REMARKS BY THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF INFORMATION AND CULTURE, ALHAJI LAI MOHAMMED, DURING MEETING WITH THE GERMAN DELEGATION ON THE REPATRIATION OF BENIN ANTIQUITIES…IN ABUJA ON TUESDAY, 18 MAY 2021
Let me formally welcome His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State. His presence here, though not scheduled, is a big boost to our ongoing efforts to repatriate the Benin Bronzes from all over the world. May I also welcome the team from our Embassy in the Federal Republic of Germany, led by His Excellency, Ambassador Yusuf Tuggar, and also the visiting delegation from Germany, led by Mr. Andreas Gorgen, Director General for Culture and Communication of German Foreign Affairs.
2. I want to appreciate, in particular, the hard work of our Embassy in Germany which, in 2019, wrote to the German Chancellor requesting for the return of Nigerian antiquities in Germany. His Excellency the Ambassador also wrote to the Oba of Benin on the need for all stakeholders in Nigeria seeking
for the return of Nigerian antiquities to act in unison. In January 2021, the Ambassador further wrote to the Federal Foreign Office of Germany requesting for its support in repatriating Nigerian artefacts from Germany. Thank you, Your Excellency, for these great efforts.
3. Prior to Ambassador Tuggar’s intervention, Nigeria, through the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), had initiated discussions with several European museums, the Royal Palace of Benin and the Edo State Government on the return of Benin Bronzes looted from the Oba of Benin’s palace in 1897.
4. These discussions had led to the formation of what is now globally called the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG), an offshoot of which is the Legacy Restoration Trust (LRT) that was created to raise funds towards establishing a museum capable of housing these antiquities when eventually returned.
5. In 2019, we decided to raise the stakes on this issue. I, in my capacity as the Minister of Information and Culture, addressed a world press conference in Lagos to signal Nigeria’s resolve to seek the repatriation of all our artefacts from around the world. I must say that this global campaign has started yielding fruits, with the spate of return of Nigerian artefacts by several countries.
6. I am aware that, following an earlier meeting involving the German delegation, the NCMM, Edo State Government and the Royal Palace of Benin over the Benin Bronzes, certain agreements were reached.
a) Benin bronzes from German museums shall be released to Nigeria. Upon their return, the bronzes are expected to be exhibited at the proposed museum being anchored by the Legacy Restoration Trust, of which NCMM is a part. We do know, from our knowledge of the workings of the German federal system, particularly regarding museums and antiquities, that a lot of work must have gone into the agreement by the German Federal government, the states and cities to have made the announcement of a return to be made.
b) As part of the agreement from the last meeting on March 17th 2021, an opportunity for postgraduate museum studies for two young Nigerians, as part of selected scholars worldwide, is being provided by the German government.
7. After the last meeting, Germany released a globally-acknowledged statement signifying its intention to release a substantial part of
the Benin antiquities in its hold. The German delegation has also signified its intention to assist us in building a storage facility for the repatriated antiquities. I am informed that this facility will be built as part of the National Museum complex in Benin, which ultimately will be part of the Cultural hub which European partners and the NCMM, the Edo Government and the Royal Palace of Benin, through the Legacy Restoration Trust, are constructing. I must say this is a welcome development and a great example to the world, especially to those other countries holding Nigerian artfacts
8. It is therefore with pleasure that I welcome the German delegation, which is here in Nigeria to meet with all stakeholders as part of efforts to work out the modalities for the return of the Nigerian artefacts.
9. I believe that after this follow-up visit by an enlarged German delegation, which is here today, the pace of the much-expected return of Nigerian antiquities from Germany will be quickened.
10. Once again, I welcome you all and I thank you for your kind attention.