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Nigeria calls for return of Benin Bronzes

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By Mercy Kelani

This happened after a theft incident at the British Museum where they are kept.

After the theft of thousands of items from the British Museum, Nigeria has began another call for the return of hundreds of stolen Benin Bronzes. More than 8 million objects make up the total collection of the museum, but only about 80,000 items are usually on public display at once. The renowned tourist attraction, after some items got stolen, damaged or went missing, has launched an independent review of security. These items were kept in a storeroom owned by one of the collections of the museum.

Also, the theft has caused the dismissal of a member of staff as the Museum is fully prepared to take legal action against this staff member. Also, an investigation is being conducted by the Met’s Economic Crime Command. Director of Nigeria National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abba Isa Tijani, stated that it is quite surprising that countries and museums that have asserted that the Benin Bronzes would lack security in Nigeria are experiencing thefts in their space.

These items were taken out of the country illegally and have to be returned.

According to Mr. Tijani, the Benin Collection is described as “the subject of loot”. He made his statement asserting that the items were taken out of the country illegally and they have to be returned. He affirmed that this must happen whether or not they are secure there as it is not a problem. The concern remains that the stolen artefacts sent back to Nigeria, precisely to the communities that own them. The pillaged historical artefacts stolen by British troops in 1897 have also received increasing calls for their return.

In 2022, the British Museum stated its plan to lend their looted Benin Bronzes collection. However, it did not state whether or not these artefacts will be sent back to Africa for good. It was also disclosed by the museum that it possesses approximately 300 historic photographs and 928 objects that have certain connections with the Benin Kingdom. The Museum was reached out to for clarifications as to whether or not items from this collection were missing or damaged but the museum refused to comment during police investigation.

None of the stolen items have been on public display recently.

The museum affirmed that majority of the items that were looted were small pieces that were stored in a storeroom that belongs to one of the museum’s collections. These items include gems of semi-precious stones, gold jewelry, and glass that has been in existence since the 15th century BC and 19th century AD. None of these items have been on public display in recent times as they have been kept majorly for research and academic purposes. Reports have it that some of the items have been sold on eBay and may never be retrieved.

Director of the British Museum, Hartwig Fisher, said that the incident is very unusual, affirming that himself and his colleagues ensure serious protection of every item in their care. Nevertheless, the museum is sorry for the incident and has put an end to it. Also, the museum and its members of staff are determined to make things right. The security arrangements of the tourist attraction has been tightened as it has also collaborated with experts from outside.

90 percent of the cultural heritage of Africa are kept in Europe.

With this partnership, there will be a definitive account of every item that is either missing, damaged or stolen. In 2022, last year, the museum said that their Benin Collection is massive and includes 189 brass plaques or fragments, 12 pieces of coral regalia, about 100 ivory tusks and armlets, and a good number of sculptural works in brass or bronze casting. According to French art historians, it was estimated that about 90 percent of the cultural heritage of Africa are kept in Europe.

Related Link

British Museum: Website

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