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Edo’s Animal Museum: The True Story Behind The Cultural District Scam, By Adaze Emwanta

THE idea of building a private museum and a cultural district was part of the arrangements the present Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki had with his European Associates, who were part of the team involved in the negotiations in 2019 for the return of the stolen Benin artefacts.

The Governor’s mission to Europe continued late in 2020 after he was inaugurated for a second term on November 12 of that year. A lot had happened before that time. The main person on the governor’s list of those of influence to unseat had just been removed by a court order as national chairman of the ruling party in March 2020. So the coast appeared clear for the governor to thread in an area where even angels dreaded, as he appeared to have earned, albeit, by crook, a giant-killer sobriquet for himself in the halls of the presidential villa.

He was assured custody of the artefacts when repatriated from Europe and elsewhere. So the governor needed foreign associates to sell his newfound presidential promissory note to and for this deal he eventually found associates in Europe with the help of one Sir David Adjaye.


These associates of the Governor included both natural and artificial persons, who over the decades had taken special interest in the hundreds of looted Benin artifacts in Museums in Europe and America.

Their discussions with the Governor were with an understanding that he will have custody over the artefacts when repatriated to Nigeria and for which they will have unrestricted access in a private museum to be built by the governor in Benin city. In return, they made a commitment that they would fund the building of the private museum and the proposed cultural district around the Oba Palace area of Benin City.

Unknown to the Europeans was the fact that the Oba of Benin had in late 2016 informed Governor Obaseki of his desire to build a Benin Royal Museum, where the recovered Benin artefacts will be warehoused for tourists around the world to view them.

The Oba had earlier paid for and secured a long term written concession over the Oba Akenzua II Cultural Centre, Benin, from the outgoing Government of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, which the incumbent Governor (Obaseki) was part of. The Cultural Center was part of the tourist’s centres in the Oba’s proposed Benin Royal Museum master-plan, where cultural events will be hosted for tourists. In summary, the idea behind a cultural district around the Oba Palace was originally muted by the Oba himself upon ascension to the throne late 2016.

The idea however met a brick-wall when the Governor forcefully took over the Oba Akenzua ll Cultural Centre, (in spite of the earlier concession to the Oba), and subsequently converted the premises to a motor park for local buses called tuke-tuke.

As I write, the Cultural Centre now houses all manners of wild animals, including scorpions, squirrels, various species of snakes, giant rats, mice and grasscutters.

This is so, because the Governor in a bid to frustrate the idea of the Oba’s cultural master-plan and Benin Royal Museum project, had to set up his rival Museum of West African Arts and Benin Cultural District project, for which the Oba Akenzua ll Cultural Centre was forcefully annexed.

The landlords of Ezoti Street, an area which was to be annexed, had to protest when the Governor issued a revocation of their rights of occupancy, in a bid to acquire and demolish their ancestral homes, as part of his midsummer cultural district project.

As Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Edo State my Ministry building was located along Ezoti Street and we were relocated, because the building was identified as one of those to be demolished and the space acquired as part of the cultural district. Opposite our building was the premises of the now defunct Central Hospital, which was completely demolished to give way for the erection the Edo Museum of West Africa Arts.

The ambitious plan of the Governor to build a cultural district hit a brickwall on the 23rd of March, 2023, when the Federal Government of Nigeria issued an Official Gazette conferring full ownership and custody of the looted Benin artefacts to the Oba of Benin.

This development led to a volte face on the part of the Governor, who was constrained to change the name of his museum from Edo Museum of West Africa Arts (EMOWAA) to Museum of West Africa Arts (MOWAA). The cultural district idea was dropped in favour of MOWAA, which will be designed as a pavilion for archeological research.

The dramatic irony behind this cultural scam of the outgoing PDP government of Obaseki is that, while humans work on the defunct Central hospital area during the day, wild animals walk freely in the cultural centre area at night.

The latter area, which now looks like a rain forest in the Congo, is truly a wildlife museum of sorts.

….to be continued

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