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Nigeria eyes return of 96 Benin bronzes from Germany

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The Federal Government has expressed confidence about the return of 96 Benin bronzes stashed in Cologne, Germany back to Nigeria.

The government said the Benin cultural properties, forcibly taken by the British Colonial forces barely 125 years ago, shall be returned to their rightful home.

Ambassador of Nigeria to Germany, Yusuf Tuggar, spoke at the “Missing, Giving Back and Remembering Exhibition” in the historic city of Cologne, Germany.

The envoy said the return of the Benin bronzes promised to catalyse the colonial healing process like no other before, because of the exceptional nature of how they were acquired.

Tuggar said: “In the same vein, Nigeria remains confident that the 96 pieces in Cologne from the Benin cultural properties forcibly taken by British Colonial forces barely 125 years ago, shall be returned to their rightful home.

“The return of the Benin bronzes promises to catalyse the colonial healing process like no other before, because of the exceptional nature of how they were acquired. Unlike many other stolen cultural properties that were taken from archaeological dig sites, here is an open-and-shut case of a colonial power with superior weapons sacking and pillaging a city, killing its citizens, and even taking pictures with the looted items- the modern equivalent of sending a postcard back home. Even the Oba of Benin was not spared; he was taken away the same way the bronzes were.”

He added: “It is our fervent hope that the return would also become a salubrious genesis for a re-examination of the teleology of museums as a whole, particularly ethnological and archaeological museums that could do with ontological adjustments in the 21st century. The debate around restitution and colonial reappraisal has recharged cultural diplomacy around the world, with Germany and Nigeria as role models.”

The envoy said Nigeria was pleased with the progress made in the negotiations with both the German government and museums and looked forward to signing agreements for their return with both in the very near future.

The ambassador added: “I would like to single out the City of Cologne and the Rautenstrasuch-Joest-Museum for a special thank you for supporting the cause of restitution. Both truly have a deep understanding of their place in history. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the tenacity of people like Professor Peju Layiwola, who remained resolute in their push for restitution.”

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