(Bloomberg) — Germany is returning 20 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria more than a century after they were looted by British colonists, a step described by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock as long overdue.
In a statement issued in Berlin on Sunday before her departure for Abuja, Baerbock said she would hand over the artifacts from German museums in a ceremony on Tuesday.
“That will not heal all wounds of the past. But together with the federal states, cities and museums, we are showing that Germany is serious about coming to terms with its dark colonial history,” she said.
The return of the objects will allow schoolchildren, scientists and the general public in Nigeria to finally see stolen art treasures in their own country and no longer only from afar, in books and on the internet, Baerbock said.
The so-called Benin Bronzes are a collection of about 3,000 sculptures and other objects, some of which are several centuries old. The artifacts adorned the palace of the former Kingdom of Benin which was attacked by British colonists in 1897.
They were brought to Europe and later sold off in London to recoup the costs of the military mission. The artifacts ended up scattered around the world, including in museums in Britain, other European countries and the US as well as in private collections. There are about 1,000 objects in Germany alone.
“This coming to terms with colonial injustice also opens a new chapter in deeper cooperation with Nigeria,” Baerbock said. With a population of more than 210 million, it’s the largest democracy in Africa. Baerbock lauded Nigeria’s important role in regional EC OW organization and the African Union, but also as a key provider of troops in UN peacekeeping missions.
Nigeria is still a major CO2 emitter and exporter of fossil fuels, Baerbock noted, and Germany wants to work closely with the country on the global challenge of containing the climate crisis.
“The government’s plans for an energy transition are all the more important,” she added.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art returned 29 Benin Bronzes to Nigeria in October under the US institution’s new ethical returns policy.