The Benin Bronzes set to be returned to Nigeria

2 min


Priceless artifacts

More than 70 objects, including 12 brass plaques known as The Benin Bronzes, are set to be returned to Nigeria.  

The decision to revert ownership to the country comes some 125 years after they had been removed from Benin City.

British forces had taken the objects during a military incursion in February 1897. They have been kept at The Horniman Museum and Gardens which has recently agreed to return them to their original home.

Alongside The Benin Bronzes are additional priceless objects, including: a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items such as fans and baskets, and a key ‘to the king’s palace.’ 

‘We very much welcome this decision by the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens,’ says Prof Abba Tijani, Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).

Benin plaque of Chief Uwangue and Portuguese traders

Benin copper alloy plaque represents an encounter between Benin Chief Uwangue, and Portuguese traders. Chief Uwangue is acting as the Oba’s representative to make trade links with the Portuguese. He is holding out the right hand of friendship.

‘Following the endorsement by the Charity Commission, we look forward to a productive discussion on loan agreements and collaborations between the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Horniman.’

Clear evidence

The Horniman received the request from the NCMM in January 2022 and has since undertaken detailed research of its objects from Benin. 

‘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,’ says Eve Salomon, Chair of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens.

‘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.’

The Horniman has also consulted with community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in Nigeria and the UK. 

All of their views on the future of the Benin objects were considered, alongside the provenance of the objects.

The Charity Commission, as the regulator of the charitable sector, endorsed the decision of the Horniman trustees on 5 August. 

The Horniman will now discuss with NCMM the process for the formal transfer of ownership, and the possibility of retaining some objects on loan for display, research and education.

Photography kindly supplied by Horniman Museum and Gardens

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