In this interview the President of the Benin Solidarity Movement (BSM) worldwide, Curtis Eghosa Ugbo, laid bare his mind on a couple of trending issues.
On the issue of the looted Benin artefacts that are about to be returned what is the stand of the Benin Solidarity Movement (BSM)?
What we are saying is that those artefacts that were stolen by the British invaders many years ago were stolen from the Oba of Benin Palace. A lot of artefacts were received in 1938 when they were returned to Oba Akenzua. The second set of artefacts were returned in 2013. This is not the first time that we are getting our artefacts returned and they all come straight to the Oba of Benin who is their rightful owner.
In 2016, Governor Godwin Obaseki came to the Palace with his predecessor, Comrade Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole. Our Oba told him that some countries are willing now to return a lot of the artefacts. That they will be needing a museum, a place, to keep them. That was how they called Obaseki and he was told the plan of the Oba of Benin and the Palace. But as time went on our Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare11, registered a foundation, the Oba Ewuare Foundation, just for this purpose. At the end of the day it was shocking to the Benins across the world that Godwin Obaseki is now deviating from the earlier plans without the consent of the Oba of Benin probably because of the monetary aspect that is coming with those artefacts.
According to the German Government they intend to sponsor some of the youths who are aggrieved because of what happened many years ago. And also they want to help to build the museum. The Oba of Benin already have a proposed site directly opposite the Palace. Some properties have been acquired just for there to be space for the museum. But we are surprised that Godwin Obaseki decided to go the wrong way.
In 2020, he too registered a foundation called Legacy Trust or whatever trust it is. He was now trying to make it look as if it is a government thing. Edo State was not in existence when those things(artefacts) were stolen. Those artefacts were not stolen from the government house. So, we are surprised on the step Godwin Obaseki has taken. Although, we are not completely surprised because his great grandfather did the same thing many years ago by betraying Oba Ovonramwen for him(the Oba) to be taken out by the British invaders to Calabar just for him(Obaseki) to become Oba of Benin. It was the resistance from the Benin people that made him not to succeed. That is the same thing that Godwin Obaseki is doing now. History is repeating itself and we are not happy about it. It is like the blood of his great grandfather is in him. It is an ancestral spirit of betraying whoever help them that is running in their blood. That’s how it is now. Godwin Obaseki came into government through Comrade Adams Oshiomhole who fought for him to become governor. What’s their relationship today? He has betrayed Adams Oshiomhole. He thinks he can come and betray Benin people and our Oba. He will be resisted in full.
What is the Benin Solidarity Movement position on the federal government pronouncement to hold on to the artefacts when they are returned to Nigeria?
The federal government know that they cannot acquire them. We know our rights. Our Oba made a press statement some days ago. The artefacts have to be returned via diplomatic procedures. There has been a trip to Germany to perfect the process of the return of the artefacts. Our Oba has told the federal government to keep the artefacts in their custody until our museum is ready. There are over 1,000 artefacts that are coming.
It would interest you to know that in the 2019/20 budget of Edo State Governor Obaseki made provision for the building of the Benin Royal Museum to house the artefacts. N500 million was budgeted for it. He cannot tell anybody what he has done with the money. The budget proposal is on record. He has not given us any account of what happened to the money. We have information that the German Government have given him 10million euros in March this year for the empowerment, scholarship and training of Benin youths. Nobody has heard anything from him. He has not said anything as regards that. I challenge Godwin Obaseki to come and publicly deny that he has not collected money from the German Government since this whole process started.
Some group of Benin people who said that they are based in Europe and America are opposed to the idea of the return of the artefacts to the Oba of Benin. What is your response to this?
Those are the co-travellers of Godwin Obaseki. The good news is that they don’t even know Benin history. They mentioned Igun, Igbesamwan and Owina. Those places that they mentioned were all inside the Oba of Benin Palace. The sculptors were working for the Oba of Benin. The Oba paid them. You see the Prison(Correctional Center) on Sapele Road, the Government House itself down to Sapele Road and Igbesamwan and Owina were all within the Oba’s Palace. The Prison(Correctional Center) you see on Sapele Road has been there before the British invasion in 1897.
Till date, the Oba instructs the sculptors to carve artworks which they quickly do and present to him. About four of them will produce an artwork and the Oba will pick the one that he loves most among the lot. Our Obas taught the sculptors what to do. They were all trained and working for our Obas. The so called Benin guys who claimed to be based abroad do not know Benin history. Until date, there are sculptors working inside the Benin Palace.
Recently, during the 2020 governorship election campaign, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national stalwarts paid a visit to the Oba in the Palace and Governor Nyesom Wike, of Rivers State, was given a gift which was made in Igbesamwan on the Oba’s instruction. That’s how it is. The artefacts are not a gift to the Obas.
All those areas belong to the Oba. It was after the invasion that the Palace was split because that was what the British wanted – to reduce the power of the Oba of Benin. That has always been their wish. If not that they were able to defeat Benin Kingdom they won’t have been able to have a place called Nigeria. Benin Kingdom was the only Kingdom that gave them resistance. Benin Kingdom was up to Eko. Eko means where they hold meetings. Badagry, Cotonou, Dahomey, Ghana etc. There are Benin people in Ghana. They are called the Ga people.
There was also the issue of stipends to traditional rulers in Edo State that was stopped
Benin Solidarity Movement raised the alarm on that because we got feelers that Godwin Obaseki instructed the banks through a letter not to pay traditional rulers in Edo State which included the Oba of Benin. The Oba of Benin is the number one traditional ruler in Edo State. The local government councils in Edo South district are directly under the Benin Palace. The ones in Edo Central District there is an Enogie in charge of them. The same situation is obtainable in Edo North District. The banks were instructed not to pay the traditional rulers because they(the banks) were auditing. How can you be auditing a federal payment?
Monies that come directly from the federal government to the local governments for onward transmission to the traditional councils. They have now started paying. They last paid in May. They were delaying the payment for the months of June and July just for the workers in the traditional councils to rise against their employers. We understand how politicians behave. They should be told that our tradition controls our spiritual life, our culture and our wellbeing. For instance, I am a Benin man. I was born as a Benin man before I became whatever that I am today. My root is Benin and I don’t play with it. That’s why we are ready with our last blood to fight for our Benin Kingdom.
What would you say about the Petroleum Industry Bill(PIB)?
My opinion about the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is that it is a fraud. The northerners who have their own resources on their land are living on our own resources. They’re now the ones that are dictating to us. I don’t blame them. I blame our southern leaders who do not know their left from their right. They are just after their own selfish interest. Their political and economic interest. They’re not interested in the growth of the youths in the region. For instance, how can I be producing a drink in my land then an outsider will now come and be telling me I will give you 5 percent. Am I not the one that should be dictating the terms? 75 percent of the revenue is supposed to be to the south-south where the golden egg is laid.
They don’t want us to develop. Tomorrow they will come with quota system that a child from the north is given priority in admission and other matters over the child from the south. Was anybody born as a dullard? How can you say that the north is educationally disadvantaged? Who made them to be? Who made the south to be educationally advantaged? The north are playing games with us. It is high time that we from the south resist it. At the end of it all you now impose the person from the educationally disadvantaged part of the country to become boss of the person from the educationally advantaged place. How do you move forward like that? You can never move forward. That’s the issue. We need to sit down and iron these things out without fear or favour. Nigeria must operate with the truth if not Benin Kingdom is a sovereign nation. If they don’t know we never signed any treaty with anybody. We will rise to demand our sovereignty very soon if things continue like this.