Following the decision by Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, to build a new cultural facility in Onikan, Lagos, the John K. Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, and the appointment of international exhibition designers Ralph Appelbaum Associates (RAA) and architects, SI.SA the Lagos State Government has formally made a request to the British Museum in London for the return of an extremely important sculptural woodcarving, known in the UK as the Lander Stool.
The sculpture was believed to have been taken from Nigeria in 1830 by one of the earliest known explorers of the interior, Richard Lander, who was instrumental in pioneering colonisation of Nigeria.
Richard Lander was a celebrated figure in the UK who was given the Royal Geographical Society Founder’s Medal in 1832, but died of a musket ball wound, shot by inhabitants defending their territory during his final trip through the South-West region.
The formal request by the Lagos State government was delivered to the British Museum over the weekend by the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism, Arts snd Culture, Mr. Steve Ayotinde, who represented Governor Akinwunmi Ambode at a two-day symposium on emerging museum projects in Africa at the British Museum.
Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki who also attended the event on Saturday announced the intention of his government to formally seek the return of some Benin Bronze artefacts from various British museums once it completes it’s new Royal Museum project. Both Lagos snd Edo states were joined by Ghana at the colloquium to outline plans for their various new museum projects. Of the three participating entities, only Lagos is ready with the J.K Randle Centre, which has reached 85% completion stage and is slated for unveiling in May before Governor Ambode leaves office.
“The J.K Randle Centre,” according to Ayorinde is a world-class cultural institution “that will enable the Yoruba people to reclaim their heritage from a colonial narrative, and present for the first time, a high standard cultural and resource centre for millions of people in the state.”
The Centre according to him, will be a befitting and conducive gallery space that can host on a permanent basis some of the Nigerian artefacts expected to be returned from Europe and America.
The Lander stool, one of the very first works taken from Nigeria, will form a fitting centre-piece to this opening exhibition that is expected to take place at the Centre, as it represents the very beginning of the colonial story that led to the formation of the Royal Niger Company and ultimately the colonial state of Nigeria.
The Lander Stool is currently in storage in the British Museum and is an important element of the restitution debate.
Prominent academics from around the world have expressed support for the initiative by the Lagos State government. Prof. Rowland Abiodun, a prominent Nigerian academic at Amherst College in the United States and adviser to the J.K Randle project, described the Lander Stool as “highly significant in the colonial story” and of the new Centre.
He said: “The John K. Randle Centre of Yoruba History and Culture will not just be a monument. Rather, it will also serve as a living realization for posterity, of the fountainhead of the arts, history, thought, philosophy, religion, politics, language, and indeed, the essence of the intellectual tradition of Yoruba people and their descendants globally.”
Similarly, one of the architects on the project, Mr. Seun Oduwole of SI.S, said, “Reclaiming artefacts from the British Museum for the Centre will be a significant achievement. This will give Nigerians the opportunity to see their lost history.”
Also, Dr. Will Rea of the University of Leeds commented: “The Lander Stool is a material representation of the earliest contacts between Britain and the Yoruba. It is highly appropriate that it should be displayed in this new heritage space that the Lagos State Government has made possible.”
Ralph Appelbaum Associates Director working in the UK and Nigeria, Mr. Philip Hughes, said that “Africans are reclaiming their stories, and the Richard Lander pieces are at the very beginning. No doubt, the success of the early explorers and the taking of artefacts led to a thirst for more expeditions. It is a privilege to work with Nigerians to narrate that fascinating story.”