A small museum in south-east London has begun the official process of returning 72 looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria.
The items were taken by force from Benin City in 1897 and have been returned by the Horniman Museum in southeast London to the Nigerian government.
The Horniman described returning the looted objects as a ‘moral and appropriate’ response after a request from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
There are still questions about whether thousands of items that are held at large institutions globally, including the British Museum, will ever be sent back.
However, the first six objects which were returned included two ‘Benin Bronze’ plaques from the royal palace – were handed to Nigerian officials at a ceremony marking the transfer of ownership of 72 looted items.
The items were taken from Benin City by British troops in February 1897.
Nick Merriman, CEO of the Horniman Museum and Gardens, and Professor Abba Tijani, the NCMM’s director-general, were asked by journalists ahead of the official handover if they were frustrated at the British Museum’s apparent reluctance to hand over the 900 objects it has held for more than a century.
Mr. Merriman, who said the Horniman had been an ‘excellent example’ of leadership, stated: ‘Journalists who ask me about the Benin return always want to ask me about the British Museum.
‘I would rather talk about what an excellent example the Horniman is rather than answer questions about the British Museum.’
Professor Tijani later explained that about 5,000 Benin bronzes are currently “scattered” around the world.
He said that he is hoping that talks with various institutions may result in deals that could herald the items being returned from places including Germany and the U.S.