… chronicles journey for return of Benin artifacts
The Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has unveiled plans for the Benin City Cultural District, which will house the Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA).
Obaseki disclosed this at the 2021 National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) Retreat for management staff and curators held in Benin City, the Edo State capital.
The governor said an international town planning group is in the state undertaking Urban and Regional planning of Edo, which will redesign Benin City.
“In this plan, we have included the carving out of a large area as a Cultural District and the Museum will be located in the Cultural District. If we host 5,000 visitors every year as a result of the attraction to the Museum, the state will benefit from it.
We are already working on this and have put up an Urban renewal plan for this purpose,” he said.
He continued: “EMOWAA will be part of the national museum complex and the home for the comprehensive display of the Benin Art collection across the world. The artworks are global works and represent Africa, Nigeria and Edo globally; we should not lose them. We insist on the return of these artifacts to their original home, Benin City.
“We should build something that is iconic and represents the extent of the prowess of the Benin empire. EMOWAA must be a research institution as there is a lot more to research and find out about the Benin Empire. There will be several important buildings in the museum complex and the museum will be a complex that will deal with the different aspects of the cultural life of Edo people.”
Obaseki said culture is one of the viable platforms to leapfrog the state’s development moving into the future, noting, “Culture is a plank for the regeneration of our people.
“The state government in collaboration with the Federal Government and the Royal Palace are in conversation on the return of the Benin artifacts sited in museums and collections across the world.”
Obaseki thanked the British Government and the British Museum for alerting that there might be more works to be retrieved and also for the grant provided to undertake archaeological surveys and research to find the works that currently exist in Edo State.
According to him, “I assure you that by working with other European Governments, we have reached an advanced stage in getting the resources to start the first phase of preparing for the return and acceptance of these works. We are going to commence the construction of the pavilion where the returned works will be stored in the city center.
“The Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA), which is a complex and will be made up of several pieces will include the pavilion, the National Museum, Royal collections, Urhokpota Hall, restoration of a part of the Benin Moat, all of which will make visitors have the full experience of the Benin culture that span for more than six to seven centuries.
“This is a training point for us as a state as we build a museum where the world will come and see original pieces which used to adorn European museums. This is a great project, which we look forward to.”
The governor commended the creation of the Digital Benin project, which is a project documenting all works taken out of this city in every private or public museum globally.
The Director General of NCMM, Prof. Abba Isa Tijani, commended the governor for his love, determination, courage and commitment in ensuring the return of the artifacts.
He said: “We have 52 museums across the country and 65 monuments and sites. The issue of training and retraining is really a big problem for us in the commission.
“When I took over, I said the best way is to partner with the private sector and our partners outside the country. They have been able to now come to our aid in terms of capacity building.
“The Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) is a big opportunity for us to be at the forefront of promoting and establishing this museum. We have curators who are experienced; they just need slight training at the international level so that the standard that we want to set up at the EMOWAA will be maintained.”