British museum to return artifacts stolen during colonisation of Nigeria
72 bronze items were looted from Benin City in 1897.
A British museum is set to return a number of priceless artifacts after they had been stolen from Nigeria at the height of colonialism.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens in London agreed to return ownership of its Benin bronzes and other pieces on Monday (8 August).
72 objects were "forcibly removed" (as per the statement issued from the museum) from Benin City during the British military incursion of the city in February 1897.
The pieces will be transferred to the Nigerian government, with assistance from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
The collection includes 12 brass plaques, a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items such as fans and baskets, and a key "to the king’s palace".
"We very much welcome this decision by the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens," said Professor Abba Tijani, Director-General of NCMM.
"Following the endorsement by the Charity Commission, we look forward to a productive discussion on loan agreements and collaborations between the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Horniman."
NCMM requested the pieces in January 2022, and has since undertaken major research of its objects from Benin to establish which pieces should be returned.
The Horniman also consulted with community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in both Nigeria and the UK, where their views on the objects were considered, along with the provenance of the items.
‘The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria," said Eve Salomon, Chair of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.
"The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artefacts."
The museum is set to work with NCMM to process the transfer of ownership, along with the possibility of retaining some items on loan from Nigeria.
Oil container image via Horniman Museum and Gardens