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Germany returns looted Benin Bronzes to Nigeria

At a ceremony in Abuja, Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock returned 22 artifacts looted in the nineteenth century to Nigeria.

The handovers are the clearest indication yet of increased momentum in the return of artifacts looted from Africa by Europeans during the colonial period. Last year, Germany agreed to begin returning Benin Bronzes kept in its museums.

The German accord calls for the return of 1,100 artifacts from institutions with the largest collections of Benin bronzes, including ethnological museums in Berlin, Stuttgart, Cologne, Leipzig, and Hamburg. After the British Museum, Berlin’s Ethnological Museum holds the greatest collection of Benin bronzes in Europe.

The handover was attended by Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and Information Minister Lai Mohammed, as well as Germany’s Minister for Culture and Media Claudia Roth and museum directors from Germany.

According to Nigerian officials, some of the Benin Bronze artifacts had been in German custody for nearly two centuries, with others in private collections and casinos.

Thousands of metal castings and sculptures were seized by British soldiers during a raid on the then-separate Kingdom of Benin in 1897.

The Bronzes were auctioned off and sent to institutions ranging from New Zealand to Germany and the United States, with the largest collection located in London.

The returns are likely to put more strain on the British Museum in London, which houses by far the largest and most important collection of Benin Bronzes.

Nigeria’s communications minister has urged the British Museum to release the over 900 Benin Bronzes it possesses.