Amidst applause and handshakes, the government of Germany on Tuesday officially handed over 22 stolen Benin Bronzes to Nigeria.
The artefacts were looted from Nigeria in the colonial era and about 125 years later have found their way back to their home in what is meant to right the wrong of colonialists.
“We are here to return the Benin Bronzes to where they belong- to the people of Nigeria. We are here to right a wrong; officials from my country once bought the bronzes knowing that they have been stolen…” Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, said at the event in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
The 22 are part of the total 1130 bronzes held in Germany which the European country promised to return.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, returned with two in July after the signing of the agreement for the return of these artefacts and another 20 were brought back by the German delegation currently visiting Nigeria.
Speaking at the handover ceremony held in Abuja, Ms Baerbock remarked that it was not just wrong to take them but also wrong to keep them. She described the stealing of the artefacts as a story in which Germany played a dark role in causing tremendous suffering in different parts of Africa.
Nigeria and Germany in July signed an agreement for the return of the bronzes in Berlin.
However, Ms Baerbock noted that as part of the agreement, some of the bronzes will remain in Germany on loan for Germans and the world to appreciate Nigeria’s cultural heritage.
Echoing his German counterpart, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, said, “…while we say yes, it belongs to us and it is rightfully ours and should be where it belongs. Nevertheless, we will share them with the world because for us, it is a common human asset and this is our worldview that we all come from the same origins and have so much to share.”
He added that this should serve as an example to other countries of the world that we have nothing to fear from each other as we are the same people with the same destiny and so much to share and enjoy together.
Tuesday’s return is the largest number of bronzes returned at the same time since the repatriation of stolen artefacts commenced.
In his remarks, Mr Mohammed commended the German government for staying true to their words.
He noted that as a result of the repatriation from Germany, negotiations with other nations, institutions and museums for the repatriation of the Benin Bronzes in their possession became swifter.
Mr Mohammed called on the British Museum to release the more than 900 Benin Bronzes in its hold. He said last year, Nigeria submitted an official letter to the British Museum demanding the return of Nigerian artefacts in the museum but has received no reply.
“I visited in July this year hoping that the success recorded with the Germans will nudge the British Museum to do what is right. But I met a brick wall,” he said.
Mr Mohammed demanded that “the British Museum and all those holding on to our artefacts must understand that repatriation is a cause which time has come. They must also understand that many of these cultural objects are not mere art to us but the true essence of our being. They are not mere decorative works but our culture and heritage. They belong here, not anywhere else!”
He added that Nigeria is not only seeking the return of Benin Bronzes but all Nigerian antiquities that were illegally or illicitly exported.
“It is upon returning these artefacts that true justice will be seen to have been done,” he said.
The UK government, as well as museums in the UK and the US, had earlier this year returned some artefacts stolen from Nigeria during the colonial era.
The Buhari administration has repeatedly called on Western governments to return all such stolen artefacts.
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