London Museum Set To Return 72 Artifacts To Nigeria

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Horniman Museum in London has agreed to return to Nigeria artefacts looted in the 19th Century from the Kingdom of Benin.  

The Horniman Museum on its website said 72 items including 12 brass plaques, known as Benin Bronzes, a brass cockerel and a key to the king’s palace will be transferred to the Nigerian government. 

The statement reads: “Ownership of 72 objects, which were forcibly removed from Benin City during the British military incursion in February 1897, will be transferred to the Nigerian government, following a decision by the Horniman’s Board of Trustees. 

“The collection includes 12 brass plaques, known publicly as Benin bronzes. Other objects include 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’.  

It follows a request by Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) in January. 

The museum, in south-east London, says it has consulted with community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in Nigeria and the UK. 

“All of their views on the future of the Benin objects were considered, alongside the provenance of the objects,” the museum explained. 

The museum’s chair said it was “moral and appropriate” to return them. 

In recent years, there has been increased political pressure on European governments and museums to hand back looted artefacts. 

These include ivory carvings and metal sculptures known as the Benin Bronzes. 

Eve Salomon, chair of the museum, 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 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 items from Horniman’s collection are just some of the artefacts returned to Nigeria in the last few months from museums in the west. 

Last month, Jesus College in Cambridge and Aberdeen University gave back a cockerel sculpture and the head of an Oba (king), BBC reports. 

German authorities also returned more than 1,100 artefacts to the West African country. 

NCMM says some of the priceless sculptures will be stored in the national museum in Benin once it’s been expanded and others will be stored at the museum in Lagos. 

The British Museum holds the world’s largest collection of Benin bronzes. 

It says it is prevented from permanently returning items by the British Museum Act of 1963 and the National Heritage Act of 1983.

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