A museum in the UK is set to return the Benin Bronzes, and 71 other items, to its owner, Nigeria.
The unconditional transfer of ownership taking place in front of the African country’s royal household and other dignitaries. The decision by the Horniman Museum, in London, comes as pressure rises on other museums and galleries over the question of restitution.
The Benin Bronze and other artworks were forcibly removed during a large-scale British military expedition, in 1897. London's British Museum has 900 items from the Kingdom of Benin. Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has issued formal repatriation requests to museums across the world.
Nick Merriman, director of the Horniman Museum, said that there was a moral argument for their return. He said: "I think we're seeing a tipping point around not just restitution and repatriation, but museums acknowledging their colonial history. This move would lead to a fuller account of how collections have arrived in British museums”.
On the decision, Nigerian professor of museology and anthropology, Professor Abba Isa Tijani, said: "Hanging on to looted objects is no longer tenable." He added: "I believe the British Museum is now taking it deeply to see that they do something, because every museum across the world is saying it is not right for them to hang on to these objects."
Prof. Abba Tijani said that seeing some of the objects in the British Museum gives him a “high blood pressure". He added that he would keep appealing to the museum to look at returning artefacts, with the option to have objects on loan for display.
“It was important to note that some museums are subject to legislation which prevents them from removing items from their collections”, Merriman said, “whereas others, which are charities such as the Horniman, are allowed to do so.
In 2026 the Nigerian government will open the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City, which is being designed by the British-Ghanaian architect Sir David Adjaye, to house the largest collection of Benin Bronzes ever assembled.