The Horniman to return its 72 Benin bronzes to Nigeria

Image: Oku'Oba (Oba's Emissary) - Horniman Museums & Gardens

Following a formal request at the start of the year, the museum’s Board has agreed to return the items to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museum and Monuments.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens’ Board of Trustees has made a decision to return ownership of its 72 Benin bronzes to Nigeria, following a formal request for their return.

Ownership of the objects, which the Museum established were forcibly removed from Benin City during the British military incursion in 1897, will be transferred to the Nigerian government.

The collection includes 12 brass plaques, known publicly as Benin bronzes. Other objects include a brass cockerel altar piece, ivory and brass ceremonial objects, brass bells, everyday items such as fans and baskets, and a key ‘to the king’s palace’.

Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments requested the return of the items in January 2022. The museum has since undertaken research of its objects from Benin to establish which are in the scope of the request.

The Horniman has also consulted with community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals and artists based in Nigeria and the UK. All of their views on the future of the Benin objects were considered, alongside the provenance of the objects.

Prof Abba Tijani, Director-General of NCMM welcomed the decision.

Tijani said: “Following the endorsement by the Charity Commission, we look forward to a productive discussion on loan agreements and collaborations between the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and the Horniman.”

Eve Salomon, Chair of the Trustees of the Horniman Museum and Gardens added: “The evidence is very clear that these objects were acquired through force, and external consultation supported our view that it is both moral and appropriate to return their ownership to Nigeria.

“The Horniman is pleased to be able to take this step and we look forward to working with the NCMM to secure longer term care for these precious artefacts.”

The Charity Commission, as the regulator of the charitable sector, endorsed the decision of the Horniman trustees last week.

The Horniman said it will now discuss with NCMM the process for the formal transfer of ownership, and the possibility of retaining some objects on loan for display, research and education.

Last month the Horniman was named Art Fund’s Museum of the Year 2022.