Germany Agrees to Return Looted Artifacts to Nigeria
German and Nigerian governments recently reached an agreement that will see the return of over 1,100 plundered artifacts of the Kingdom of Benin.
The agreement was signed in Berlin on Friday, July 1st by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Culture Minister Claudia Roth and their respective Nigerian counterparts, Zubairu Dada and Lai Mohammed.
As a gesture signifying their intention of sending the artifacts back, the German Government handed over two Benin Bronzes that would immediately return to Nigeria.
One of the bronzes is the head of a king, known as Oba, dressed in ceremonial attire and the other is a relief depicting a king flanked by either his friends or guards.
“This is just the beginning of more than 1,000 pieces from the Kingdom of Benin that are still in German museums, and they all belong to the people of Nigeria,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Berlin on Friday.
“It was wrong to take the bronzes and it was wrong to keep them. This is the beginning to right the wrongs,” Baerbock said.
When talking about the bronzes and various other artifacts, she described them as great treasures of Africa. She acknowledges that the artifacts show a history of colonial violence.
“Germany has taken the lead in correcting the wrongs of the past,” Nigerian Culture Minister Lai Mohammed said. He added that this was “the single largest known repatriation of artifacts in the world” and encouraged other countries that were in possession of artifacts looted from other countries to follow in Germany’s footsteps.
The agreement between the two countries means that the ownership of over 1,100 artifacts was immediately transferred to Nigeria.
Still on Germany to return artifacts to Nigeria…
The artifacts that will be transferred were previously housed in a plethora of institutions including the Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, the Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Hamburg’s Museum of World Cultures, and the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony.
In the oncoming weeks, the Nigerian government and the museums will draw up a viable logistics strategy that will allow the careful and safe transfer of the artifacts to Nigeria. According to reports, some of the artifacts will remain on display in Germany on a long-term loan basis.
Head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation Hermann Parzinger cited the return of thousands of artifacts to their rightful owners as a step towards fixing “colonial injustice in the field of museum collections.”
A majority of the looted artifacts are bronzes of the Kingdom of Benin. These were looted in 1897 by British soldiers and sailors who had gone on expedition trips for the British Empire.
The artifacts were then auctioned to European and North American museums. Germany obtained the second largest collection in the world of bronzes.
Recently, there has been a rise in the trend of returning artifacts from the countries they were originally looted and stolen from.
This has been driven by campaigns in African nations to get their cultural heritage in the form of artifacts back from former oppressive colonial powers. In November 2021, France returned 26 artifacts and also promised to return the “Abomey Treasures” to Benin.
The Smithsonian saw the removal of 10 Benin Bronze pieces from display at the National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C. with the intention of returning them to their rightful places of ownership.
Other US museums have indicated a willingness to return such artifacts. The British Museum, which holds the largest collection of Benin bronzes, has shown an unwillingness to return the artifacts.
The museum is basing this decision on various reasons including British laws that prevent the return of the artifacts. Two Benin bronzes of a sculpted cockerel and the head of an Oba, however, were handed to Nigeria by British universities, showing disparities between the opinion of the people and powers of government.