At a ceremony in Abuja, Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, returned 22 looted artifacts known as Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. This comes after an agreement earlier this year to transfer ownership of over 1,000 of these valuable artifacts to Nigeria. Nigeria stated in July that this was the first time a European government had engaged in such an arrangement.
The Benin Bronzes are a collection of thousands of metal sculptures, plaques, and carvings manufactured between the 15th and 19th centuries that were looted from the West African kingdom of Benin, in modern-day Nigeria’s Edo state, by British forces in 1897. The sculptures have spiritual and historical importance for the inhabitants of that part of Nigeria, and their theft continues to be a source of pain for descendants of the ancient Benin kingdom.
Baerbock said the repatriation of the artifacts was part of attempts to cope with Germany’s “sad colonial heritage”. She went on to say that it was a chance to right some of the wrongs of the past. “Officials from my nation once purchased the bronzes despite the fact that they had been taken and stolen. For a long time after that, we disregarded Nigeria’s request to repatriate them. It was both wrong to take them and wrong to keep them “According to Baerbock.
Many of the Benin Bronzes were sold at auctions in London, and some were purchased by German collectors. Germany has been retaining around 1,100 of the estimated 5,000 Benin Bronzes stolen. Others can be found in the archives of UK institutions, such as the British Museum, which has the greatest single collection of about 900 artifacts. The British Museum is unable to repatriate the artifacts according to a parliamentary act.
Last month, the Horniman Museum in London, a private charity, returned hundreds of artifacts, including the Benin Bronzes, to Nigerian ownership, making it the first museum in the UK to do so. The National Commission for Institutions and Monuments of Nigeria has submitted formal repatriation requests to museums worldwide. The government intends to open the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City in 2026, housing the world’s greatest collection of Benin Bronzes.
Germany ruled sections of West, East, and Southern Africa throughout the colonial era until the end of World War One. Germany formally admitted to perpetrating genocide during its colonization of Namibia last year. Germany has just repatriated human remains to Namibia, some of which were used in now-discredited racial categorization studies. The repatriation of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria is an important step toward recognizing and correcting historical wrongs.