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London museum agrees to return stolen Nigerian artifacts, including Benin bronzes

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(LONDON) — A British museum will return 72 artifacts to the Nigerian government that were forcibly taken over a hundred years ago.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens agreed to hand over the artifacts, including several sculptures known as Benin bronzes, after receiving a request for the artifacts from the Nigerian government.

The pieces were looted from Benin City in southern Nigeria during a British military invasion in 1897, according to a statement from the museum’s board of trustees.

“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,” the board’s chair Eve Salomon said in a statement.

The request to reclaim the stolen artifacts came in January, issued by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, a Nigerian agency that oversees the preservation of the country’s historic and cultural properties.

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Abba Tijani, NCMM’s director, said in a statement that the agency “very much welcomes” the Horniman’s decision and looks forward to future collaborations and loan agreements between the two organizations.

The Horniman undertook detailed research following the NCMM’s request in order to compile all of the artifacts that pertained to the request, according to a statement from the museum.

The museum added that its staff consulted with community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in Nigeria and the U.K. in order to reach a decision.

The collection that has been marked for the request includes 12 Benin bronzes, which are mostly made of brass, according to the British Museum.

There are also several everyday items, such as fans and baskets, alongside a brass cockerel altarpiece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells and a key “to the king’s palace,” according to the museum’s statement.

The regulator of the charitable sector in the U.K., the Charity Commission, endorsed the decision of the Horniman trustees on Aug. 5.

Now, Horniman and the NCMM will begin the process of the formal transfer of ownership, and discuss the retaining of some objects on loan for display, research and education, according to the museum.

Many of Nigeria’s famed Benin bronzes remain scattered across the world due to the British looting in the 1800s.

However, museums are slowly working to repatriate the artifacts as Horniman is doing now.

Last fall, the French government and a British university both made agreements to send back Benin bronzes to Nigeria.

Last month, Germany returned two Benin bronze sculptures and signed a political agreement with Nigeria that could lead to hundreds more returning to the country in the future.

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