Edo, Benin Traditional Council Disagree Over Artifacts Custody, New Councils

May 23, 2024

The Edo State Government and Benin Traditional Council (BTC) have disagreed vehemently over the custody of ancient artifacts looted from the palace of the Oba of Benin during the Benin Massacre of 1897.

The conflict, laden with historical significance, reached unprecedented levels, sparking fervent debates surrounding cultural preservation and sovereignty.

The council issued a strongly worded statement via its solicitors, Professors Yemi Akinseye-George, SAN, and Edoba Omoregie, SAN, exposing the complexities of the disputes between the entities on ownership of the looted artifacts.

The council said the Federal Government resolution favoured the palace as the rightful owner to take custody of the artifacts.

The state government’s proposal to establish new traditional councils in Edo South became contentious, a proposal vehemently opposed by the council, citing concerns about the potential fragmentation of the Benin Kingdom’s unity and the exclusive authority of the Oba of Benin, in traditional matters.

The statement reads: “The conflicts between the BTC and the Edo State Government appears to have begun with the bitter dispute over ownership of the ancient artifacts looted from the Palace of the Oba of Benin by the British Colonial forces during the Benin Massacre of 1897. The federal government has since settled the issue of rightful ownership in favour of the Palace by the gazetting of the ownership and custody of the artifacts in the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II.

“When the idea of creating new traditional councils in Edo South was subsequently mooted by some Enigie in a letter to the State Government of November 2022, the BTC through the lyase of Benin and other chiefs of the Oba Palace made formal and informal efforts to dissuade the government from acceding to the request of the applicant Enigie.

“The BTC had emphasized that the government’s plan would amount to balkanizing the Benin Kingdom as there is no other traditional ruler in Edo South to preside over the proposed traditional councils than His Royal Majesty, the Oba of Benin.

“Despite the conciliatory effort of the BTC, the State Government proceeded to announce the creation of new traditional councils in the seven local government areas of Edo South to co-exist with the BTC. The State Government also seized the statutory financial entitlement of the BTC. The decision of the government to create the new traditional councils is currently being challenged by the BTC before the State High Court.

“Upon the creation of the new traditional councils, the State Governor publicly received some Enigie who had mooted the idea, including those suspended for sundry violations of traditional norms. Following the petition of the BTC of impersonation against two Enigie, the police brought a criminal charge against one of them and were on the verge of arraigning the other when the State Government intervened by nullifying the first charge.

“The State Government also wrote to the National Assembly to affirm that the creation of the new traditional councils in Edo South is a fait accompli. The two Enigie have since filed a joint suit in the State High Court to challenge their suspension.

“In the midst of these conflicts, the State Government has, without due process, written to His Royal Majesty, Oba Ewuare II on 19th April 2024 to revoke the concession of Oba Akenzua II Cultural Centre, a concession which has been frustrated since November 2016 by the decision of the State Government to convert the Centre to a motor park,”

The council outlined specific conditions for genuine resolution.

The council demanded abolition of the newly established seven traditional councils in Edo South by the state government and sought complete restoration of their statutory financial entitlements to the pre-establishment level and the refund of withheld balances since the councils’ creation.

It insisted on a clear commitment from the Edo State government to refrain from further interference in the internal affairs of the Benin traditional institution, as outlined by the Benin Customary Law which included respecting established disciplinary processes under the authority of Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, His Royal Majesty Ewuare II, Oba of Benin, among others.