Horniman Museum repatriates over 70 Benin artefacts to Nigeria

London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens will transfer the ownership of 72 objects to the Nigerian government, including its collection of Benin bronzes. The Horniman, which won museum of the year in July, is the first government-funded institution to return artefacts looted by British forces from Benin City.

Consultations were held with London’s Nigerian community after the Nigerian government made a request for the objects in January 2022. A unanimous vote by the museum’s board of trustees lead to the long-awaited repatriation, which experts have described as “immensely significant”.

Abba Tijani, Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, commented “we very much welcome this decision by the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.”

In February 1897, about 10,000 objects were stolen during the bloody military incursion on Benin City. British soldiers brought treasured artefacts to England where many were sold across Europe, given as gifts, or loaned to places like the British Museum in London which still owns around 900 objects from Benin.

The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force,” explained Eve Salomon, chair of the Horniman museum. “And external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria.”

Alongside 12 brass plaques, the ownership of 60 other Benin objects at the Horniman will also be transferred to Nigeria. These include a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items such as fans and baskets, and even a key “to the king’s palace”.

The repatriated collection is heading to the Edo Museum of West African Art, which is due to open in 2025. In the last few months, numerous institutions in the west have returned artefacts to Nigeria, including the return of more than 200 looted objects between Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

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