The descendants of Bini bronze casters have appealed to the federal government not to release the looted artefacts from Germany to the Oba of Benin, claiming that thousands of Bronzes and Ivories were looted from their ancestral shrines in their quarters at Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina, just outside the ancient palace.
Their appeal is contained in a letter to the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, signed by Erahuyi Isokponwu, President – Europe; and Adolor Oviasu-Oreoghene, President – America on the platform of Igun-Igbesamwan-Owina Descendants Cultural Movement of Europe and America.
They claimed that ever before the Portuguese explorers and Christian missionaries sojourned to Benin Kingdom, the Bronze Smiths of Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina, who “were the ancestral producers of all Benin Bronzes were our fathers and owners of over 75 per cent of the looted Benin artefacts.
“During the infamous British expedition of 1897, Benin treasures that were soft targets for looting of artefacts were Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina quarters, because, these were the production or factory bases of the artefacts.
“Our forebears traded on them as their core means of livelihood from generations to generations. It is absolute falsehood to continually reel out contrived rhetoric to deny the ancestral makers of the artefacts, and we appeal to the Honourable Minister, that this injustice must stop forthwith.”
They stated that all the artefacts looted from the palace under the reign of Oba Ovoranmwen were gifted to preceding Obas of Benin before Oba Ovoramwen.
“A good number were also gifted to neighbouring important traditional rulers and aristocrats from Owo, Okenusen and others. Likewise, some artefacts were gotten as spoils of war by Benin native soldiers during invasions and expansionist movement of successive Obas from those they conquered by force of war.”
Just as the Oba palace was looted, other palaces and homes of traditional bronze casters seen by the British as ‘treasure islands’ of Benin kingdom, were invaded, looted and burnt down, they said.
“Overtime, there have been mischievous and contrived rhetoric to sideline the all-important position these ancient quarters played in the making of these artefacts rather they are being smitten day and night from the scorching lights of truth, and we sincerely call on the Federal Government through you to wade into this facts of history, with a view to ensuring justice for us,” they said.
“Apart from losing tens and hundreds of our bloodlines to the ravaging military assaults of British invaders, thousands of artefacts made by the sweat and blood of our forefathers with the rapt support of our great grandmothers – which are at the verge of their glorious return to Nigeria should not be handed to His Royal Majesty the Oba of Benin, as doing so will be fueling the proceeds of crimes. Crime in the sense of carefully and mischievously contrived rhetoric aimed at claiming ownership of thousands of looted Bronzes and Ivories from Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina shrines. The ones that belong to the Oba palace were gifts as required by tradition to pay homage to our Obas.
“The federal government should take custody of all artefacts of Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina originality, pending the finalisation of an ongoing accord by descendants of these aboriginal quarters of Benin kingdom.
“Let it be known now and always, that, the vexed Benin Artefacts are the intellectual property rights of our forefathers who used their God given talents to serve the palace until it was invaded in 1897 and resumed so in 1914 when Oba Eweka ascended the throne.
“Under no threat or arm-twisting shall we give up our inheritances to anyone, without a mutually agreed terms and conditions.”