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BY Francis Akhalbey, 9:00am October 12, 2022,

U.S. returns looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

British forces looted the Bronzes during an 1897 raid in the Kingdom of Benin -- Photo Credit: Joyofmuseums

A Nigerian delegation on Tuesday received 23 looted Benin Bronzes during a ceremony in Washington, BBC reported. The looted artefacts were received by the West African nation’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.

The information ministry also said the looted artefacts the delegation received “comprise 21 from the Smithsonian and one each from the National Gallery of Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design.”

And as reported by Face2Face Africa, British forces looted the artworks during an 1897 raid in the Kingdom of Benin – which is in present-day Nigeria. The stolen artefacts were subsequently handed out to several museums and institutions in the United States as well as Europe. 

During Tuesday’s ceremony, Mohammed commended the United States and its establishments for returning the “highly-cherished” items.

“These artefacts are intrinsic to the culture that produced them. A people ought not be denied the works of their forebears. It is in the light of this that we are delighted with today’s repatriation,” the minister said.

The repatriation comes after the parties involved reached a bilateral cultural property agreement to stop the unlawful importation of certain Nigerian artefacts into the United States. 

The secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G. Bunch III, said the museum was “humbled and honoured to play a small role in transferring ownership of the art works to Nigeria.” The decision to return the looted artefacts was on an ethical consideration basis, BBC reported.

European nations including The Netherlands, the UK and Germany will also similarly return looted artefacts to the West African nation.

Nigerian officials also said the artefacts will be featured at an international travelling exhibition they will soon initiate. They said the exhibition will be done ”in a manner that will win more friends and promote greater goodwill for Nigeria and the ethnic groups that produced [them]”.

Meanwhile, Mohammed has also urged the British Museum to follow the Smithsonian Institution’s initiative by returning 29 looted artefacts from its collection. “They should learn from what has happened today and what happened in Germany,” Mohammed told the Guardian.

And though British MPs previously told Mohammed that the looted artefacts couldn’t be deaccessioned because it was unauthorized, the minister said they will eventually change their stance.

“They used the law as a shield. This is not about law; this is about ethics,” he said. “I told them the last time I was in London: it’s not if, it’s when. They will eventually have to return these because the campaign is gaining strength by the day and, when they look at what other museums are doing, they will be compelled to return them.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 12, 2022


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