Looted Benin Artworks: Before the West Returns Them (III)

by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku
Benin Arts

Other cultural centers run by the diplomatic community in Nigeria include the American corners, the Alliance Francaise, the British Council and the United States Information Service, USIS. All these centers promote the educational, cultural and artistic sides of their countries and help to empower the Nigerian cultural environment with opportunities for development.

CERLSI therefore proposes to the Federal government to scrap the CIFI, and replace it with a sustainable programme which does not give out loans to struggling artists, writers and singers and actors. The CIFI programme has many stringent financial conditions that a struggling artist cannot meet, and makes it easy for people not involved in artistic creativity to hijack and exploit for other reasons than the promotion of arts and digital creativity. Part of what the Federal government of Nigeria can do is support the remnant of the surviving artists who have learnt the art of creativity from their forebears. Some of them[1] say the basic materials[2] for the production of the intricate works are expensive, and therefore there is a resort to the use of candle wax instead of the real thing.

  • Proposed Sale of the National Arts Theatre

The Nigerian government must take responsibility for running the National Arts Theatre in Lagos. They must not sell it. Such responsibility includes creating a board of governors to include NGOs, and to be headed by a respected literary personality. The National Arts Theatre can be a potpourri of literary activity against the broader objective of making it a hub for literary startups and artists.

  • Return of looted Works of Art.
  • Let the federal government upgrade existing museums in Nigeria, and especially the one in Benin City, Edo State. Part of the reluctance and excuse from those currently holding on to the looted art works from Benin City is that there are no facilities in place worthy of holding these works of art now belonging to the international community. They cite security concerns as well, after a heist of some art works occurred in Nigeria within the past decade.
  • Let the Federal Government adopt the returned Abacha loot template of returned loot. With the returned Abacha loot, there was synergy between Nigeria and the countries where the loot was hidden, the World Bank and international development organisations. There was also Civil Society involvement – traditional and religious leaders, NGOs, academics and educational institutions. With the Savoy-Sarr report already in place, the National Assembly can pass a resolution calling on Mr President to renew a request for the return of looted art works from Nigeria. With that request, Nigeria can harmonise efforts in the background seeking the return of looted Nigerian artifacts and seek an MoU with the British and French governments concerning return and safe custody of the looted art works from Nigeria. With the Abacha loot, the Federal government linked the distribution of the returned $322.5million distribution to Nigerians through already existing programmes – the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, CCTP. An NGO, the Africa Network for Environment & Economic Justice, ANEEJ[3], easily the leader in asset recovery matters in Africa, started a project, the Monitoring of Recovered Assets through Transparency and Accountability, MANTRA. Both programmes, the CCTP and the MANTRA worked together to ensure that  the returned Abacha loot found its way back to Nigeria, and into the pockets of Nigerians, considered true owners of the Abacha loot.
  • Establish a body of art connoisseurs – to be made up of lawyers, historians, traditional rulers and leaders of religious institutions, youth groups, the Igun artisans and to include curators from the international community. This suggestion came to light from discussions with art connoisseurs[4] in Benin City at an event organized by the Civil Empowerment & Rule of Law Support Initiative, CERLSI, over this brief.

Art is life and life is bigger than money and its disbursement or distribution. Therefore, looted Nigerian and African works of Art presently domiciled in museums abroad have to be returned and domiciled exactly where they were forcibly removed from, the palace of the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Nedo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Ewuare II. To do this, there must begin to exist in Nigeria institutional mechanisms that promote the arts and cross-cultural activity in Nigeria. To get this off the ground, government must establish residencies, scrap its loans program to artists, take full responsibility for running the National Arts Theatre in Nigeria and initiate proceedings leading to full repatriation of looted Art works from Nigeria.

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