After years of pressure, western countries are finally returning priceless artefacts and artworks that had been looted from Nigeria during colonial times and were on display in foreign museums.
Commonly called the Benin Bronzes, because the objects originated from the Kingdom of Benin (today’s Nigeria), these beautiful and technically remarkable artworks have come to symbolise the broader restitution debate.
Two British universities – Cambridge University and the University of Aberdeen – recently returned two of the artefacts. And, in mid-October, Germany and Nigeria signed a memorandum of understanding setting out a timetable for the return of around 1,100 sculptures from German museums.
Jos van Beurden – an expert on the protection, theft and smuggling of cultural and historical treasures of vulnerable states – offers his insights into this wave of repatriation. He also suggests a way forward for Nigeria to handle and harness the benefits of the artefacts.
Altar to the Hand (Ikegobo), late 18th century, Nigeria, Court of Benin, Edo peoples, Bronze. In the royal kingdom of Benin, cylindrical ‘altars to the hand,’ or ikegobo, are created to celebrate a person’s accomplishments and successes. Photo by: Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images, Rights-managed