German authorities say it is making plans to return the artefacts known as the Benin bronzes that are held in its museums to Nigeria from next year.
According to report, colonial expedition by British soldiers seized thousands of metal castings and sculptures in 1897 during a raid on the Kingdom of Benin, then separate from British-ruled Nigeria.
The “bronzes” – actually copper alloy relief sculptures, many showing court figures – were auctioned off and then spread among institutions from New Zealand to Germany and the United States, with the biggest collection in London.
Report has it too that in recent years, calls have grown louder to return what was stolen, fuelled partly by a decolonisation movement sweeping across Europe.
German Culture Minister Monika Gruetters , in a statement jointly signed with the foreign ministry and German Museums on Thursday said that they are confronting their historic and moral responsibility .
The statement said they want to contribute to a common understanding and reconciliation with the descendants of the people who were robbed of their cultural treasures during the times of colonialism, while noting that the first returns are planned for next year.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, meanwhile, welcomed a deal reached with museums and authorities in Nigeria to work on a restitution plan for a “substantial” number of artefacts, calling it a “turning point in dealing with the colonial history
An historian,Prof Juergen Zimmerer of Global History at the Umivery of Hamburg, welcomed the plans, but said there is neither a precise time plan nor an unconditional commitment to restitute all looted artefacts.
He also noted it was not yet clear how many objects will be returned, or whether there will be any recognition of the efforts by civil society groups that had called for the restitution.
Report has it that the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin has more than 500 historical artefacts from the Kingdom of Benin in its collections, mostly bronzes.
Last month, the University of Aberdeen in Scotland became one of the first public institutions to agree to the unconditional return of a plundered bronze.
The British Museum, which holds hundreds of the sculptures, has alongside several other museums formed a Benin Dialogue Group to discuss displaying them in Benin City, some officially on loan.
Plans are under way in Nigeria’s Edo state, of which Benin City is the capital, to build a centre to store and study the returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025.
The National Museum of Ireland is also working towards the return of stolen artefacts. The Church of England, which did not participate in the looting but was gifted two bronze busts in 1982, has also signalled it would repatriate them.