A small museum in South-Easter London, the United Kingdom, has started the official process to return to Nigeria, artifacts looted from Benin City, Edo State in February 1897 by the British troops.
The Horniman Museum which houses a collection of 72 treasured items that were taken by force from Benin City officially handed over ownership of the artifacts to the Nigerian government on Monday.
During the handover of the artifacts, Horniman described returning of the looted objects as a “moral and appropriate” response after a request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
However, there are still questions and concerns about whether thousands of items which were looted from Nigeria and held at large institutions globally, including the British Museum, will ever be returned to the country.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that the first six objects which were returned included two Benin Bronze plaques from the royal palace which were handed over to Nigerian officials at a ceremony marking the transfer of the ownership of the 72 looted items.
Ahead of the official handover, journalists asked the Chief Executive of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, Nick Merriman, and the NCMM’s Director General, Prof. Abba Tijani, if they were frustrated at the British Museum’s apparent reluctance to hand over the 900 objects it had held for more than a century.
In response, Merriman said the Horniman had been an “excellent example” of leadership, saying that, “Journalists who ask me about the Benin return always want to ask me about the British Museum.
“I would rather talk about what an excellent example the Horniman is rather than answer questions about the British Museum.”
The six objects selected in consultation with the NCMM as being representative of the collection of 72 items formed the first wave of physical repatriation of Benin objects from the Horniman, while a new agreement between the NCMM and the Horniman Museum will allow the remaining items to stay in Britain on loan for now, with a second phase of physical repatriations to follow in due course.
The NCMM Director General also explained that about 5,000 Benin bronzes were currently “scattered” around the world, saying that he is hoping that talks with various institutions may result in deals that could lead to the return of the items from places including Germany and the United States.