LONDON— The Horniman Museum in London announced on Sunday that it would return to the Nigerian government 72 artefacts, including 12 brass plaques known as Benin Bronzes, plundered from Benin City by British soldiers in 1897.
The Benin Bronzes are among Africa’s most culturally significant artefacts, having been made from brass and bronze in the once-mighty Kingdom of Benin in what is now southwestern Nigeria since at least the 16th century.
They were taken in a British military incursion, along with thousands of other artefacts, and wound up in museums in Europe and the United States.
African countries have fought for years to recover works pillaged by explorers and colonisers, while Western institutions grapple with colonial cultural legacies.
Following the lead of Jesus College at Cambridge University and the Quai Branly museum in Paris last year, German officials repatriated the first of more than 1,100 valuable statues to Nigeria last month.
According to Horniman, Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) demanded the repatriation of the artefacts at the start of the year.
“The evidence is extremely clear that these artefacts were obtained through force, and external consultation confirmed our conclusion that it is both moral and acceptable to return their ownership to Nigeria,” Eve Salomon, chair of the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ trustees, stated.
“The Horniman is delighted to be able to take this step, and we look forward to working with the NCMM to ensure the long-term care of these priceless artefacts.”
Abba Tijani, Director-General of the NCMM, hailed the decision and stated that he was looking forward to discussing loan arrangements and collaborations with the Horniman.
The returns are likely to put more strain on the British Museum in London, which houses by far the largest and most important collection of Benin Bronzes.