The fate of the collection of Benin Bronzes Germany recently returned to Nigeria is up to Abuja, the foundation that manages Berlin’s state museums said Sunday after outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari handed the artefacts over to a traditional leader.
“The return of ownership rights to Nigeria is not in doubt as a result,” Hermann Parzinger, the president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, said about the move.
He explained that Germany’s decision to return the artefacts was based on the fact that they had originally been seized by “violent looting,” adding that “this context of injustice has always been undisputed.”
The Nigerian government was free to decide on the bronzes’ future, “as returns are not linked to conditions,” Parzinger stressed.
Last December, Germany returned 20 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in a ceremony in Abuja. The artefacts were held in Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Stuttgart and Dresden/Leipzig museums.
Around 20 German museums held a collection of more than 1,100 artefacts looted from the palace of the Kingdom of Benin, part of modern-day Nigeria, during a punitive expedition conducted by British troops in 1897.
Parzinger said he had no doubt that the returned bronzes would be displayed in a museum and that much of the German collection would remain in Berlin on long-term loan.
His comments came after Nigeria’s outgoing President, Buhari, announced the artefacts would be handed over to the Oba of Benin, a traditional ruler of Nigeria’s Edo people.
Parzinger noted that there was still no clarity regarding the legality of Buhari’s decision, as the role of Nigeria’s National Commission of Museum and Monuments, to which the artefacts had been returned, had not been mentioned. He said there would be a new government following elections, and the role of the oba had still to be clarified.