Government of Germany has accepted to return works of art allegedly stolen from the ancient Benin Kingdom to Nigeria.
The first batch of the artefacts, majority of which were looted during the colonial era will finally be returned to Nigeria in 2022.
The development was announced by the German government.
The CNN reported that the announcement was made in a joint declaration published on Thursday; by Germany’s Ministry of Culture, state ministers and museum directors committed to substantive returns of Benin bronzes to Nigeria.
The artworks made of bronze, brass and ivory were looted by the British army in a raid on the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria in 1897.
Thereafter, the precious artworks were distributed across the world; with many of them ending up in a number of museums in Germany.
Nigeria, has called for the restitution of the looted artefacts, while Governor of Edo State, has doubled down on efforts to restore the artworks; which were a pride of the ancient Benin Kingdom. The government is currently finalizing plans for the construction of a world class museum to hold the restored artefacts.
CNN notes that Germany has received significant accolades for its action. The medium quotes Osaisonor Godfrey Ekhator-Obogie, a historian and researcher at Nigeria’s Institute for Benin Studies; who hailed the decision by the German government.
“Other European nations should be willing and open to acknowledge that all objects looted in 1897 belong to the Benin people,” he stated in an email to CNN. “Like Germany, they too should initiate or join the dialogue to discuss the future of these objects. This decision was a truce with parties, not a win-win or winner takes it all. I will tell my children about this historic moment,” he disclosed.
In a statement, Germany’s Culture Minister, Monika Grütters, also hailed the move as one in the right direction.
“We face a historic and moral responsibility to shine a light on Germany’s colonial past. We would like to contribute to an understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of the people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the colonial era.”
In addition to identifying plans for the safe return of the first batch of artefacts; the declaration by Germany will also include a roadmap to guide additional restitution. Furthermore, museums in possession of Benin bronzes are required to establish and document their provenance. Those details are to be to be published on a new website which will serve as an information resource; as well as a point of contact for restitution claims relating to any German “collections from colonial contexts.”
CNN says parties to the agreement have pledged to work with Nigerian partners; including the Legacy Restoration Trust, which is leading the development of the new Edo Museum for West African Art in Edo State.
Germany’s landmark decision follows a visit by a German government delegation to Nigeria in March. At the end of the visit, the Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas reportedly made the call for restitution.
The delegation was hosted by Governor Obaseki who expressed his wish to see international cooperation go beyond the return of objects.
“We believe that our collaboration should transcend to not only returning the works but also understanding the significant and meaning of those works from our history,” he said.
Also, Germany has reportedly committed to supplying expertise and funding for the new museum. It also recently launched a “knowledge-exchange” platform for collaboration between German and African museums.
CNN says the bronzes have come to be regarded as among the finest artworks produced in Africa; with individual pieces sold for millions of dollars at auction.