Africa: British, French Museums to Return Benin Bronzes After Over 100 Years

Cast brass plaques from Benin City at British Museum.
27 November 2018

Some of the bronzes looted from the Benin Empire by British soldiers over 100 years will be returned to Nigeria, but with certain terms and conditions, CNN is reporting.

According to CNN, the Benin Dialogue Group, which comprises of representatives of several European museums, the Royal Court of Benin, Edo State Government, and Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments, struck a deal in October to have some of the most iconic pieces returned to Nigeria.

The British Museum has agreed to "loan" the plaques back to Benin Royal Museum in Edo State for an exhibition within three years.

More than 1,000 of the bronzes are held at museums across Europe, with the most valuable collection at the British Museum in London.

Nigerian governments have sought their return since the country gained independence in 1960.

The return of the artefacts is contingent on the completion of the Royal Museum of Benin, whose designs, according to spokesperson to Governor Godwin Obaseki, Crusoe Osagie, are being finalised.

"We are grateful these steps are being taken but we hope they are only the first steps. If you have stolen property, you have to give it back,"Mr. Osagie said.

Mr Osagie also called for more pressure on European governments to return looted artefacts from the colonial era.

A spokesperson for the British Museum, according to CNN, said: "The key agenda item (at the October meeting) was how partners can work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums.

"The museums in attendance have all agreed to lend artefacts to the Benin Royal Museum on a rotating basis, to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition design, and to cooperate with the Nigerian partners in developing training, funding, and a legal framework for the display in a new planned museum."

There are no details on the pieces to be returned at the moment.

Meanwhile, in a related development, France is also set to return 26 Artifacts to Benin on the order of President Emmanuel Macron of France.

This is according to a report by an art market website, published on Monday.

The site noted that the move is based on a proposal from the Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac Museum and the French ministry of culture.

The artifacts in question, which include three statues of the kings of Abomey, thrones and ornamental doors, and a statue of the god Gou, were looted during General Dodd's bloody siege on the Béhanzin palace in 1892.

In Benin, they will be shared with the public in the context of an ambitious new museums project.

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