Throne of Oba Eresoyen, Benin, Nigeria, now in Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, Germany.
At the height of the protest organized by the Nigeria Liberty Forum against a proposed auction of a Queen-Mother Idia hip-mask by the Galway family at Sotheby’s in December 2010, it was reported that the Nigerian government was in discussions with British authorities about restitution of the Benin bronzes and that a body was to be set up in Nigeria which would be charged with the responsibility of securing the return of looted artworks that are in foreign hands. Tribune reported (1) that, “the Federal Government is seeking diplomatic option to end the controversy surrounding the reported planned sale of the prized art objects.” The Tribune stated further that “The source disclosed that President Jonathan had given instructions to the effect that no effort should be spared to get the Benin arts, as well as other such artefacts that symbolised the pride of Nigerians and their rich cultural heritage. The president also ordered that machinery should be set in motion to get the artefacts repatriated into the country.
On the nature of the president’s intervention, the source said appropriate officials that would handle the matter had been contacted and were expected to take the matter to the highest level of authority in Britain, adding that “we are ready to pursue the matter to the highest level.”
Since this report, we have received no further information about the decisions and activities of the Government in this respect. We do not know whether, in fact, negotiations have begun and, if so, at what level. Nor is the membership of the Nigerian delegation known. Who is heading the negotiating team and their time schedule are also not known. We are also waiting to hear about the establishment of the body that was to be responsible for the return of looted Nigerian arts and what its precise terms of reference are. Would that new body only deal with governments and museums or will it also contact private institutions and individuals who hold a considerable number of looted Nigerian artworks? At this moment, we do not even know to whom we could send suggestions regarding the restitution of Nigerian national treasures.
In the meanwhile, commentators have made suggestions and proposals which the Nigerian authorities may wish to consider with profit since many of the basic difficulties in questions of restitution are addressed in these suggestions.