Ex-colonial officer’s family cancels sale of Benin mask
Azania James, Benin
The family of a former British colonial officer in Nigeria, Lt.-Col. Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey, has cancelled the sale of an ivory mask looted from the Benin Kingdom in 1897.
This is just as the Edo State Government has said it is making plans to sue Britain over its refusal to return artifacts stolen from the Benin Kingdom during the colonial era.
The mask was seized along with various artifacts from the palace of Oba Ovoranmwen in a punitive expedition to Benin Kingdom in 1897. Gallwey was the deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the Oil Rivers Protectorate in 1891.
The £4.5m (N1.06bn) re-discovered masterpiece of Benin art, which was the ivory pendant of Queen Mother Idia, was consigned by descendants of Gallwey to be sold along with some other artifacts on February 17, 2011 at Sotheby’s, the auction house in London.
However, the consignors said in an unsigned statement that the sale had been cancelled, according to http://files.shareholder.com.
It reads, “The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors.” No reason was given for the cancellation.
Meanwhile, the Special Adviser to the Edo State Governor on Arts, Culture and Tourism, Orobosa Omo-Ojo, said in a statement made available to our correspondent on Sunday that it had placed a caveat emptor on the artifact.
The statement reads, “The Government and people of Edo State received yet again the news of a proposed plan to auction a priceless Benin Ivory mask, one of several Benin court artifacts that were stolen from the palace of Oba Ovoranmwen in 1897. (This is) despite repeated representations to relevant cultural institutions, including the United Nations, British Government, Swedish Government and other European nations not to traffic, speculate or illicitly trade any Benin art form.
“It is in this light that the state government sees the joint action of the children of Lt.-Col. Henry Gallwey, then a British commissioner in colonial Nigeria during the invasion, and Sotheby’s as an attempt to ignore our civilised and sovereign call as irresponsible and a flagrant violation of the intellectual and cultural property rights of the Benin people.
“In November 2009, in Sweden, the Edo State government sponsored a petition to the United Nations asking for its intervention on matters arising from the looted Benin treasures when the British Army assisted by other European countries violently invaded Benin City without provocation in 1897. “We are, therefore, placing a caveat emptor on the said Ivory mask measuring 23cm as this item forms part of several works that have been traced to British citizens, including the great grandchildren of Lt.-Col. Gallwey who participated in the infamous Benin invasion.
“Government is perfecting plans to seek comprehensive legal redress on all outstanding issues relating to Benin artifacts illegally in foreign private and institutional custody.”
Also on Sunday, a socio-cultural group in Edo State, the Benin National Congress, threatened to initiate a global mass action over attempts to sell artifacts stolen from the kingdom. The BNC, in a statement endorsed by its President, Aiyamenkhue Edokpolo, also berated the Federal Government for not taking decisive measures through the National Commission for Museums and Monuments to repatriate stolen artifacts from various unauthorised holders around the world.
The group also urged the African Union to sever ties with Britain over its refusal to release the historical items. BNC stated that the mask was ‘grossly undervalued,’ as independent valuers had put its price at £71m (N17bn).
The group added that the auctioneers deliberately undervalued the mask to weaken public outcry, describing the planned sale as ‘sad, callous and insensitive.’