The Horniman Museum in London announced on Sunday that it would return to the Nigerian government 72 artifacts, including 12 brass plaques known as Benin Bronzes, plundered from Benin City by British soldiers in 1897.
The Benin Bronzes are among Africa’s most culturally significant artifacts, having been made from brass and bronze in the once-mighty Kingdom of Benin in what is now southwestern Nigeria since at least the 16th century.
They were taken in a British military incursion, along with thousands of other artefacts, and wound up in museums in Europe and the United States.
African governments have fought for years to reclaim works pillaged by explorers and colonizers, while Western institutions grapple with colonial cultural legacies.
Following the lead of Jesus College at Cambridge University and the Quai Branly museum in Paris last year, German officials repatriated the first of more than 1,100 valuable statues to Nigeria last month.
According to Horniman, Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) demanded the repatriation of the artifacts at the start of the year.
“The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria,” said Eve Salomon, chair of the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ trustees.
“The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artefacts.”
NCMM Director-General Abba Tijani expressed his appreciation for the decision, stating he was looking forward to discussing financing arrangements and collaborations with the Horniman.
The returns are likely to put more strain on the British Museum in London, which houses by far the largest and most important collection of Benin Bronzes.