After the Benin royal house’s disapproval of the controversial acquisition of 32 Benin artefacts donated to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston U.S. last year, there is an indication that a covert endorsement has been granted the foreign museum to keep the cultural objects.
Last week, a “delegation” described by MFA as representatives of the Benin Monarch, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa, (CFR), were among the guests who witnessed the official opening of Benin Kingdom Gallery at the Boston museum.
According to reports monitored from Lagos, the delegation was led by Chief Nicholas O. Obaseki, Prof Gregory I, Akenzua and Chief Esosa Eghobamien, as “representatives” of the Oba of Benin. The delegation, MFA stated on its website, was in collaboration with a Diaspora group, the Coalition of Committed Benin Community Organisations.
The MFA had, in June last year, received donation of 28 bronze and six ivories from Mr. Robert Owen Lehman, the heir to the vast collection of a famous American banker, late Philip Lehman.
The late banker and great grand father of Robert was one of the beneficiaries of the 1897 Benin Punitive Expedition; an invasion of the old Benin Kingdom by the British Army, which sent Oba Ovonramwen on exile.
At the end of the military action, an estimated 4, 000 cultural objects from the Benin palace were said to have been looted by the British army.
But last year, the Oba of Benin responded to the Robert Owen-donation through a member of the Benin Royal house, Chief Irabor Frank, who stated via email: “The Oba of Benin had said at many forums that the looting of the Benin palace by the British government in 1897 was premeditated. The Oba had made his demand very clear that the stolen Benin artefacts should be returned.”
Few days ago, a brother of the Oba, Prince Edun Akenzua claimed that he was not aware of the Benin delegation to the opening of the gallery in Boston. He explained in SMS: “The Oba did not send any representative to the Boston museum event.” Akenzua noted that a claim that the Oba sent a delegation “is spurious.”
Akenzua, the Enogie of Obazuwa, who said he was on holiday abroad as at the time of sending the SMS, stressed that “the palace has categorically informed me that no representative was sent.” He noted that “some organisations (project) their events” through misrepresentation. He described the action of the so-called representatives of the Oba as “wrong and reprehensible.”
But on its Facebook page, the MFA listed the names and posted pictures of the controversial delegates or representatives of Oba of Benin and other dignitaries. They include "former U.S Ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, Chief Nicholas O. Obaseki of Benin Kingdom, His Royal Highness Professor Gregory I, Akenzua of Benin Kingdom; Chief Esosa Eghobamien, The Obobaifo of Benin Kingdom, Dr. Arese Carrington, and Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.”
Early this year, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), which had also urged MFA to return the controversial cultural objects to Nigeria, flagged off a dialogue with foreign museums. The conference held in Benin produced a document known as the ‘Benin Plan of Action.’