At the height of their colonial reign, the British invaded Nigeria. During a violent military campaign in 1897, British forces looted the famous brass plaques known as Benin Bronzes from Benin City in southern Nigeria. Currently, the British Museum has the largest collection of Benin Bronzes in the world. Nigeria has been trying to get the Bronzes returned from Europe for decades now, and Nigeria asked the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London in January for the return of the Bronzes.
Yesterday, the Horniman announced plans to hand over 72 artifacts, including 12 Benin Bronzes, to the Nigerian government. Nigeria may also loan some of the objects back to the Horniman for display. With this move, the Horniman joins Germany, Aberdeen University and others in giving back Nigerian artifacts stolen during colonialism. But what about the British Museum? It’s still defending its hold on similar objects, referencing the British Museum Act of 1963, which mostly prevents it from permanently removing objects from its collections, and the National Heritage Act of 1983.
“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," said Eve Salomon, Chair of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.
“We very much welcome this decision by the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens," said Prof. Abba Tijani, Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments. “Following the endorsement by the Charity Commission, we look forward to a productive discussion on loan agreements and collaborations between the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Horniman."
“We’re always in a very difficult position and always have been, we work within very restrictive guidelines," said an official at the British Museum when asked about the future of the Benin Bronzes.