Germany has announced the return of two Benin Bronzes to Nigeria; after earlier talks to hand over ownership to the West African Nation was successful. An accord was signed by both countries in Berlin on Friday.
The move which is kick-started with the signed restitution agreement by both countries, will pave the way for Nigeria to secure ownership of more than a thousand more artefacts. Haven been placed in the collection of several German museums, these items will become Nigerian properties; more than a century after British colonials looted them from Benin kingdom.
Although the two Benin Bronzes – the head of an oba (king) in ceremonial attire from the 18th century, and an expressive 16th-century relief depicting an oba accompanied by guards or companions, was physically received by a delegation sent by the Nigerian government on Friday, the other artefacts will be subject to negotiation; centered on physical return. Some will also remain on display in Germany, though under custodial agreements.
The accord was signed by German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, and culture minister, Claudia Roth, along with Nigerian representatives Zubairu Dada and Lai Mohammed.
Head of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, and a major overseer of several Berlin museums, Hermann Parzinger, described the move as a significant step towards restitution.
‘The return is a milestone in the process of reappraising colonial injustice in the field of museum collections.
‘By completely transferring property of all our Benin artefacts to Nigeria, we are taking a significant step.’
Parzinger also revealed that a ‘representative collection of objects’ would be kept in Berlin on a long-term loan.
Recall that British soldiers had looted thousands of Bronzes from Benin City during an expedition in 1897. They were then auctioned off to museums in Europe and North America in years that followed.
Germany possess the second largest collection of these artefacts. A count shows about 1,100 Benin artefacts are currently held by Linden Museum in Stuttgart, Berlin’s Humboldt Forum, the Cologne Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum, Hamburg’s Museum of World Cultures and the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony. These artefacts will now be Nigeria-owned, based on the signed agreement.