Germany has signed an agreement with Nigeria to return ownership of over 500 looted Benin bronze artifacts.
The deal signed by the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage and Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments on Thursday will see almost a third of the artifacts remain in German museums on loan, while the rest will be returned to Nigeria starting later this year.
“This represents the future concerning artefacts issue; a future of collaboration among museums, a future of according respect and dignity to the legitimate requests of other nations and traditional institutions,” said Abba Isa Tijani, director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
German Culture Minister Claudia Roth echoed similar views, adding that “further agreements to return such collections will follow over the coming months.”
“This return will serve as an example for all museums in Germany which hold collections from colonial contexts,” she said.
The pieces are sophisticated plaques and sculptures made of bronze, an important genre of art dating back to the 13th century.
The artifacts were stolen from the Kingdom of Benin, located in modern-day Nigeria, by British soldiers in 1897 and ended up in museums all over Europe. Thousands of objects were also shipped to London as war booty and sold.
For decades, European countries have been under pressure from campaigners and former colonies to return looted artifacts.
Some experts estimate that 80-90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is currently in European museums.
Berlin’s Humboldt Forum has been at the center of a debate surrounding the colonial-era items – some 20,000 African and Asian artifacts – in its exhibition halls.
France also signed a deal last year to start repatriating some artifacts stolen during its colonial rule over the West African country of Benin.