72 stolen Benin artefacts have been officially returned to Nigeria by a modest museum in south-east London.
The objects, which were forcibly removed from Benin City in 1897, have now been restored to the Nigerian government by the Horniman Museum in southeast London.
The Horniman responded to a request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) by describing restoring the stolen items as a “moral and appropriate” action.
The fate of thousands of artefacts kept at major institutions throughout the world, such as the British Museum, is still up in the air.
At a ceremony to celebrate the transfer of ownership of 72 seized items, the first six pieces that were returned—including two “Benin Bronze” plaques from the royal palace—were delivered to Nigerian officials.
British soldiers took the goods from Benin City in February 1897.
Before the official handover, journalists questioned Professor Abba Tijani, director-general of the NCMM, and Nick Merriman, CEO of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, about whether they were frustrated by the British Museum’s apparent reluctance to transfer the 900 objects it has held for more than a century.
Mr. Merriman, who said the Horniman had been an ‘excellent example’ of leadership, stated: ‘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.’
Professor Tijani later explained that about 5,000 Benin bronzes are currently “scattered” around the world.
He expressed his hope that discussions with various organizations would lead to agreements that may signal the return of the artifacts from countries like Germany and the United States.