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IMAGE: @HornimanMuseum&Gardens/Twitter
The UK’s Horniman Museum and Garden have agreed to hand over artefacts to Nigeria, including 72 bronze treasures looted from Benin City in 1897. Through a press release, the London-based museum announced that it will transfer the ownership of all the historic items to the Nigerian government that was brought to the UK during the “bloody and devastating” operation launched by the British military in February 1897. The precious metals were reportedly robbed from the Kingdom of Benin, which now is the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria.
At least 10,000 items of historical value were looted during the British operation, out of which the London Museum holds 900. The “immensely significant” treasures will be delivered back to Nigeria after a unanimous vote on the same by the board of trustees, the press release said. If finalised, the Horniman Museum of London will become the first government-funded museum to return treasures taken from Benin City, which includes at least 12 brass plaques that form the part of “Benin bronze.”
“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 to their ownership to Nigeria,” said Eve Salmon, the chairman of the Horniman Museum.
The formal announcement of planning to return the stolen artefacts came after the museum board consulted with the London-Nigerian community in 2020. Later, the Nigerian government too made requests to allow repatriation of the Benin bronzes, brass bells, altar plates, ivory objects, etc. to be established in the Edo State Museum, which is due to open in 2025. “The very much welcome the decision by the trustees of Horniman Museum and Gardens,” said Abba Tijani, director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
The Horniman Museum and Gardens has agreed to return ownership of its Benin bronzes – looted in 1897 – to Nigeria.
Horniman also described the artefacts as “spoils of the war”, which were looted during the British occupation of the territory. According to the British Museum, the sculptures were from the 16 century, made to decorate the then royal court of Benin’s ruler. This comes as a major victory of the African countries to win back their stolen tangible history mostly from European nations, but also from Australia and the US.
The news comes hot on the heels of Oxford University’s decision to return several robbed items to Africa. Previously, the University of Aberdeen and Cambridge University’s Jesus College also delivered back two significant Benin treasures in February. Last year, Paris too sent 26 artworks seized in 1892 to Benin following the US suit to return all of the African Art to the National Museum of Washington DC.


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