Nigeria’s Forgotten Empire – the Walls of Benin

Wall Pass

Wall of Benin
A section of the Great Wall of Benin the second longest in the world

Although a limited renaissance is taking place in the Nigerian art scene – with Yoruba and Benin bronze sculptures fetching high prices on the international market – harsh economic times have led to a widespread disregard for this period of history. Too often the remnants of the Wall of Benin have been ‘developed’, plundered or desecrated.

In 1987, nine Terracotta sculptures belonging to some of the earliest inhabitants of Nigeria, the Nok People (1000 BC to 500 AD), were stolen from the National Museum in Jos.

The situation deteriorated further during the 1990s, when it is estimated that 429 objects were stolen from 33 museums or other cultural institutions nationwide, with many still yet to be recovered.

The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has since been given responsibility for the protection and preservation of the city walls and moat. Legal instruments have been created which forbids any person to wilfully destroy, deface, alter, remove or excavate them.

Yet today, the wall and moat are in a state of disrepair: no more than a common dumping site, overgrown by vegetation and targeted by unscrupulous developers. In the absence of law enforcement and proper funding, conserving the walls is a near impossible task.

The walls and moat could prove to be a stimulus for a flagging tourism industry; its legacy is one, that in the face of current external land-grabbing and foreign exploitation of Africa’s natural resources, should never be forgotten.


By: Lagun Akinloye