German officials Tuesday returned 20 of the treasured Benin Bronzes, a move that has attracted international attention amid a debate about returning looted arts during the colonial era.
The valuable objects were handed over to Nigeria in a solemn ceremony in Abuja with German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock and Culture Minister, Claudia Roth accompanied by the heads of several museums.
WikkiTimes had last month, reported that the German museum — Rautenstrauch-Joest — an ethnography museum in Cologne, said it will return 92 Benin bronzes to Nigeria starting from December 2022 while other artworks would be from 2023 onwards.
German media agency, dpa quoted Baerbock shortly after meeting with Geoffrey Onyeama, the Nigerian Foreign Minister, saying: “It was wrong to steal these bronzes. It was wrong to keep these bronzes. And it is more than overdue for these bronzes to be returned to their homeland.”
“This is a story of European colonialism,” in which Germany played “a dark role, causing tremendous suffering in different parts of Africa,” said Baerbock.
She said returning the bronzes is a crucial step towards addressing the repatriation which is planned to be in batches with the willingness to critically assess the country’s action.
In his remark, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, said “Nigeria, Africa and indeed all of humanity will remember and always cherish the period in human history when Germany stood by us.”
Lai said 20 or even 10 years ago, nobody could have anticipated the return of the works, “because the obstacles to achieving repatriation were seemingly insurmountable.”
The treasures — looted by colonial powers in the 19th century — were stored in museums in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Dresden, Leipzig and Stuttgart.
More than 1,100 of the works from the palace of the then kingdom of Benin, which is now part of Nigeria, have so far been in the possession of 20 German museums. The objects, which are made of ivory and other materials in addition to bronze, mostly come from British looting in 1897.