Germany returns 20 stolen Benin bronzes to Nigeria
collection of 20 Benin bronze sculptures that were looted from Nigeria have been returned to their home country as part of Germany’s efforts to address its colonial past.
The bronzes were examined during a handing over ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria on Tuesday.
Nigeria officials said that more than 5,000 ancient artifacts are estimated to have been stolen from their country, the majority by England – the country’s former coloniser – and some by Germany.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the scupltures have been returned “to where they belong, to the Nigerian people”.
“We are here to right a wrong,” she said in a speech at the event.
“Officials from my country once bought the bronzes, knowing that they had been robbed and stolen. After that, we ignored Nigeria’s plea to return them for a very long time. It was wrong to take them. But it was also wrong to keep them.”
She said the thefts are a story of European colonialism, of which Germany “played a dark role”, causing “tremendous suffering” in different parts in Africa.
“The return of the bronzes today is therefore a crucial step towards addressing this chapter in the way that it should be addressed: openly, frankly, with the willingness to critically assess one’s own actions.”
The Benin bronzes – made of brass and bronze – are a group of thousands of sculptures that were decorated in the West African Kingdom of Benin – now within Nigeria – from at least the 16th century onwards.
The sculptures, which include elaborately decorated cast plaques, commemorative heads and items of royal regalia, were commissioned for the ancestral alters of past Obas and Queen Mothers.
By the end of the 19th century, the Nigerian coast was largely dominated by the British, and during this expansion of colonial power the Benin Bronzes were taken to the British Museum.
In November six artefacts looted by British troops from Benin City were repatriated to their place of origin.
The objects were handed to the director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abba Tijani, at a ceremony at the Horniman Museum in south London.
The move was the first time a UK government-funded institution agreed to hand back treasures looted by British forces.
The Commission hoped a deal could be struck with the British Museum in future.