UK to return 72 looted artifacts to Nigeria
The Horniman Museum in London is set to return 72 treasured artifacts to Nigeria 225 years later.
A London museum is to return 72 treasured artifacts, including its collection of Benin bronzes, to Nigeria in what experts described as an “immensely significant” moment.
The Horniman Museum announced it would transfer the ownership of the historic objects to the Nigerian government after a final vote by its board of trustees.
Series of artifact repatriation
Named the Museum of the Year in July, the return of the stolen artifacts marks the first government-funded institution to hand back treasures looted by British forces from Benin City more than 200 years ago.
About 10,000 objects looted during the raid on Benin are held in 165 museums and many private collections across the world. The British Museum in London holds 900 objects, considered the largest collection in the world.
The objects include a brass cockerel altarpiece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items such as fans and baskets, and a key “to the king’s palace." Last year, the New York MET Museum returned 3 brass artifacts to Nigeria and in another series of artifact repatriation, stolen antiques were sent back to Italy after being trafficked in the US.
Oxford and Cambridge Universities, holding hundreds of the artifacts in their own libraries, declared last week that they would return more than 200 between them.
Prof Dan Hicks, professor of contemporary archaeology at the University of Oxford, described the announcement as “immensely significant”.
He said: “It comes hot on the heels of the announcement from Oxford and Cambridge. They were the largest commitment we’d seen from the UK so far.
“Topple the Racists” campaign
The Nigerian diaspora in London launched in 2020 the “Topple the Racists” campaign in which activists added the Horniman Museum to the list of sites and monuments linked to colonial history, and that followed numerous Black Lives Matter protests regarding Europe’s infringement on black rights through museums.
The British Museum has resisted calls to return the 900 Benin items it holds, talking only of “research and cultural exchange initiatives” in Nigeria.
Hicks said, “With every day of inaction and every day of seeking to hold on to these old arguments, they are just making themselves more and more irrelevant. Inaction, in this context, is an action – it’s a choice that they’re not able to tell us at the very least what they have.”