72 Benin Artifacts to be returned to Nigeria by the London Horniman Museum
The Horniman Museum announced that they will be returning artifacts looted by British forces in 1897 from Nigeria, becoming the first government-funded institution to return stolen items from colonization.
The London museum is set to return 72 priceless artifacts to Nigeria, including its collection of Benin bronzes.
Following a unanimous decision by its board of trustees, the Horniman Museum announced that it will turn over ownership of the historic artifacts to the Nigerian government.
The Horniman, which was named museum of the year in July, will be returning artifacts that were taken from Benin City, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Benin, by British forces in 1897.
Twelve ancient brass plaques, also known as Benin bronzes, are part of the collection to be returned. Other artifacts include a brass cockerel altarpiece, ivory and brass ceremonial artifacts, brass bells, regular items like fans and baskets, and a key “to the king’s palace”.
Around 10,000 artifacts plundered during the Benin raid are housed in 165 museums and several private collections around the world. The British Museum in London houses the world’s largest collection, holding 900 items.
Chair of the Horniman Museum Eve Salomon, said, “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.”
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The museum’s board made their decision after consulting with the Nigerian community in London, which began in 2020, as well as visitors, students, academics, professionals in the field of history, and artists with roots in both Nigeria and the UK.
The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) of Nigeria, on behalf of the Nigerian government, requested the artifacts in January. The returned bronzes will be housed in the Edo Museum of West African Art, which is set to open in 2025.
There has been considerable political pressure in recent years on European governments and institutions to return looted artifacts.
Last month, Jesus College in Cambridge and Aberdeen University returned a cockerel sculpture and a statue of King Oba’s head.
Over 1,100 artifacts were also returned to the West African country by German officials.
According to NCMM, some of the precious sculptures will be placed at Benin’s national museum after it is expanded, while others will be stored in Lagos’s museum.
Professor Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology at Oxford, called the announcement “immensely significant.”
Hicks, who documented the 165 institutions that hold the Benin bronzes in his book British Museums, said the move will put more pressure on the British Museum to rethink its stance on artifact restitution.