Benin Monarch, Oba Ewuare II on Friday visited President Muhammadu Buhari at Aso Rock, presidential Vila in Abuja to thank the president over the retuned stolen Benin artefacts from foreign countries and present board members of the Benin Royal Museum to the president.
At the visit, His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II gave historical narratives of the Benin artefacts and thanked President Muhammadu Buhari extensively for the presidential concern and actions which led to the repatriation of some of the stolen artefacts.
Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR,
President and Commander-In-Chief Of The Armed Forces Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria
- First of all, we must thank the Almighty God and our ancestors for making this thank-you visit to our dear President possible today, after previous attempts proved unsuccessful, due to Your Excellency’s very busy schedule. As they say God’s time is the best. Mr. President, for finding time to receive us now despite your very tight schedule, we say thank you immensely.
- Mr. President, sir I bring warm greetings from the Benin Royal Family, the Benin Traditional Institution and the good people of Edo State within Nigeria and in the diaspora.
- I am here with some members of the Royal Court of Benin and of the Board of Trustee of the Benin Royal Museum, to thank Your Excellency for your kind intervention as it relates to the issues that bothers on the return of Benin Bronzes and artefacts to its original place of abode.
- Mr. President will recall that in June 2021, I paid a private visit to Your Excellency to express concerns about the imminent return of Benin artefacts from Europe and other parts of the world. Your Excellency’s response to my concerns then was incisive, supportive and very encouraging.
- Later, precisely on the 19th, of February, 2022, two famous Benin bronzes were returned to the Nigerian Government by Jesus College, University of Cambridge and the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. These famous bronzes were officially handed over to me as the custodian of Benin customs and tradition, in line with Your Excellency’s directive to His Excellency Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Ishola, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. We deeply appreciate this presidential directive to the Nigerian ambassador to the United Kingdom, to personally hand over the bronzes to me.
- I wish to commend the efforts of Ambassador Ishola, ably supported by the Director General, National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM), for diligently carrying out that presidential directive with a high sense of diplomacy and, professionalism. The physical handing over ceremony was quite an emotional one for us.
- To further show Your Excellency’s support and commitment to the return of these precious artefacts, the Federal Government issued a Press Statement shortly after the physical handover ceremony, which clearly indicate, that all Benin artefacts outside the country Nigeria are subject to repossession by the Federal Government of Nigeria and that all such artefacts should be returned to the respective custodian of the custom and traditional institutions where those artefacts originally belonged and were indeed taken from during the pre-colonial era.
- Mr. President I dare say that these artefacts, particularly Benin Bronzes and other Benin artefacts, may be likened to the Crown Jewels of the British Monarchy. Nobody could suddenly wake up and attempt to lay claim to their ownership, assuming if they were ever, to be successfully taken away by the Romans, who ruled over them at some point in history and, thereafter wished to return them to Britain.
- I am pleased to inform Your Excellency that shortly after the State House press release; I received a letter from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, United States of America, clearly in line with the position of Federal Government of Nigeria, confirming the ownership of these artefacts. In the letter it was specifically and unequivocally stated inter Alia that “ WE RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR GREAT GRAND FATHER OBA OVORANMWEN AND THE BENIN KINGDOM ARE THE CULTURAL AND SPIRITUAL OWNERS OF THESE TRADITIONAL ARTIFACTS.’’
- In the same vein the Brazilian Consulate in Nigeria also wrote a letter recently to me to further buttress the fact that, the Royal Court of Benin Kingdom existed as a SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY long before 1897, when the Benin bronzes and other Benin artefacts were forcibly removed to Britain and auctioned out to art collectors from around the world. This fact is captured in a statement in the letter which stated inter Alia that “…. It is in the historical record, your ancestral lineage is among the first to recognize the independence of Brazil in 1822.” With the coming into existence of Nigeria upon independence the Federal Government is now the only sovereign authority that can deal with other sovereign authorities based on international law and treaties regarding matters of repatriation of artefacts to Nigeria.
- Your Excellency, I have always used every available opportunity to pursue the return of our artefacts scattered all over the world even before my ascension to the throne as the Oba of Benin. I recall with fond memories that during my undergraduate years in the United Kingdom, I was first spurred by the information, I received, that many of our bronzes and artefacts were housed in the British Museum. When I later crossed to the United States for my Masters and post graduate training at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York, I was further exposed to the presence of our artefacts in that Country and in Europe and, indeed all over the globe. Thereafter when I got posted to some of these European Countries as an Ambassador, I did not hesitate in expressing our desire to have our artefacts returned, to be used for the setting up of our Museum now to be known as – The Benin Royal Museum. This is a journey that started since 1977!
- Mr. President, We did not relent in spite of our recent challenges and with Your Excellency’s kind Presidential intervention; justice is now being seen to be done. We are now seeing the results of the hard work of my grandfather HRM. OBA AKENZUA II, my father HRM. OBA EREDIAUWA, and now myself, who has been doing my best in building on the legacies of my great forefathers’, Today I am happy to be here with my people to thank Your Excellency immensely for helping us to set the records straight.
- Today I am also proud to be here with members of the Board of Trustee of the Benin Royal Museum supported by the Royal Court of Benin, to say a big thank you for this kind gesture which set the stage for the smooth return of the two Benin bronzes that now heralds the eventual return of all Benin bronzes and other Artefacts back into our possession albeit under the framework of collaboration between the Royal Court of Benin and the National Commission for Museum and Monuments. May I at this juncture commend the efforts of the incumbent Director General, of NCMM Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, who is not only collaborating closely with the Royal Court of Benin, all this while, but has also further repositioned and brought to the fore, the relevance of the NCMM under the Ministry of Information and Culture.
- The joy of my people at home and in the diaspora knows no bound on the return of the two bronzes and the eventual return of all our artefacts. Again we say Thank You, Your Excellency.
- May I at this point inform Mr. President that we have concluded plans with the National Commission for Museum and Monuments to establish an ultramodern international standard Benin Royal Museum to house these Benin Bronzes and other artefacts for the purpose of preserving our history, tourism and education. The Benin Royal Museum will be open to the general public for viewing and researchers alike.
- The Board of Trustees is made up of eminent Nigerians, some of whom are here with me today. May I crave the indulgence of Your Excellency to introduce them, please. They are:
- I hereby reassure all Nigerians that the Benin bronzes and artefacts, represents Nigeria’s cultural heritage in particular and Africa in general. We therefore hold these objects in trust as the original owners in conjunction with National Commission for Museum and Monuments (NCMM) for the benefit of all. We want to reassure Mr. President that the Royal Court of Benin and National Commission for Museum and Monuments are working closely to ensure the safe custody, preservation and enhancement of these Benin bronzes and artefacts not only for their cultural and economic benefits, but more particularly towards the promotion of the tourism industry in Nigeria.
- Your Excellency, I will also like to use this opportunity to express gratitude for my recent appointment as Chancellor of Bayero University Kano (BUK). This appointment gives me the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather who also served as Chancellors of very prominent Universities in Nigeria. I thank Your Excellency for giving me the opportunity to contribute my quota to the development of the Educational sector of this great country, Mr. President I will do my best to justify the confidence reposed in me by this appointment.
- Finally, Your Excellency let me once again express my appreciation for finding time out of your ever-busy schedule to receive me and my entourage. I pray that Almighty God and our ancestors will continue to guide and protect you and your family in piloting the affairs of our dear country, Nigeria. We cannot end this address without commending Mr. President’s efforts in the way Your Excellency has handled the country’s affairs now that the elections are close and Presidential aspirants are showing up everywhere in preparation for the beginning of another administration. We believe Your Excellency has tried in the issue of security which in our country is not an easy one. We pray to Almighty God to give us another President which will build upon your legacy.
- God bless Your Excellency, God Bless Your entire household.
God bless Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Thank you again Mr. President.