Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki’s proposal to build a modern Museum to be known as Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) to house the returned stolen Benin artifacts is receiving a stiff opposition from the leaders and stakeholders of Coalition of Benin Socio-cultural Organisations.
Members of the coalition who vowed to resist the governor’s moves described his proposed Edo Museum of West African Arts (EMOWAA) as alien to the Benin race and culture.
Addressing a World Press Conference in Benin on Saturday, leaders of the coalition also accused Obaseki of disrespecting and undermining the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku’ Akpolokpolo Ewuare 11, regarding housing the artifacts and urged him to keep to his earlier promise to support the idea of a Benin Royal Museum for the artifacts.
According to the group, “Obaseki should be a man of his words because EMOWAA was not what he discussed with the Oba of Benin and other prominent Benin elders in 2018 and by his actions, the governor had reneged on his words and it is tantamount to betrayal of public trust”.
The coalition also alleged that with the look of things the proposed EMOWAA project was not owned by the Edo State Government but by Obaseki’s private venture called Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd.
The coalition declared, “The attention of the leaders and stakeholders of Coalition of Benin Socio Cultural Organisations has been drawn to Governor Obaseki’s statement where he asserted that he doesn’t have conflict with our revered Monarch over his proposed EMOWAA.
“Sincerely, we were shocked that His Excellency, Godwin Obaseki asserted that he doesn’t have any issue nor quarrel with our revered Oba of Benin Kingdom whereas when he organised a Stakeholders engagement meeting regarding his proposed EMOWAA phase 1, he didn’t involve our revered Palace.
“His Excellency Sir, you didn’t only have issue or conflict with our revered Monarch over your EMOWAA, you also have issue with all the Benins for always disrespecting and undermining our revered Palace, Throne and Benin Kingdom.
“For avoidance of doubt, the word EMOWAA is alien to us as Benin people.”They said the Coalition had been at the forefront “of advocating and assisting our revered Palace, Throne and Benin Kingdom to ensure that our stolen artifacts are returned to the Palace.”
“We would like to ask His Excellency, who owns the proposed Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) which is alien to the Benin race“Is the proposed EMOWAA project owned by the Edo State Government or owned by your Private Venture called Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd?
“If Edo Museum of West African Art (EMOWAA) belongs to your Private Venture known as Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd with its Office in Lagos, then why are you as our Governor treating it as a Government project using state resources?
“We also would want to inquire from His Excellency, why you reneged on your earlier promise regarding the Benin Royal Museum in 2018 when you supported the idea of a Benin Royal Museum before the EMOWAA idea came from the blues.”
The Coalition’s declaration which was signed by Mr. Osazee Amas-Edobor, Coordinator General; Mr. Iyamu Osaro Culture Secretary General; Maxist Kola Edokpayi, Public Relations Officer; Comrade Osaze Eriamiantoe, Director of Planning; Charity Ozigbo-Esere, Director of Gender Affairs; Comrade Collins A. Osaghae, Director of Operations; Mr. Justice Amafe, Director of Research; Mr. Esoesa Omoregbe, Director of Mobilizations and Mr. Samuel Normamuikor, Director of Public Complaint however emphasized that it has nothing against Obaseki’s plans to build Museums.
“We have nothing against the governor’s plans to build Museums or set up privately owned ventures like Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd or EMOWAA as long as the artifacts that will constitute the proposed Museums are not part of the stolen historical Benin artifacts which are the Cultural Heritage of the Benin people, which rightly belongs to our revered Oba of Benin Kingdom, as the custodian of Benin Culture, Customs, and Traditions, whom we earlier said that these Artifacts were made for by the various Royal guilds of Benin, and was looted from Oba Ovonranmwen in 1897.”
“This has already been settled as at last year that the proposed Benin Royal Museum would take custody of these Benin Artifacts on behalf of his Majesty not EMOWAA the flagship project of your Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd.
“His Excellency Sir, as long as these Historical Benin Artifacts will not constitute the Artifacts of the proposed EMOWAA Museum, then we have nothing against your EMOWAA but as long as these stolen Benin Artifacts are what will constitute your proposed EMOWAA, then consider it as pipedream because we will collectively resist such move.
“We would like to remind His Excellency that your position as the Executive Governor of Edo state is time bound but our revered Palace, Throne and Benin Kingdom is not time bound, so whatever decision you take, the long term effect is what we are looking at.“Why is the Executive Director of the proposed EMOWAA an Igbo Man, Mr. Philip Ihanacho? His Excellency, we would like to ask you and the Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd, are there no Benins’ that are qualified for the position of Executive Director in the proposed EMOWAA that is to be established in Benin City?
“We expected that as a Benin man, His Excellency would have appointed Edo Person to chair his private venture, Legacy Restoration Trust Ltd in order to protect the Edo interest and use it as an opportunity to train young Edo people in that field which is a component of the course at hand.“If the primary intention of the proposed EMOWAA is to promote Benin Cultural Heritage, then is it not proper that an Edo person occupies such a position? We also learnt that the proposed site of the proposed EMOWAA is Ogbe-Ezoti.
“His Excellency Sir, we all know that landmass of Edo South is not small, and that Ogbe-Ezoti happens to be an important Historical and Cultural Site in Benin Kingdom and that of the Oba of Benin.“His Excellency Sir, are you not aware that Ogbe-Ezoti (Aro-Ezoti) is one of the Cultural and Historical Sites in Benin Kingdom? Why would you destroy a legacy in an attempt to create another?
Are there no other locations/lands in the whole of Edo South that are suitable?“His Excellency Sir, we hope that Benin Artifacts manufactured by the Royal guilds of Benin for the Obas of Benin in pre-colonial times which was looted from the Royal Palace of Benin in 1897 will not be part of what you intend to store in the proposed EMOWAA?
“We want to state unequivocally that these Benin Artifacts belong to his Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin Kingdom and the entire Benin Kingdom. Just like the proverbial saying goes Aigbuobasimwin Aiguobatile. For clarity, our revered Oba of Benin Kingdom is the owner of these Benin artifacts.
“If the Governor is so much keen on developing the Art and Tourism sector, then it is proper thing for you to liaise with the our revered Oba who would give the nod to these royal guilds of Benin Artisans in order to collaborate with the government in replicating these stolen Artifacts, and even producing other Artifacts for the Edo State Government, for your EMOWAA.
“We also believe that since His Excellency is keen on promoting Benin Arts and Culture, which is realistic and profitable, for him to do so by actualising the establishment of an Edo State Art Gallery.”
Uche Nwosu is a two time Shell Petroleum PLC award winner in the year 2000;
He won the Shell Award on Investigative Journalism and Environmental Cleanliness.