The German government on Tuesday commenced the official repatriation of 1,130 looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria.
At a historic repatriation ceremony held in Abuja, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock symbolically handed over 22 of the 1,130 looted artefacts to his Nigeria counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, and the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
The event was witnessed by the German Minister of State for Culture, Claudia Roth, the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Anneth Gunter and over 50 top officials from Germany.
Mr Mohammed said the event would remain indelible in the history of mankind when Germany trail the blaze in doing right to return the looted artefacts,
“The negotiations were not as easy as things look today. They were stormy at times. But the sincerity of the Germans played a big role in resolving knotty issues.
“Because of what Germany has done, negotiations with other nations, institutions and museums for repatriation of the Benin Bronzes in their possession became swifter,” he said
Mr Mohammed said contrary to views in certain corners, Nigeria has the infrastructure to keep the bronzes as they were being returned.
He said the federal government was embarking on infrastructural development around the national museum in Benin City.
Mr Mohammed called on other nations, institutions, museums and private collectors still holding on to Nigerian antiquities to release them.
He particularly called on the British Museum to release the more than 900 Benin Bronzes in its hold.
“The British Museum and all those holding on to our artefacts must understand that repatriation is a cause which time has come,” he said.
In the same vein, Mr Onyema said Germany and Nigeria had set a standard for the rest of the world to follow.
To underscore the importance of the ceremony, the minister recalled when Nigeria hosted the Festival of Art and Culture in 1977, and Britain denied the country the mask it intended to use as the face of the event.
On her part, the German foreign affairs minister said they found it imperative to return the bronzes to where they belonged after over 120 years it was looted by the British.
“We ignored Nigeria’s plea to return looted bronzes for a long time. It was wrong to take them, but it was also wrong to keep them.
“This is the story of European colonialism. It is a story in which our country plays a part, but we are correcting the wrongdoings today.”
Similarly, the German minister of state for culture said they had closed their eyes for too long, refusing to recognise the injustice surrounding the bronzes on display in their museums and keeping them in storage for many years.
She said by returning them, they have made a statement that everyone has the right to experience the cultural heritage where it originated in its homeland.