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Friday, July 12, 2024

Speech At I Miss You Exhibition, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Cologne



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Deputy Mayor Andreas Wolter,
RJM Director Nannete Snoep,
Professor Peju Layiwola,
Chairman Edo United,
Samuel Egharevba,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by expressing delight for not only being invited to the opening of the Missing, Giving Back & Remembering Exhibition in the historic City of Cologne, but also being given the opportunity to share my thoughts.

Cologne is always a City I relish visiting, because one gets the feeling that Cologne always finishes what it starts; It started building one of the most beautiful Cathedral’s in the world in the year 1248 and finished 632 years later in1880. In the same vein, Nigeria remains confident that the 96 pieces in Cologne from the Benin cultural properties forcibly taken by British Colonial forces barely 125 years ago, shall be returned to their rightful home. Long intervals of inactivity for Cologne are like rest periods in a musical composition that is sure to resume with energy and vigour; doing the right thing by completing what was started.

It is important in appreciating the Benin Bronzes on display, to consider their teleology. Those who created them did so for a purpose, some cultural, some spiritual and some quite simply utilitarian. One cannot fully appreciate the Bronzes without taking into consideration their Raison D’etre, and that can only be achieved  if we return them from whence they came for a better understanding. To appreciate the importance of teleology, we must remind ourselves that Cologne’s magnificent Cathedral was built to house the shrine of the three Kings. Now imagine, if you will, that the Reliquary of the Three Magi were to be stolen at gunpoint and the  emptiness that would be created in the soul of this proud city. Make no mistake, the traditions and ceremonies in which many of the Benin objects played a central role have continued without them, often with poor substitutes. And this, answers one of the questions posed in the invitation: Who Misses Them?

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The return of the Benin Bronzes promises to catalyse the colonial healing process like no other before, because of the exceptional nature of how they were acquired. Unlike many other stolen cultural properties that were taken from archaeological dig sites, here is an open-and-shut case of a colonial power with superior weapons sacking and pillaging a City, killing its citizens, and even taking pictures with the looted items- the modern equivalent of sending a postcard back home. Even the Oba of Benin was not spared; he was taken away the same way the Bronzes were.

It is our fervent hope, that the return would also become a salubrious genesis for a re-examination of the teleology of Museums as a whole, particularly ethnological  and archaeological museums that could do with ontological adjustments in the 21st century. The debate around restitution and colonial reappraisal has recharged cultural diplomacy around the world, with Germany and Nigeria as role models.

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This new energy seeks to redefine the concept of Museums and the way they present themselves to the world. Restitution is not just about returning objects; it is also about sharing ideas and perspectives and a better understanding of humanity.

Nigeria is pleased with the progress made in the negotiations with both the German government and Museums and looks forward to signing agreements for their return with both in the very near future. I would like to single out the City of Cologne and the Rautenstrasuch-Joest-Museum for a special thank you for supporting the cause of restitution. Both truly have a deep understanding of their place in history. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the tenacity of people like Professor Peju Layiwola, who remained resolute in their push for restitution.
Thank you very much and enjoy the evening.

Yusuf Tuggar,

Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to Germany 27th April 2022

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