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Nigeria demands unconditional return of stolen artefacts from Germany


Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, has demanded a full and unconditional return of the 1,130 Benin bronzes looted in the 19th Century and domiciled in German museums.

The single largest collection of the artefacts is held by the British Museum, but about 1,130 of them have ended up in German museums in Hamburg, Cologne, Stuttgart, Leipzig and Dresden.

At least 440 are kept within the collection of Berlin’s Ethnological Museum, and were due to go on display this autumn at the Humboldt Forum, a newly opened museum of non-European art in the city centre.

The minister, who made the demand in Berlin, Germany, on Wednesday, during separate meetings with the German Minister of State for Culture, Prof. Monika Grutters and the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, was reacting to comments by Grutters that the European nation was ready to make ‘substantial return’ of the stolen artefacts.

The German had stated after museum experts and political leaders struck an agreement at a summit on Thursday, April 29, 2021 that Germany was to become the first country to hand back the Benin bronzes held in its museums to Nigeria from next year. The first objects to be handed over in 2022.

Mohammed, who led the Nigerian delegation to the talks, said the return should be whole rather than substantial, adding that the issue of provenance, which has to do with the place of origin of the artefacts, should not be allowed to unduly delay the repatriation of the art works.

“That they are known as Benin Bronzes is already a confirmation of their source of origin (which is Benin),” he said. At a meeting with the German minister, the culture minister said there should be “absolutely no conditions attached” to the return of the artefacts, which he described as an idea whose time has come.

Mohammed commended the German government for taking the lead in the global effort to repatriate all looted artefacts to their destinations on the African continent.


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