Nigeria welcomes UK move to return looted artefacts

Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments has welcomed a decision by British curators to return artefacts that were looted in the 19th Century, from what was then the Kingdom of Benin.

A legal adviser to the commission, Babatunde Adebiyi, told the BBC he hoped some of the 72 objects would be on display in Nigeria later this year.

On Sunday, the Horniman Museum in London said it was both moral and appropriate to give the items back. They include brass plaques, known as Benin bronzes, and a key to the king’s palace.

Mr Adebiyi said agreements had also been reached with American museums and Glasgow City council for looted artefacts to be returned to Nigeria this year.

British police were keeping a stolen statue worth millions of dollars in their custody as a dispute raged between a Belgian antiques dealer and a Nigerian museum over its ownership, wrote Barnaby Phillips.

The 24th of January 2017 was a cold, foggy day in London. At midday, John Axfordof the auctioneers, Woolley and Wallis, was in his office in upmarket Mayfairwaiting to meet a visitor from Belgium who wanted to show him a sculpture. “He produced this particularly beautiful piece,” said Mr Axford.

It was a bronze cast head, which Mr Axford recognised as coming from Ife, a Yoruba kingdom in what was today south-western Nigeria. Original Ife bronze heads, of which only some 20 survived, were thought to be about 700 years old.

They were cast in thin metal with great skill, and were strikingly lifelike, amongst the most magnificent sculptures ever made in sub-Saharan Africa. “This kind just does not turn up commercially,” said Mr Axford.

But the sculpture had a hole by the left eye, which matched the description of a head reportedstolen by the United Nations (UN)’s cultural organisation, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

“I realised we had a problem,” said Mr Axford. “If it was legal, it would have been worth £20m ($24.5m). I told the man it was a wonderful piece, but we can’t sell it. We had to give it to the police.” The man left. Mr Axford, afraid to let the sculpture out of his sight, slept with it at his bedside.  -BBC

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