The Federal Government has asked Germany to ensure a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin artefacts that were looted from the country in the 19th century and domiciled in German museums.

Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the demand on Wednesday during meetings in Berlin with German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters, and Foreign Minister, Mr. Heiko Maas.

He insisted the return should be whole rather than substantial on the heel of remarks by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the 1,130 looted artefacts.

He also said the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the art works.

“That they are known as Benin Bronzes is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin)”, Mohammed said.

At a separate meeting with Maas, Mohammed also reiterated that no conditions should be attached to the return of the artefacts.

He stressed the need for the parties to commit to definite timelines for the return of the Benin Bronzes in addition to concluding all necessary negotiations in a very short term.

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He said the discussions between Nigeria and Germany on the return of the art works was not the end of an era but rather the beginning of a new vista of stronger relations, pivoted by cultural diplomacy, between both countries.

He thanked Germany for taking the lead in the global efforts to repatriate all artefacts that were looted from Nigeria and the African continent.

“We see Germany as a leader in the efforts to take practical steps to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope Germany will sustain that lead,” he said

Edo State Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki, who was also on the Nigerian delegation, said a “transformational” museum was being built in Benin city to house the artefacts upon their return, as part of a new cultural district in the city.

He said he was attending the talks to demonstrate the strong partnership involving the federal government of Nigeria, the (Benin) royal family and the people of Edo State.

On his part, the Nigerian Ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar, said the issue of the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes should be seen as an opportunity to take the cooperation between Nigeria and Germany to a greater height.

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He also commended the government of Germany for taking the lead in the repatriation process.

Earlier, the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Grutters, said “the way we deal with the issue of Benin Bronzes is important to addressing our colonial past,” describing the issues as “an important personal concern.”

She assured the 1,130 artefacts would be returned to Nigeria from the beginning of 2022.

She noted that the fact that Germany had twice sent delegations to Nigeria for talks over the planned repatriation indicated that both sides had moved beyond mere talks, saying all the Museums in Germany stockpiling Benin Bronzes have agreed to cooperate.

Other people on the Nigerian delegation were Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monument (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani and Prince Ezelekhae Ewuare.

They were later taken on a guided tour of the Humboldt-Forum, a royal palace turned museum in the heart of Berlin that houses art works from around the world.

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