The German government has reached an agreement with Nigeria on the return of around 1,100 Benin Bronzes.
The collection of metal plaques and sculptures that decorated the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin, in what is now southwestern Nigeria, were looted during colonial times. The bronzes that have found their way into 20 museums across Germany were mostly taken by British forces when they conquered, burned, and looted the city of Benin in 1897.
The invaluable Benin Bronzes will be restituted to Nigeria after German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Commissioner for Culture and the Media Claudia Roth sign a memorandum of understanding with their Nigerian counterparts in Berlin on Friday that clears the way for the transfer of ownership rights.
“The return of the Benin Bronzes underpins our commitment to coming to terms with our colonial history. It should be the beginning of a new, different cultural cooperation,” said Roth in a statement released by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which is charged with implementing the return.
“The agreement to be signed between the Nigerian and German governments is the general declaration for the return of some 1,130 Benin artifacts,” Abba Isa Tijani, director of the Nigerian Museums and Monuments Authority, told DW. “With this agreement, ownership will be transferred to Nigeria.”
Two bronzes are to be handed over to Nigeria directly after the signing of the memorandum of understanding.
In February, France returned 26 bronzes to Nigeria that were stolen in 1892 by French colonial forces from the former Dahomey kingdom, in the south of modern-day Benin.
For many decades, museums and political leaders in Germany — which was the third-biggest colonial power after Britain and France until World War One — had avoided talks on concrete agreements for transfers or even restitution. But that has changed since 2021, when representatives of the German and Nigerian governments, and museums, announced the decision to transfer ownership.
The ornate artifacts can be found in some 20 German museums. Five museums with the most extensive collections are involved in the planned transfer of ownership to date. (DW)