Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
Today is a day of joy to me personally and to all Benin people at home and in diaspora, We are witnessing today the beginning of the restitution of our artifacts which were looted in 1897.
The military expedition by the British was not a retaliation for the killing of some British soldiers as most of the literature would have us believe, 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 equalled 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 Iteme is immoral and illegal. There is consensus now that heritage items must be returned to their place of orlgin. For this we commend both Jesus College of Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen for their pace-setting initiative in retuming these two bronzes. Of course, therd remain a very large number of our artifacts out there. We are aware of the ongolng 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.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I must at this juncture express my appreciation to the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria The President has taken a keen interest in the handling of our artifacts. Just as has been reported, the President expressly directed that these two bronzes be handed to me directly. For us, our bronzes transcend mere art. They are mostly of religious significance to us and these two bronze pieces will retum to where they rightly belong.
Your Excellency, Ambassador Ishola, thank you for identifying so fervently with our cause. Professor Abba Tijani is unrelenting in his pursuits and we appreciale his efforts. I wish to thank Prof. Wole Soyinka who, although could not be here, sent a strongly worded letter of support and apology for missing this event. His words in his letter stating his strong association with the “noble cause of the Palace” in the efforts at repatriation and restitution are most encouraging. We also appreciate the support of Prince Nduka Obaigbena for his unflinching support. Our gratitude also goes to Mr. Alg-Imokhuede, Ifueko Omoigui- Okauru and other members of the Board of Trustees as well as Prof. Peju Layiwola for her invaluable contributions. We also thank Mr. John Momoh, High Chlef Dokpesi, Ben Bruce and numerous others not mentioned here for their support.
I must make special mention and thank immensely His Eminence, The Sultan of Sokoto, His Royal Highness, The Emir of Kano and His Royal Highness, The Etsu Nupe for their long-time and continuing support for our efforts to return our artifacts to their original place of abode. We must also express our appreciation to the numerous other traditional rulers within and outside Edo State who have identified with and supported our efforts in this matter.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have said it before and I will reiterate here that the bronzes and other works that were looted from the Palace here must be returned back here directly or through the agency of the Federal Government of Nigeria with whom we are collaborating. May I appeal that those who are genuinely interested in this cause should join us in the interest of peace, tranquility and the sustenance of our cultural heritage. We are still standing. Benin cuiture is still standing.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you very much and God bless you all.
February 19, 2022