Germany Returns 20 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria
As part of a major restitution agreement signed earlier this year, the German government has returned 20 Benin bronze objects to Nigeria. The ceremony, held at the Nigerian foreign ministry in Abuja on December 20th, was attended by Germany's foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and her Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama. The returned objects include a miniature mask of an Iyoba (queen mother) and the brass head of a Benin king (oba).
Return of 1,100 Artifacts
Under the German agreement, a total of 1,100 artifacts will be returned from museums with the largest collections of Benin bronzes, including ethnological museums in Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne, Leipzig, and Hamburg. Berlin's Ethnological Museum has the largest collection of Benin bronzes in Europe after the British Museum.
Loaned Artifacts to Remain in Germany
Not all of the disputed items will be returned to Nigeria. The Nigerian government has agreed to leave some artifacts on loan in Germany so they can continue to be exhibited there. This decision is seen as a gesture of trust and amity between the two countries.
Construction of New Museum in Benin City
Germany has also agreed to contribute to the construction of the Edo Museum of West African Art, a new museum near the royal place in Benin City, to house the returned bronzes. This marks the first state restitution of looted art on such a large scale, and is seen as a foundation for improving relations between Germany and Nigeria.
Restitution of Benin Bronzes
The restitution of Benin bronzes, which includes objects made of bronze, brass, and ivory, follows decades of disagreement over the metal and ivory artifacts looted by the British army from what is now southern Nigeria in 1897. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has repeatedly called for the repatriation of these objects.
British Museum and Other Institutions
The latest move has once again brought attention to the British Museum, which holds around 900 pieces from the Kingdom of Benin. Godwin Obaseki, the governor of Edo state, has called on the British Museum to provide leadership in the restitution process, stating that "they were the ones who came here and destroyed the empire, they were the ones who looted pieces from here, and they should be leading in restitution." However, some UK institutions, including the Horniman Museum & Gardens in south London, have already agreed to transfer ownership of their Benin objects to the Nigerian government.