According to the Federal Government, it will take possession of the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes that Germany is expected to deliver.
In Lagos, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed this at a news conference on the efforts by the federal government to repatriate looted smuggled artefacts.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports Mohammed was reacting to a controversy surrounding the possession of the expected artifact between the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, and Edo state Governor, Godwin Obaseki.
As NAN reports, while the Oba wanted the artefacts stolen from Benin Palace in 1987 returned to a museum to be built within Palace premises, the governor preferred the artefacts be managed by a private trust.
Although the Minister said the federal government was in charge of antiquities from the country, international law recognized the federal government as the governing authority.
The Federal Government is aware of the widely reported controversy over who will take possession of the Benin Bronzes when they are returned from Germany.
It is important to state clearly here that a bilateral agreement is being negotiated between the national governments of Nigeria and Germany for the return of the artefacts, based on international best practice and operative conventions and laws.
“Nigeria is recognised by international law as the authority in control of antiquities originating in Nigeria.
He said that the relevant international conventions treat heritage properties as belonging to the nation, not to individuals or subnational groups.
As per Article 1 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, cultural property is defined as property designated by that nation.
According to him, the provision allows each nation to determine what it regards as its cultural property.
Even so, he noted that, despite the provision, his ministry had been working over the past few years to repatriate looted artefacts in partnership with traditional institutions and state governments.
“What we are saying is that the federal government will take possession of these antiquities since it is required to do so by law.
“We have always exercised this right in accordance with the culture that produced the artwork.
“Due to this, the Ministry of Information and Culture and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments have always included the Edo State government and the Royal Benin Palace in discussions and negotiations that have now resulted in the impending return of these antiquities,” he explained.
The minister said the federal government was not just involved in repatriating Benin artefacts.
He also said his ministry works on repatriating Ife Bronzes, Nok Terracotta, Owo Terracotta, Igbo Ukwu, Akan and Igala, Bida, Igala, Jukun, etc.
Mohammed praised Germany for leading the global effort to repatriate all artefacts looted from Nigeria and from the African continent.
According to what I said during the meeting in Berlin, Germany is a leader in the effort to repatriate our stolen artefacts, and we hope it will continue to lead.
He also hailed the development that the repatriation of the artefacts marked the start of stronger relations and cultural diplomacy between Nigeria and Germany.
As part of the ongoing talks, Nigerians will receive archaeological training, among other benefits.
Nigeria and Germany agreed to Nigeria’s plan to use the repatriated artefacts and other works of art to inspire Nigeria’s Creative Industry to reach its full potential.
For this and other purposes, the Germans agreed to facilitate the establishment of an academy in Nigeria, he said.
The minister thanked Gov. Godwin Obaseki for his commitment as well as the Oba for sending Benin Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Ezelekhae Ewuare, to be part of the Nigerian delegation to Berlin.