Nigeria Calls for Immediate Repatriation of Benin Bronzes From British Museum After Recent Thefts


Nigerian officials are reinforcing their demands for the return of the Benin Bronzes from the British Museum after a revelation of thefts and mismanagement within the renowned institution. The controversy began when it was discovered that a former museum employee was behind the theft of numerous artefacts, igniting a storm of criticism and scrutiny.

Abba Isa Tijani, director of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, expressed disbelief at the British Museum’s previous claims that the Benin Bronzes wouldn’t be safe in Nigeria. He stated, “It’s shocking to hear that the countries and museums that have been telling us that the Benin Bronzes would not be secure in Nigeria, have thefts happening there.”

The heart of the matter revolves around the Benin Bronzes, intricately designed brass and bronze artifacts dating back to the 16th century. These treasured items were taken from the West African kingdom of Benin, now part of modern-day Nigeria, by British forces in 1897. The British Museum boasts a significant collection of these artifacts, with over 900 objects and over 100 displayed in its galleries.

Tijani, along with other Nigerian officials, stresses that these artifacts were illicitly obtained and need to be returned to their rightful communities in Nigeria. He added, “It is irrespective whether they are safe there…The issue is that these are stolen artifacts.”

The museum’s strained relationship with Nigeria has been in the spotlight, especially since it received an official repatriation request from Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Information and Culture in October 2021. Hannatu Musawa, Nigeria’s newly appointed minister of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, intends to reinforce these demands by directly requesting the artifacts’ return.

The situation has amplified international concerns over the security and management of priceless artifacts. Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni also raised questions about the Parthenon Marbles’ safety, another contentious group of artifacts, highlighting broader concerns over the British Museum’s handling of its collections.

This incident serves as a poignant reminder of the complex historical and ethical issues surrounding stolen artifacts and the ongoing dialogue about their rightful place in the modern world.

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