The Igun-Igbesamwan-Owina Descendants Cultural Movement of Europe and America has joined the ownership tussle for the looted 1, 130 Benin artefacts the German government said it would repatriate to Nigeria in 2022.
But in a twist to the tale, the Igun-Igbesamwan-Owina Descendants Cultural Movement of Europe and America is also now laying claims to the artefacts.
An open letter to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, signed by the body’s European and American presidents, Erahuyi Isokponwu and Adolor Oviasu-Oreoghene, asked the Federal Government to, in the interim, keep all the looted artefacts until their provenance is ascertained.
According to the Group, not all the artefacts belonged to the Benin Royal Palace. Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina Quarters also owned some. All the concerned parties, it noted, need to agree on where they would be kept.
“Ever before the Portuguese explorers and Christian missionaries sojourned to Benin kingdom as it were, the Bronze Smiths of Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina herein and after referred to as the ancestral producers of all Benin Bronzes were our fathers and owners of over 75 per cent of the looted Benin artefacts.
“During the infamous British expedition of 1897, Benin treasures that were soft targets for the looting of artefacts were Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina Quarters because these were the production or factory bases of the artefacts.
“Our forebears traded on them as their core means of livelihood from generation to generation. It is an absolute falsehood to continually reel out contrived rhetoric to deny the ancestral makers of the artefacts, and we appeal to the minister that this injustice must stop immediately.”
The body further argued that the looted artefacts from the palace during the reign of Oba Ovoranmwen were gifted to his predecessors. Several were also gifts to traditional rulers and aristocrats from Owo, Okenusen and others.
It further contended that “Likewise, some artefacts were gotten as spoils of war by Benin native soldiers during invasions and expansionist movement of successive Obas from those they conquered by force of war. Just as the Oba’s palace was looted, other palaces and homes of traditional bronze casters seen by the British as ‘treasure islands’ of Benin kingdom were invaded, looted and burnt.”
The Group argued that rather than return the artefacts to the Oba, the Federal Government should take custody, pending the finalisation of an ongoing accord by descendants of these aboriginal quarters of Benin Kingdom.
“Apart from losing tens and hundreds of our bloodlines to the ravaging military assaults of British invaders, thousands of artefacts made by the sweat and blood of forefathers with the rapt support of our great grandmothers- which are on the verge of their glorious return to Nigeria should not be handed to His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin, as doing so will be fueling the proceeds of crimes. Crime in the sense of carefully and mischievously contrived rhetoric aimed at claiming ownership of thousand looted bronzes and ivories from Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina shrines. The ones that belong to the Oba’s palace were gifts as required by tradition to pay homage to our Obas.”