Nigeria’s President Buhari has ordered the return of looted artefacts to their original owners, including the Benin Bronzes, taken by British colonialists in the 19th century. However, a dispute has arisen as to who exactly the owners are, with the current Oba of Benin claiming that he should be the sole recipient of the treasures. Nigerian officials have developed other options, including building a new museum in Benin City to display the returned items. Despite the confusion around the announcement, museum administrators have not regretted the decision to give back the bronzes, with many viewing them as colonial loot that should be returned like any stolen property.
As reported in a recent article by The New York Times, the ownership of the Benin Bronzes, a collection of bronze sculptures taken from Nigeria during colonial times, has become a contentious issue. While several Western museums have agreed to return the artifacts to Nigeria, the Nigerian government has recently declared that the Benin Bronzes are the sole property of the country’s current Oba, or king.
The controversy began in 1897, when British forces invaded the Kingdom of Benin, located in what is now southern Nigeria. The British looted thousands of artworks and artifacts, including the Benin Bronzes, which were then sold to museums and private collectors around the world. In recent years, there has been growing pressure on museums to return the sculptures to Nigeria, where they are seen as symbols of the country’s cultural heritage.
Several museums, including the British Museum and the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, have agreed to return some of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. However, the Nigerian government’s recent declaration that the artifacts belong solely to the Oba has thrown a wrench into the process. The Oba has stated that anyone working with the trust set up to oversee the return of the sculptures is “an enemy.”
To overcome the Oba’s opposition, Nigerian officials have developed other options. In March, the director general of the Nigerian museum commission announced plans to build a royal museum in Benin City to display the returned items. However, President Buhari’s recent announcement that the Benin Bronzes are the sole property of the Oba has caused confusion and uncertainty around the return process.
While the situation is complicated, many museum administrators believe that the Benin Bronzes should be returned to Nigeria. Barbara Plankensteiner, the director of the Museum am Rothenbaum in Hamburg, Germany, has stated that the sculptures are “colonial loot” and should be returned like any stolen property. She believes that it is up to Nigeria to decide what happens to the items in its possession, not former colonial powers.
Despite the challenges, the return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria remains an important issue. The sculptures hold great cultural and historical significance for the people of Nigeria, and their return would be a step towards acknowledging the country’s colonial past and promoting cultural equity. While the process may be complex, it is important that museums and governments work together to ensure that the Benin Bronzes are returned to their rightful home.