London’s Horniman Museum and Gardens has announced its plans to return 72 treasured artifacts that British soldiers stole in an 1897 attack on Benin city back to the Nigerian government. To this day, as many as 10,000 objects originally taken from Benin remain scattered among 165 different museums and private art collections around the world. The Horniman has the largest share with a total of 900 items, according to The Guardian.
The museum’s board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of the transfer, which will mark the first time a government-sponsored institution has returned any of the Benin objects looted over a century ago.
“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, according to NPR.
Pressure began to mount in 2020 after a group of activists added the Horniman Museum to an online list titled “Topple the Racists” that identified institutions with deep ties to colonialism. The board soon engaged London’s Nigerian community in an official consultation.
In January, Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments – responsible for the preservation of the country’s historic properties – formally requested the return of its treasured objects, including a dozen brass plaques known as the “Benin bronzes” that date back to at least the 16th century and were used to adorn Benin’s royal court. The 72 artifacts transferred from the Horniman will be stored in Nigeria’s Edo Museum of West African Art, which is scheduled to open in 2025.