After many Africans bombarded Sotheby's in London with protests, the auction house today asked the Nigeria Liberty Forum (NLF) to furnish it with more information about a precious and high-priced artifact stolen during the colonial era by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Lionel Galway.
The protests, organized and led by NLF, might have put a stop to further preparations for the auction of a Benin mask estimated for £5 million. The original plan is to sell the mask in London next February.
The NLF’s protests have also been accompanied by legal efforts mounted by several lawyers to stop the sale. The forum, an activist group of Nigerians and friends of Nigeria, has written a letter to Sotheby's demanding it stop the sale of the stolen Benin mask.
See letter below:
Ms Helen Collier
34-35 New Bond Street
London W1A 2AA
Dear Ms Collier
Re Auction of 16TH Century Benin Ivory and Other Benin Artefacts.
The Nigeria Liberty Forum is a UK based Nigerian pro democracy group of sympathisers and volunteers who share a passion for grassroots political engagement and participation. We amongst many other activities Seek solutions to challenges with other UK based African groups and institutions; Protecting the rights of Nigerians in the UK and the Diaspora; Encouraging Nigerians in Diaspora to engage and participate in the Nigerian political process and Partnership work with individuals and groups in the fields of Education, Charitable causes and Community Development.
We have successfully run many campaigns to further our cause. You may wish to visit our website for further details.
It has come to our attention that 6 pieces of Benin artefacts are to be sold at your auction rooms on the 17th of February 2011 and accordingly we would like to register our protest that precious pieces of our Nigerian heritage are to be sold to the highest bidders.
We are aware (and so should you) that these artefacts were forcefully taken from Nigeria in 1897 when the British invaded the Benin empire and request very firmly that your organisation should not assist and or collude in the appropriation of such.
It is a shame that in this time and age individuals continue to plunder and abuse the culture and heritage of a defenceless people just because they can. There is simply no legal or moral basis for the Galway family to lay claim to the Benin masks and to go on to profit from their sale is reprehensible and unconscionable.
To this end we request that you withdraw the items from sale forthwith as the true ownership is far from settled. We would also like to request that you go a step further and advise your clients to return these items back to the Nigerian people where they rightfully belong. It is akin to the selling of the Egyptian mummies, and should not be allowed.
We are in the process of mounting legal, diplomatic and or political challenges to the sale of these cultural artefacts and we are sure your organisation does not want to be embroiled in the resulting fallout this will surely create. The rape of Africa and plundering thereof has gone on for far too long and still continues, aided by institutions as yours.
We have also created a petition to stop this sale from going on at the URL below and if necessary mount a physical protest, which as a going concern may be damaging to your reputation from the incessant news coverage that this will bring.
We do not doubt your integrity and we know Sotheby will do the right thing and withdraw the said items from sale.
These artefacts were acquired illegally, by theft, and they are now being put up for sale illegally. The artwork is an important cultural heritage of Benin people, in Nigeria, and it is part of their history, and should be returned forthwith.
It should also be noted that the said masks have been subject of historical study by the Open University, which has produced a clip about the theft of these artefacts. Refer to United Kingdom Open University link bellow.
Kayode Ogundamisi – Convener