The federal government says many of the 1,130 looted Benin bronzes to be repatriated to Nigeria from Germany got to German public institutions via trade and donations.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this on Friday in Berlin during the signing of a historic joint declaration between Nigeria and Germany.
The signing of joint declaration according to the minister, would pave the way for the return of the 1,130 Benin bronzes to Nigeria,
A statement issued on the ceremony in Berlin made available to newsmen in Abuja, said that Mohammed, and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, signed for Nigeria.
In the statement signed by Mr Segun Adeyemi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Ms Annalena Baerbock, and the Minister of State for Culture and Media, Ms. Claudia Roth, signed for Germany.
Adeyemi is the Special Assistant to the President (Media) Office of the Minister of Information and Culture
As contained in the statement, Mohammed said that Germany did not colonise Nigeria and was not part of the looting of the artifacts.
The minister recalled that the artifacts were looted from the ancient Benin Kingdom during the Benin Expedition of 1897 by the British force.
Mohammed thanked the government and people of Germany for what he described as the “single largest repatriation of artifacts anywhere in the world.”
“We also want to most sincerely thank the authorities of the various German regions, cities, museums and institutions that have been working in concert to ensure the manifestation of the history-making event that we are witnessing today.
“By this singular action, Germany has taken the lead in correcting the wrongs of the past,” he said.
The minister said that Germany and the great people of the nation decided it was better to shape the future by correcting the ills of the past.
He said pace-setting action by the federal government of Germany would become a harbinger of more repatriation of cultural property to their place of origin.
According to Mohammed, other museums and institutions were expected to take a cue from what Germany had done.
“Germany has gained more friends in Nigeria and all over the world by returning to Nigeria what rightfully belongs to it,” he said.
On his part, Dada described Germany as the “champion of justice and fairness”.
Also speaking, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany said, “It was wrong to take the (Benin) bronzes. It was wrong to keep them for (125 years). This is the beginning to right the wrong.”
According to the statement, in a symbolic gesture signifying the impending return of the artifacts, two of the Benin bronzes were handed over to Nigeria at the ceremony.
The signing was witnessed by top Nigerian and German government officials, including the Nigerian ambassador to Germany, Mr. Yusuf Tuggar, and the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Prof. Abba Tijani.