The Federal Government says the repatriation of the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes from Germany to Nigeria is on track and the matter is on the front burner of both countries.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed this on Wednesday in Abuja when he received a delegation from Germany to follow up on issues of repatriation of the bronzes.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports the delegation, led by Dr Andreas Gorgen, the Director-General for Culture and Communication of the German Federal Foreign Office, was accompanied by the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Birgitt Ory.
“I am glad that you have come and this has reinforced the fact that we are on track.
“Your visit has buttressed the intention of the two parties towards working out the return of the artefacts.
“I want to reiterate here that the return of the artefacts will not be the end of an era but rather the beginning of further cooperation between the two countries,’’ the minister said.
Mohammed expressed satisfaction with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) earlier signed between the delegation and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
He said the MoU, which was about confidence building between the parties, had underscored the fact that no one was reneging on the agreement reached on the return of the cultural objects.
He added that the MoU also showed that everybody was being carried along to ensure a successful completion of transfer of the artefacts.
“I know the burden back home in Germany as your people will be asking, why are they returning the artefacts to Nigeria given the fact they did not steal them.
“They will be saying, they did not loot them and did not colonise Nigeria but got the artefacts through normal purchases and transactions.
“Though, they are right, but the German Government and people have made a very bold statement by agreeing to voluntarily, without coercion from Nigeria, return the artefacts.
“The return of the artefacts will cement further relationship between Nigeria and Germany.
“This is because Culture today has become one of the most effective tools of soft diplomacy,’’ he said.
The minister said Germany remained the first country, to return in large number, looted artefacts from Nigeria and the gesture would endear Nigerians and in particular, the people of Edo state to Germans.
Mohammed disclosed that a team of experts would soon be visiting the major museums in Germany where the artefacts were located before the final agreement signing ceremony in Berlin in December.
Earlier, the Director General of NCMM, Prof. Isa Tijani, said the German delegation arrived the country on Monday.
He said the MoU they signed would enable the delegation to effectively engage with the various institutions, museums and trustees when they return to their country.
Speaking in the same vein, Gorgen, the leader of the delegation said the repatriation of the bronzes would strengthen cultural relations between Nigeria and his country.
NAN reports that the Benin bronzes to be repatriated were looted in 1897 when the British Empire invaded Benin Kingdom in a military expedition.
The objects were later auctioned off in London and elsewhere and soon became central pieces in the collections of many museums in the Global North.