The idea of loaning out the Benin bronze statues which belong to Nigeria by the British Museum raised the indignation of many people across the world. Many museums in the West do not entertain the idea of permanently returning stolen artefacts.
It is a known and established fact that the colonial nations always feels entitled to things they took by force, things that are not theirs. From land, to minerals, and to exquisite statues, former colonial masters feel entitled. As thus, they are reluctant to the idea of permanently returning these stolen items as they claim the items to rightfully belong to them.
This is the case with the collection of fine and exquisite bronze statues that were seized in 1897 from the Benin Kingdom by Britain. Nigeria has now been put in a position where these statues must be loaned to them instead of permanent return, something that clearly baffles the mind considering the fact that Nigeria are the owners of these statues and the British stole these statues from them because of the horrific excesses of colonialism and imperialism.
The British Museum does not want to repatriate these bronze statues to Nigeria, but are willing to loan them to Nigeria. Colonialism sparked massive looting and plunder of precious artefacts. It is now ironic that former colonisers want to dictated terms of repatriation when they acquired the artefacts by forceful means. The Benin Bronzes are a collection of intricately-worked sculptures and plaques in bronze, ivory, ceramic and wood that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, which was subsequently incorporated into British-ruled Nigeria.
In a statement quoted by Al Jazeera, much to the ire of many people across the world, Hannah Boulton, the British Museum Spokesperson said, "It’s absolutely not the case that everything in the museum’s African collections was plundered or looted or whatever the phrase you want to use but obviously there are certain circumstances or certain events that happened and certain examples like the Benin Bronzes where that material wouldn’t have come into the collection in the same way today".
When you own something, then it's taken away from you, and you are told that your only way of having access to it is through loaning. This phenomenon where former colonisers do not want to return stolen artefacts really borders on arrogance. Benin was one of the most powerful kingdoms in Africa in the middle ages, and possessed fine art, but succession struggles and civil wars were their biggest undoing, the ultimate blow being delivered by the British invaders who razed the kingdom to the ground and plundered the Benin Bronzes in 1897.
This case also brings to the fore the issue of the treasured artefacts that were seized from Maqdala by the British forces. Countries like Greece and Ethiopia have rejected the notion of loans, and they have insisted on permanent return of special artefacts and statues. There is a huge moral morass for a former coloniser to dictate terms of repatriation.
Godwin Obaseki, the governor of the southern Nigerian state of Edo where Benin City is now located, said that museum officials in Europe have floated the idea of returning the objects on loan. "Whatever terms we can agree to have them back so that we can relate to our experience, relate to these works that are at the essence of who we are, we would be open to such conversations," Mr Obaseki told Reuters.
Repatriation is not an easy option for most of the museums in the West. They are simply not keen to pursue such a route. Eric Ogbemudia, 62, an expert in metal sculpture, said the bronzes should be returned. "We will be happy if those stolen artefacts are brought back to Benin. But they stole them. Those items are the works of our forefathers and they are very unique to us," he said.
The Benin Bronzes depict scenes from court life involving kings, warriors and royal officials. Some also feature European adventurers and traders, distinguishable by their long hair, weapons and clothing. The Benin Bronzes did not only end up in Britain, they are also in museums in Germany, Austria and the US.
For the colonisers to remain in possession with something they stole, yet alone refusing to permanently return these is a very big indicator of the eternal effects of colonialism. Africa is being deprived of what it rightfully owns. The idea of loaning out these artefacts is purely farcical.
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