Artefacts looted by British soldiers from the Kingdom of Benin (in present-day Nigeria) during the Benin Invasion of 1897 are to be returned to Nigeria but only for three years after which they will be flown back to the British Museum which currently encloses some of the most valuable Benin artefacts in the whole of Europe.
An agreement between the Benin Dialogue Group (BDG) and the British Museum in London, reached in October 2018, indicates that “some of the most iconic pieces” will be sent to Nigeria for an exhibition at the Benin Royal Museum in Edo State for just three years and then be returned to the British Museum where they have been on display for decades.
“The key agenda item (at the October meeting) was how partners can work together to establish a museum in Benin City with a rotation of Benin works of art from a consortium of European museums,” the spokesman of the British Museum said. He added: “The museums in attendance have all agreed to lend artefacts to the Benin Royal Museum on a rotating basis, to provide advice as requested on building and exhibition design, and to cooperate with the Nigerian partners in developing training, funding, and a legal framework for the display in a new planned museum.”
The sluggish move by the British Museum to return the stolen artefacts to Nigeria was hastened up by the announcement made by French President Emmanuel Macron that his country will return 26 artefacts looted from the kingdom of Dahomey during the second Franco-Dahomean war of 1892. The statement was made a few months after Macron announced that a commission had been set up to look into the issue of returning looted artefacts to their rightful African countries during a joint press appearance with the President of Benin, Patrice Talon.
The announcement by France that the artefacts should be returned “without delay” has sparked discussions about the return of all African artefacts in European museums, especially with information that the U.K. had decided in October to return Nigerian artefacts on a temporary basis.
The exact type and numbers of artefacts that will be returned to Nigeria for the agreed period of three years is still unknown but the committees are set to meet in 2019 in Nigeria to discuss the agreement in detail.
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