UK Ambassador, Sarafa Tunji Isola, Return Looted Artefacts in 1897 Back To Benin City - The People's Voice


Sunday, February 20, 2022

UK Ambassador, Sarafa Tunji Isola, Return Looted Artefacts in 1897 Back To Benin City

By Adisa Mayokun, Benin

 The Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, His Excellency Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Isola  yesterday presented Benin monarch, Oba Ewuare II with two of the artefacts  Okpa (Cockerel) and Uhunwun Elao (Oba head) looted from Benin Kingdom during the 1897 British military expedition.

The cockerel, returned by Jesus College of Cambridge University and University of Aberdeen, Scotland, valued at £2million and the Oba’s head, valued and insured for £500,000 pounds.

While officially handing over the artefacts to Oba Ewuare II, Ambassador Isola said the two items have been preserved in their original forms when they were taken away 125 years ago and the value of the Cockerel today is £2 million, while the Oba head is valued at £500,000.

“My assignment here is to directly bring these objects to the Oba of Benin Kingdom. That is the presidential directive.

“When I came in December 2021, I promised to bring the objects here physically and today I have come to do that because we have a talk and do president in President Muhammadu Buhari who instructed that the objects must be handed over physically. I have come to do that.

“Value has been added to these artefacts. I am not aware of the value as at when it was taken away but as at today, the Cockerel is valued at £2million while the Oba’s head is valued and insured for £500,000 pounds.

“We will still see many of them come back and it is a great treasure for Benin Kingdom and Nigeria”, Ambassador said.

Ambassador Ishola added that he was delighted that the works would now be domiciled in their homes of origin and researchers would write about them talking to their real owners.

According to him, the works were returned with its history of who had housed them right from 1897 till date and how much it was sold or bought at each point.

The High Commissioner commended the British government for granting export licenses for the artefacts at no cost to Nigeria, hoping that more of the looted artworks would be returned.

Speaking during the presentation, Oba Ewuare II, described the return as the beginning of the restitution of the artefacts that were looted in1897 during the military expedition by the British in Benin Kingdom.

His words: “For us, our bronze does not transcend mere art. They are mostly of religious significance to us and these two bronze pieces will return to where they rightly belong.

“I will reiterate that the bronze and other works that were looted from the palace must be returned back here directly or through the agency of the federal government”.

In his speech read by his younger brother, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, the Benin Monarch commended President Buhari for his interest in ensuring the return of the artefacts.

Oba Ewuare II also commended both Jesus College of Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen for their pace-setting initiative in returning these two bronzes.

He described the day as a day of joy to him personally and to all Benin people at home and in diaspora, and the beginning of the restitution of the artifacts looted in 1897.

The monarch noted that the military expedition of 1897 was never a retaliation for the killing of some British soldiers.

According to him, “The truth is that there was a calculated and a deliberately conceived plan to attack Benin for its territorial dominance and also for her treasures. The result was a destruction of a civilization which equaled or even surpassed that of the aggressors. It was thought that the kingdom, totally decimated and in ruins in the aftermath of the war, would not rise again. By the grace of God and our ancestors, we are still standing.

“The current conversation is about restitution. International scholars and most museums now agree that keeping stolen items is immoral and illegal.

“There is consensus now that heritage items must be returned to their place of origin. For this we commend both Jesus College of Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen for their pace-setting initiative in returning these two bronzes.

“Of course, there remain a very large number of our artifacts out there. We are aware of the ongoing discussions which the federal government, through the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, is holding with various governments on our behalf.

“We are also aware that the major museums will miss having Benin Bronzes in their collections. I believe that a working arrangement can be agreed whereby our ownership of the artifacts having been established, those museums will continue to enjoy the presence of our artifacts.”

Also speaking, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state, represented by his Chief of Staff, Osaigbovo Iyoha, pledged to support the palace in the return of the artefacts.

He said any institution willing to return the artefacts should liaise with the palace.

The director-general, National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof Abba Isa Tijani, said history had started to take its proper shape during the reign of Oba Ewuare II, as the looted artefacts have started coming to their place of origin.

According to him, these artifacts are living arts, artifact’s of the Benin people.

“They are not produced for the sake of money, aesthetics but part of their history, culture and daily life”, he added.

Present at the ceremony were members of the Benin royal family, various societies and groups in the Kingdom, the Director-General of National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Prof. Abba Tijani,  the traditional rulers from Edo North and Edo Central senatorial districts, representative of the Ooni of Ife, the Hausa, Yoruba and muslim communities.

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