As controversy over who takes custody of the looted Benin artifacts rages between the Benin Royal family and the Edo State government, the state governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki has promised to cooperate with the palace and the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II over the return of the artefacts.
Governor Obaseki, who spoke in Benin yesterday via a statement signed by the secretary to the state government (SSG), Mr Osarodion Ogie, equally warned all government officials and aides, in and out of government, not to have any altercation with the Benin royal family over the issue.
The governor, however, reiterated that his concern and efforts at getting the stolen artefacts back to the country were borne out of patriotism, selflessness and in the best interest of the state and the people.
The statement reads in part: “The attention of the Edo State Government (EDSG) has been drawn to the widely publicised media statement issued by the Palace of His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II.
“It is concerning that the statement appears to have created the impression that there is a major conflict between the interests of the EDSG and His Royal Majesty with regards to the laudable national milestone of having our highly valued artefacts returned home to Nigeria.
“The government of Edo State and the governor has always acted transparently and in consonance with existing Federal and State laws in all matters relating to the proposed return of the artefacts and monuments.
“The actions of the government thus far on this issue have been driven by selfless, patriotic considerations and in the best interest of Edo State and Edo people.
“The governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki, has displayed and will continue to display immense respect for our traditional institutions and therefore will continue to make effort to secure a private audience with His Royal Majesty to discuss his concerns.
“The governor has consequently ordered that on no account should anyone, whether in government or acting independently, engage in disrespectful exchanges and/or altercation with our revered Royal Majesty and the Benin Royal Palace.”
Meanwhile, Governor Obaseki, has expressed his gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari and minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and other officials of the federal government for their patriotic and tireless efforts that have brought the country to the verge of this eagerly anticipated achievement which has remained elusive for over a century.
“While thanking and congratulating the Federal Government, the President, the Minister, the Royal Palace of the Oba of Benin and all stakeholders who have contributed to the successes so far recorded in this endeavor, the Governor assures that he will continue to work assiduously with all local and international stakeholders for the eventual and final return of these valued records of our great and glorious heritage back to Benin City for the benefit of ALL Edo people, Nigerians and the black race,” he added.
Controversy over the stolen items, looted by the British imperialists who invaded Benin Kingdom in 1897, in what is known in historical parlance as “Benin Massacre of 1897”, heightened on Friday last week, when Oba Ewuare II warned that anyone, group, organisation, or government – national and international, dealing with any organisation or artificial group in the process of returning the looted artefacts from the Benin Kingdom would be doing so at their own risk and against the will of the people of the Benin Kingdom.
The Omo N’Oba gave the warning at a meeting with palace chiefs and enigies (dukes) on the repatriation of the looted artefacts, against the background that Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State had initiated moves to have the proposed returned art works housed in a new museum to be known as Edo Museum of West African Arts, EMOWA, to be built by the state government under a private initiative.