History was made in Benin City, Edo State capital, on Monday, as two of the artefacts stolen some 124 years ago during the 1897 invasion of the Benin Empire by the British imperialists, were returned to the Benin Palace.

Palace of the oba of Benin

Two of the artworks, a cockerel (okpa) and Uhunwun Elao were formally handed over to the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, at a colourful ceremony held in the palace ground.

The necessary documentation was done at the colourful ceremony attended by Oba Ewuare II and those involved in the process, who all signed the necessary documents in line with the British laws regarding the return of artefacts.

The objects would at a later day be handed over to the Monarch for keeps by the Federal Government.

To safeguard the artworks and others expected to be returned in future, Oba Ewuare II announced Professor Wole Soyinka as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Benin Royal Museum, where the returned artefacts would be kept and be opened to the public including researchers and scientists.


The Omo N’Oba listed Aghatise Erediauwa, Nduka Obaigbena, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru amongst others, to be members of the Board of Trustees for the museum.

Oba Ewaure II, who commended the role played by the Federal Government in the return of the artefacts, said Benin arts and culture reflect the past and present glory as well as the splendour of the kingdom.

“As our treasures are returned, our youths will be able to establish a new relationship with the heritage bequeathed by their forefathers.

“The return of all the treasures taken away will begin a new era of Benin history and civilisation.

“International best practice and the rule of law dictate that restitution and compensation is the new discourse.

“We ask that friendly countries seeking to return our artefacts should do so directly to the Oba of Benin or to the Federal Government of Nigeria, who will hold them in trust and return the same to the Palace of the Oba of Benin Kingdom as was recently done in Cambridge and Aberdeen,” he stated.

In his speech, Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Ambassador Sarafa Tunji Isola, said that the ceremony was in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s commitment that all stolen artefacts should be returned to Nigeria and sent to their original owners.

He said: “In 1897, when the Benin artefacts were taken away from the Benin Kingdom, sovereignty was vested in Benin Kingdom under the leadership of the then Oba of Benin, Ovonranmwen Nogbaisi the same sovereignty was then vested in respective kingdoms and its respective traditional rulers in present-day Nigeria.

“This explains why these artefacts are still being referred to as Benin bronzes up till the present day. Sovereignty is however currently vested in the Federal Government of Nigeria by the 1999 constitution as amended. Hence the legal and physical possession of the artefacts by the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the leadership of Muhammadu Buhari President of Nigeria.

“My presence in the Benin Kingdom today is in fulfilment of the desire and the express directive of President Muhammadu Buhari to return the repossessed artefacts to where they originally belong.

“The present administration places much emphasis on the return of Nigerian artefacts to their original home hence the painstaking efforts of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, along with the tireless commitment of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments to attain this presidential directive and mandate”, he explained.

The event attracted personalities from all walks of life including the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Bayero, representative of the Ooni of Ife, representative of the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, who is from the Benin Kingdom.

Others were Minister of the Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, former governor of Edo State and immediate past National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, Ken Imansuagbon, former deputy governor of the state, Lucky Imasuen, palace chiefs, traditional rulers from other parts of the state.

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