24.08.2022 Feature Article

How Far Have We Gone In The Struggle For The Restitution Of African Artefacts?

How Far Have We Gone In The Struggle For The Restitution Of African Artefacts?
24.08.2022 LISTEN

The exhibition is showcasing some of the works that made Benin (Nigeria) famous. It once again, reminds the world of a civilisation truncated by the imperial forces of the colonialist. The works on show at this exhibition are some of the 3000 odd pieces of bronze and ivory works forcibly removed from my great grandfather’s palace by some Britons who invaded Benin in 1897. The British kept some of the loot for themselves and sold the rest to European and American buyers. These works now adorn public museums and private collector’s galleries, all over the world.

‘We are pleased to participate in this exhibition. It links us, nostalgically, with our past. As you put this past on show today, it is our prayer that the people and government of Austria will show humaneness and magnanimity and return to us some of these objects which found their way to your country.”

Omo N’Oba Erediauwa CFR, Oba of Benin (1)

We have come a long way from 2007 when Oba Erediauwa pleaded for humanness and benevolence to the Austrian authorities to return some of the Benin artifacts looted by the British in 1897. When the Royal Benin Delegation proposed that each of the Western museums present at the Symposium, organized in connection with the exhibition, Benin-Kings and Rituals-Court Arts from Nigeria, return each an object, the Western museums stated in clear, unmistakable terms that this was impossible. Now, 15 years later, Germany has agreed to return 1130 artefacts to Benin, Nigeria. We started our campaign for the restitution of the Benin treasures after this resounding refusal in 2007. Many thought we were wasting our time, for they believed the Europeans would never agree to return what they had stolen with such brutal force. But what happened between 2007 and 2022?

From 2007 on, from the exhibition Benin-Kings and Royals-Court Arts from Nigeria, the debate ignited by the magnificent exhibition attracted public attention. Neil MacGregor, the Director, British Museum, London, James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago, and Philippe de Montebello, Director, Metropolitan Museum of Arts, New York, defended as much as possible the so-called universal museums and their right and duty to keep looted African treasures. (2) Others, such as the present writer, vigorously challenged this imperialistic conception and vehemently claimed the return of looted artifacts to their countries of origin as required by various resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and UNESCO since 1973. (3)

In 2011 Italy, through the threat of legal action, obliged several US museums, including the Metropolitan Museum, to restitute antiquities looted from Italy. (4) A Getty senior curator, Marion True, was even jailed in Italy for a while. (5) By 2016, it had become clear that there was a need to settle the issue of looted African objects as demanded by African governments since their Independence in 1960.

In 2017. Macron made a historic speech at Ouagadougou in which he declared that African artefacts must be seen not only in Paris but also in Cotonou, Dakar, and Lagos. He promised to ensure that within five years, he would establish conditions for returning African objects from French museums as temporary or permanent restitution. (6) The declaration unsettled many Western museums and cultural institutions.

In 2018 Macron requested Bénédicte Savoy and Felwine Sarr to examine the possibilities of restituting African treasures and make concrete recommendations. In 2019 Sarr and Savoy presented their report to Macron recommending restitution of objects taken without consent of the African owners. (7) The recommendation shook Western Museum directors. Following criticisms of the report and some delaying tactics and arguments, many States and museums saw the need for restitution. (8)

In 2022, France returned twenty-six objects to Benin and two to Senegal. (9) Since President Macron’s party lost its absolute majority in the French parliament in 2022, it will be complicated to rush through legislation for restitution as was discussed and planned. However, is this loss, a disaster for restitution? With this new situation, there will be more discussions in political circles that will enable the full implications of the links between restitution and colonialism to become apparent to all.

As was evident to French President Macron, the twenty-six treasures restituted to the Republic of Benin in November 2021 were not enough when we consider that France is holding six thousand Benin treasures in Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques-Chirac. When the French President visited Benin in July 2022, Benin authorities requested more restitution, specifically the sculpture of Gou, the god of iron and war. But the quest for the return of Gou will be a long-drawn-out battle since the French think that African treasures that look extremely modernistic such as the sculpture of Gou are more French than African and should stay in Paris under one pretext or other. They consciously or unconsciously reverse the historic imitation of African art by modern French artists such as Picasso. Pablo Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire admired the Gou statue. (10)

There is less enthusiasm for restitution in Great Britain. One object from Aberdeen University and another one from Jesus College, Cambridge, have been returned to Benin, Nigeria Glasgow Life, the cultural trust, which oversees Glasgow’s museums on behalf of the city council, has been holding talks recently with a delegation from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) about the return of 19 Benin objects. (11)

However, major British museums such as the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum have not shown any substantial modification in their negative position. A recent statement by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the British Museum, George Osborne, has led some to believe that changes may be coming. (12) Osborne declared that a deal should be possible between Britain and Greece but did not elaborate further. We remain skeptical, for these museums and their officials are past experts in using language that gives some hope without any concrete suggestion, which usually turns out to have been an illusionary understanding by supporters of restitution.

Tristram Hunt, Director of Victoria and Albert Museum, has called for a legislation change to enable restitution. In his recent book, A monde nouveau, nouveaux musées, Neil Macgregor, former Director of the British Museum, stated that nineteenth-century assumptions of Western superiority had been questioned. The museums must, therefore, also change their structures and narratives. For a new world, there must be new museums. The Times has also called for the restitution of Parthenon Marbles. (13)

We wait till assured that the games the British Museum and Government have been playing for the last eighty years have been abandoned and that the major museums of the British Isles are prepared to advance with other Western museums in restitution matters.

The British Museum continues to offer empty words when questioned about restitution. (14)

Despite the resistance of the British Government and the British Museum to any changes in their restitution policies, there are increasing signs that more persons and institutions are embracing the new wave of restitution. The University of Cambridge, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Oxford University, Pitt Rivers Museum, are organizing the restitution of 213 looted objects to Benin, Nigeria. (15) This would contribute significantly to weakening resistance to restitution, at least from the ideological and intellectual points of view.

The British Museum and the British Government cannot resist for ever calls for restitution of looted African treasures when the institutions that have produced for centuries the British elite, whether for the government or British cultural institutions, have embraced the new attitude. Conversion may take some time but is clearly on its way. We should remember that the retention of looted treasures of conquered peoples has always been a significant and visible aspect of the hegemony of the British empire.

Predictably, shortly after the announcement of the decisions of Cambridge and Oxford universities regarding the return of Benin bronzes, the Deputy Director of the British Museum, Jonathan Williams, was reported as seeking ‘dynamic and positive conversation’ with Greece over the Parthenon sculptures. The Director has proposed a “Parthenon partnership” with Greece that could result in the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens. In an interview with the Sunday Times Culture magazine, Williams is reported as follows: “What we are calling for is an active ‘Parthenon partnership’ with our friends and colleagues in Greece. I firmly believe there is space for a really dynamic and positive conversation within which new ways of working together can be found.The British Museum has however, issued a statement declaring: “We will loan the sculptures, as we do many other objects, to those who wish to display them to other public around the world, provided they will look after them and return them.”

The British Museum continues to describe the Parthenon sculptures as an integral part of the British Museum collections. Once again, the officials of the British Museum have proved to be experts in the use of the English language to convey first the imminence of a transfer of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece and, in the following or same sentence, indicate they have no intention of abandoning their illegal holding. We are left believing in either the first part of the statement or the second part. Incidentally, the Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum, George Osborne, and the Deputy Director of the British Museum, Jonathan Williams, have spoken on the question of the return of the Parthenon Marbles. Noticeably, Hartwig Fischer, the current Director of the British Museum, who once declared that the removal of the Parthenon Marbles by Lord Elgin was a creative act, has not spoken recently on this issue. All the British Museum wants now, as the Deputy Director said in the interview with The Sunday Times Culture magazine, is to change the debate’s temperature. The pressure is becoming too much for the venerable museum in Bloomsbury.

The Arts Council England (ACE) issued on 5th August 2022 its long-awaited guidance on restitution, Restitution, and Reparation: A Practical Guide for Museums in England. The publication guides and empowers museums to take proactive action in a spirit of transparency, collaboration, and fairness, qualities that sit at the heart of this guidance.’ The new guidelines do not offer any radical change in existing policies, and the museums can continue as they have been doing, governed by their existing laws and regulations. (16)

The Horniman Museum has just announced its intention to return 72 objects to Nigeria. Eve Salomon, chair of the museum, said: “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 museum in London consulted with Nigerian community members, visitors, schoolchildren, academics, heritage professionals, and artists based in Nigeria and the UK. (17)

The Smithsonian, which has adopted a policy of ethical returns of looted objects, will return thirty-nine treasures to Benin. (18)

The Netherlands promises to return Benin bronzes, but nothing so far has happened, pending the approval of a new law. (19)

Metropolitan Museum returned three objects to Nigeria, but what about the other 160 Benin bronzes and other African objects? Other American museums are promising to restitute or examine their policies of restitution. (20)

Austria has set up a committee to examine the question of restitution of looted African objects in public museums. So far, there has not been any information from the committee that should report next spring. (21) The Austrian committee should not have any problem in formulating good recommendations, given that Austria is coming to this task after Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, provided they bear in mind the main factors that led to the establishment of the committee: the pressure to solve the issue of looted African treasures and the agitation of the Black Lives Matter movement that revealed the fundamental links between slavery, colonialism, racism, restitution, and the continued inequalities in modern Western societies. Any diversion by emphasizing the future role of ethnological museums or the World Museum Wien would result in a lost opportunity to make a significant contribution to an issue that, historically had its modern genesis in the 2007 Benin exhibition held in the Völkerkundemuseum Wien.

Belgium has returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo legal rights in several objects, but so far, only one object was returned by the Belgian monarch, King Philippe, who did not even issue a formal apology for all the atrocities committed during Belgian colonization. The ten million Africans who died under the rule of Leopold II do not seem to matter. Eighty-four thousand treasures are to be restituted. How long will all this take? A new general restitution law is in preparation.

King Philippe’s aunt, Princess Esmerelda, told the BBC it was fitting that Belgium returned the looted objects.

“Former European colonial powers should own up to the past,” she told the BBC’s World Tonight program. “I strongly believe that artefacts that were stolen from so many countries in Africa and elsewhere should go back to where they belong.”

The Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has submitted a complete inventory of Congolese works of art and objects that could potentially be returned to the former African colony.

Belgium has returned the tooth of the first Prime Minister of the Congo, Patrice Emery Lumumba, whom they assassinated in 1961, but in 2022, they are not sorry for their crimes. Most European States stubbornly refuse to say’ sorry’ to Africans or ask for forgiveness for all their crimes which they do not contest. The family of Lumumba is still waiting to get complete information on the circumstances of the assassination of Lumumba. (22) Some Europeans still believe they cannot do wrong. That is the fundamental problem in African-Western relations. Europeans continue to keep thousands of African human remains and our treasures without feeling shame or regret.

A parliamentary commission set up in July 2020 to study Belgium’s colonial past and make recommendations on how to address the consequences will be reporting in December 2022. It is expected it would make recommendations on the vast colonial treasures that are still in Belgium, especially in the Africa Museum in Tervuren.

After several years of negotiations, Nigeria and Germany signed on 13th October 2021 in Abuja on the occasion of the visit by a German delegation, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on museum cooperation which provided a legal frame for transferring to Nigeria legal rights in 1130 Benin treasurers from German museums. (23)

Germany will soon return the objects to Nigeria, but a certain number will remain in Germany as loans from Nigeria and could be recovered by Nigeria whenever required. This historic agreement is all the more impressive when we recall that just a few months ago, people like Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Cultural Foundation, argued that German possession of the Benin objects was legal. (24)

Germany has agreed also to return treasures to Namibia and to return the statute of the mother-goddess Ngonnso to her people in Cameroon. She is returning home soon to her people after 120 years of captivity in Germany. A German colonial officer, Kurt von Pavel, accompanied by troops stole the sculpture in 1903. Whatever ill-fate and disasters that have visited her people since the Germans stole her will be reduced. (25)

On 9th July 2022, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, Germany, welcomed a royal delegation from Bangwa, Cameroon. H.R.M. Asabaton Fontem Njifua, and representatives of the Bangwa discussed with museum officials the restitution of cultural objects stolen during the German colonial rule. The discussion focused on a sacred Bangwa sculpture, lefem, that is in the museum’s collection. The lefem was crafted to embody the spirit of Bangwa chiefs to protect the Bangwa people. Even though the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum supports returning the sculpture, the city of Köln finally decides. An eventual return may therefore take a longer time than the ceremony with the presence of the Bangwa king in Köln seems to suggest. (26)

The other European States, such as Italy, Portugal, Spain, Norway, and Sweden, have not shown any awareness of the need for restitution of looted African treasures and indeed appear not to be highly active here.

Switzerland, which did not have any African colonies but benefited from the colonial system, has shown awareness of the need to examine acquisitions in the colonial period. (27)

Ghana has set up a 22-member committee to lead Ghana’s quest for

reparation and restitution of trafficked cultural heritage and artifacts looted during the colonial period. The committee chaired by Professor Kodzo Gavua, Department of Archaeology, will identify and support researchers to elicit data that would help the government demand for restitution and reparation.

Ghana had been at the forefront of African demands for restitution and reparation since its Independence in 1957. However, the debate in Ghana on restitution has weakened in the last decades. With the new committee, we hope the discussion will resume vigorously and at least revive the demands for the return of the Asante gold treasures stolen by the British in 1874 that are now in the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Wallace Collection.

The Ghana Government supported these demands initiated by the late Asantehene Nana Otumfou Opoku Ware II that were stated in a government publication, The Call for the Return of the Asante Regalia,1974. The present Asantehene, Nana Osei Tutu II, endorsed his illustrious predecessor’s demands. (28)

Despite all efforts, we have not been able to see a copy of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) of May 2021 nor that of 13th October 2021 signed between Nigeria and Germany concerning the restitution of Benin bronzes by Germany. The MOU would regulate questions, the terms, and conditions applicable to loans to Germany. The memorandum of understanding is of capital importance to the whole issue of restitution between Nigeria and Germany. Civil society will not be able to fulfil its vigilance function if it does not know the actual content of the agreement.

The unwillingness of the parties to the MOU to let the public and commentators see the agreement and its contents in a matter of great public interest is regrettable. Many misunderstandings and suspicions can be avoided by following a policy of openness and transparency. Since the German-Nigerian agreement could become a model for other restitutions, we would have thought it would be in the interest of all to be well informed. But the makers of this agreement may have their reasons for this secrecy. The Joint Declaration on the Return of Benin Bronzes and Bilateral Museum Cooperation of 1st July 2022 attached below contains references to earlier agreements.

So how do we know at this stage which Nigerian treasures will be kept in Germany? Without a clear list of the objects to be returned, the public may make its assessment and speculation. We may rely on titbits that the parties generously reveal. We may also indulge in assumptions based on the history of the relations between the two States.

We miss a list of the objects to be restituted, the selection of treasures, who made the selection, Nigerians or Germans, Benin specialists or generalists, and the criteria used. Was it based on the importance of the objects to Benin history and the demonstration of the high skills of the Benin artisans?

Readers may recall that in an article in 2011, we had emphasized that Queen-Mother- Idia and other noble Benin royals must return home and that training courses are no substitute for Nigerian national treasures. We mention training courses because it seems to us that Nigeria should, after 62 years of Independence, be able to provide training for her museum officials in Nigeria. The Republic of Benin has had a training institution for museum officials for many decades. Could it be that courses in museology, unlike nuclear physics or medicine, cannot be taught in Nigerian universities and other institutions? One often gets the impression that the offer of training scholarships appears irresistible to some African museum officials.

With these doubts in mind, I saw with relief an article by Viola Koenig, which offers information on the Benin bronzes the Humboldt Forum, Berlin, will be keeping for the next years. The article,” Concept for the resentation of the Non-European Collections in the Humboldt- Forum Ethnologisches Museum and Museum für Asiatische Kunst” shows some objects in the new presentation of African and Asian treasures in the Forum. (29)

In this new presentation, we saw Benin objects depicting Queen-Mother Idia and Oba Akenzua I. The historical importance of these two famous personalities in Benin’s history needs no emphasis. Besides, the treasures are unique and not found elsewhere. How then was it decided to leave these exquisite works in Germany and not return them to Benin? The bust of the Queen-Mother Idia in Berlin represents the finest craftmanship of Benin art. Will Nigerians who want to appreciate the excellence of Benin artistry have to travel to Berlin to see this? Why is no attempt being made to explain to the Nigerian public why their famous figures that have been away for more than a hundred years remain in Western museums? Is public education in African history not important?

In the current display of African art in the Humboldt Forum, we also see the controversial throne of King Nujoya of Bamum, Cameroon. Have the Germans discussed with Cameroon the possibility of continuing to show the king’s throne? True, the Germans say it was the king’s gift to the German Emperor. But was this gift voluntary? An African king freely and willingly giving away his ancestral throne as a gift to an imperialist emperor whose treatment of his subjects we better not discuss? That African thrones and stools contain spiritual powers is elementary knowledge. Thrones do not belong to the king, who is also a servant of the throne. An African king cannot dispose of his throne without the agreement of his council and the royal family.

Gifts under the colonial system are subject to a general suspicion of having been secured through violence, threats or show of colonial force or the effect of the general inherently violent colonial structure.

We may usefully examine such outstanding gifts made under colonial rule such as the golden pipe of Asantehene Kwaku Dua to the Dutch King Williams I in 1837. But are gifts made by African heads of States after Independence, such as the commemorative head of an oba given by General Gowan to Queen Elizabeth above suspicion?

Germany is prepared to consider a demand for restitution of the throne from Cameroon. Lars-Christian Koch, director of the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the Humboldt Forum is credited with saying that the fact that the throne came to Germany in 1908 as a gift from the King of Bamum to Kaiser Wilhelm II is no ground for not considering a demand for its return:’ We have to ask ourselves: How great was the pressure on King Njoya to give the throne away?”

It may be recalled that in former Gold Coast (present Ghana), the request by a colonial governor, Frederick Hodgson, to the Asante to bring him the famous Golden Stool, so that he could sit on, led to the War of the Golden Stool, where the famous Queen-Mother of Edwiso, Yaa Asantewaa, commanded the Asante

army against the British. The British never got hold of the Golden Stool which is said to embody the soul of the Asante nation.

The attentive reader will not fail to notice that many Western museums have proclaimed their desire for cooperation with Nigeria and other African countries on museum matters. Why are they doing that now? Why did they not make such declarations in the past when Africans demanded the return of the looted treasures? Could this be a tactic to avoid returning many objects and keep them as subjects of cooperation?

We also hear about the willingness of Western museums to share with African museums. What they seem willing to share are not Western artworks but only looted African objects. I keep mine, and we share yours. They do not envisage sending their Botticelli to Accra, their Van Gogh to Ouagadougou, or their Manet to Lagos. Nobody has commented on my suggestions in this regard. The very idea of sending Western art to Africa shocks those who frequently proclaim the universality of art and the willingness to share art with Africans. Their contempt for Africans is still extreme, and they cannot understand that the Africans have anything to gain from understanding Western art. An exception is a recent offer by an Austrian banker and art collector to send engravings of William Blake to Nigeria.

Playing for time and enticement with offers of cooperation and training appear to be on the agenda of Western countries. There is a need to separate issues of restitution of looted treasures from questions of loans from Africans to Westerners. To allow retention of stolen treasures as loans might seem to approve old crimes and to avoid detailed discussions of old crimes. Let future generations know what happened. There should be no retention of looted objects. The West must return looted objects.

Restitution of Benin artefacts is encouraging, but this is only a tiny fraction of looted African objects in Western museums. We await restitutions of Asante, Egyptian, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Yoruba, and other looted treasures. Moreover, there is the related problem of restitution of African human remains in Western institutions. These should be returned without further discussions since no Western institutions can offer any valid argument for carrying away dead bodies of Africans from their colonial wars or the macabre excavation of buried human remains in the colonies. There still are thousands of African human remains in Germany, France, and Great Britain. Germany is ready to return 1130 Benin bronzes but is keeping thousands of ancestral remains from its former colonies, Namibia, Tanzania, Togo, Cameroon, and Rwanda. Germany returned a few remains to Namibia, but thousands of African remains are in German institutions, including those from the Herero and Nama genocides.

We should discuss the issue of compensation for the damages and loss of earnings caused by detaining our treasures for more than a hundred years. We could also examine the loss incurred by confiscating objects, land, and forced labor. In this connection, it is not easy to ignore the opinion of Sylvester Ogbechie, a leading African art historian:

On the specific issue of the Benin bronzes, there can be no legal transfer of the stolen artworks objects while the rightful owners of the stolen objects are actively calling for their restitution. The Benin bronzes are not an amorphous product of “African art.” They are private property, bought by and paid for by the Benin kings through massive expenditure of national treasure, and constitute the wealth of the kingdom. These bronzes were commissioned for specific historical events, the artists who produced them were paid for their work, and the artworks were used in very prescribed manner and also as a store of value.

The looting and dispersal of the Benin bronzes deprived the Benin king of his private property and deprives his descendants of equity in this stolen property. It deprives Benin people of any chance to benefit in any economic, political social or cultural manner from the value produced by these artworks and further denies them equal access to these artworks. Aside from what they see in images of the artworks in Western museums, young Benin people have no way of benefiting from the products of their ancestors. The artworks generate income for the various museums that hold them, but this is not in any way shared with the Benin king of his heirs.’ (30)

The subject of reparation or compensation for looted treasures raises many complicated issues. Our position is that, as a matter of principle of justice, those who cause injury must pay compensation. It is difficult to assess such damages, but judges have never refused to award damages because of assessment difficulties. We know the current price of Benin bronzes on the art market and are also aware of the gold price.

We should no doubt praise Germans for having overcome their inner resistance to restituting looted African treasures. But let us not be carried away by our feelings of joy at recent events. We must measure Germany’s actions against historical facts, total numbers, and recent statements or declarations by German officials. However, we should not be misled by those who warn us about neo-colonial arrangements when their museums are unwilling to take a step forward and restitute looted treasures. They are worried that the wave of restitutions that has surprised many may reach their institutions that are solidly colonialist in their fundamental structures and methods.

If 1130 Benin bronzes are to be returned by Germany to Nigeria, how many Benin objects are in Germany? We recall that not all institutions in Germany accepted the invitation by the German Federal Government on 29 April 2022 to join in returning Benin bronzes to Nigeria. (31) What happens to the Benin treasures in those institutions that have not submitted to the German Federal Government’s request of 29 April 2021?

Germany allowed high Nigerian officials to take away home two Benin treasures. Could they not prepare a greater number for the Ministers to take home? Will everything be done slowly, and how many years will it take to send the rest back to Nigeria, bearing in mind that the Joint Declaration of 1 July foresees further agreements to complete the transfer of the full rights to Nigeria?

How many other Nigerian and African treasures are still in Germany? (32) Can one say with the German Minister that 1 July 2022 was a great day? For those who lost their treasures for 120 years and those who held African objects illegally for so long.

And what about the provision in paragraph 10 of the 1 July Declaration that ‘Both Sides declare their intention to contribute to the universal role of the Benin Bronzes by cooperating in the field of exhibitions and research and by ensuring their display is accessible to the general public and to research.

‘Universal role’ refers to the same universalism used to justify looting and keeping Benin and African antiques in the so-called universal museums in the West that had appointed themselves and their nations as the proper guardians of what belonged to humanity which Africans were incapable of guarding. The anthropologists had urged colonial adventurers to save these objects before the groups that produced them disappeared from the earth, owing to the extermination policies of the colonialists.

‘Exhibitions and research and by ensuring their display is accessible to the general public and to research. Those items not made for public shows, such as religious altars and other sacred objects, are thus to be made available to the public and cannot go back to their original places and functions. The Oba of Benin and his people cannot determine the final destination of the Benin Bronzes. Europeans deny Africans any chance of creativity with the returned objects. The West declares that treasures not made for museums and public institutions must now be open to research. But what authority allows the West to impose such conditions in agreements intended to restitute looted objects to their owners? Does having illegally held treasures for more than a hundred years confer such rights on the illegal holders?

What should we do at this stage?

1. Insist on the moral aspects of looting and ask Western museums to adopt ethical returns policies.

2. We should request those States that have made promises for dates for fulfilment. We should avoid situations where a museum promises restitution and for years does not fulfil its promise. Bristol Museum, for example, promised in 2020 to Prince Edun Akenzua to return Benin artefacts but in 2022 had still not returned the objects. In the meanwhile, Prince Edun, left us in July 2022.

3. The African States should finally submit a tentative list of treasures to be returned.

4. African and the Western States must increase public dissemination of information and knowledge about restitution. There is too much ignorance about restitution issues.

5. African universities should include courses on the return of looted treasures in departments of law, history, archaeology, architecture, and political science.

6. African governments should finally make financial contributions to research and debates on restitution matters and not leave to others to finance matters essential to African history and culture. ‘Grant expressed his frustration at times that the African governments on whose behalf he was seeking artifact restitution failed to provide more support to the movement, and he believed that greater commitment by them might have ensured more successful repatriation outcomes. (33)

7. Cooperation among States, such as Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, India, Greece, and others, would help speed up restitution matters. Zahi Hawass organized such a conference in 2010 for this purpose, but after that, not much happened regarding cooperation among States seeking restitution. The in the Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy.

The dynamic Hawass has recently renewed his call for restitution and will no doubt count on the solidarity of other States also seeking restitution from Western museums. The list of Hawass includes in addition to Nefertiti, the Rosetta Stone in British Museum, London, United Kingdom, and the Dendera zodiac in Louvre Museum, Paris, France. Also, on the list of the Egyptian archaeologist are, the statue of Great Pyramid architect Hemiun in Hildesheim’s Pelizaeus Museum, the bust of Prince Ankhhaf in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and the statue of King Ramses II in the Egyptian Museum, Turin, Italy. Pan-African organizations such as AFRIMUHERE could also do much of the work of coordination. (34)

We have definitely made some progress in getting Western States and museums not only to discuss restitution but even to return some looted artefacts to Benin and Nigeria. But is this satisfactory? Sixty and more years to pressure Western Nations to talk about what they should have handed over to us at the time of Independence?

But who decides on the selection of artefacts that should be returned to Africa?

African owners, Western experts, or both? Westerners seem to be generally

the ones who decide what is to be restituted as appears to have been the case concerning the artefacts returned to Benin Republic. The statue of Gou, god of iron and war, the most important sculpture in Dahomean culture, was not among the treasures returned to Benin Republic in 2021. Will the two dwarfs in World Museum, Vienna, also remain in Vienna? The Queen-mother Idia bust has been left in Berlin in the Humboldt Forum by the Nigerians. Will they also leave in London the famous hip-mask of Queen-mother Idia that has become a Pan-African symbol, if they ever manage to secure the return of Benin artefacts from the venerable British Museum? Is there a plan among Westerners to keep the best of African art in their museums whilst they return other artefacts? My suggestion will be that all those holding illegally African artefacts should return the African icons first at the beginning of the restitution process and not at the end.

British Museum, London, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin, (now placing many artefacts in the Humboldt Forum), World Museum, Vienna, (formerly Ethnologisches Museum, Vienna), Africa Museum, Tervuren, all still have the bulk of looted artefacts they had at the beginning of 1960. How long will it take Africans to secure a fairly substantial proportion of our looted artefacts that are lying in Western museums? At the rate of one artefact per year, how long will it take Tervuren Museum to restitute to the Democratic Republic of Congo eighty-four thousand artefacts? At the rate of twenty-eight artefacts per year, how long will it take France to return the ninety-thousand African artefacts in France? There is clearly something wrong and unsatisfactory with the present situation. We must reconsider our efforts so far to see if there are not more efficient ways of securing the restitution of our artefacts that even the holders do not deny were stolen.

The question of the meaning of the ‘Benin bronzes’ or ‘Elgin Marbles’ in London – 1900 or 2000 – is inseparable from the issue of British attitudes towards Africa and the Orient as sites, once for direct military and political colonisation, and now for their post-imperial economic exploitation and indirect manipulation. To return them would imply the belief, on the part of the British authorities, that the peoples of those parts of the world were now capable of competently looking after artefacts that were removed because the local inhabitants were unfit, because of the ‘degeneration’ of their societies, to act as their curators. Their return would also imply admission of their illegal possession by the British. Both implications remain unthinkable because post-imperial racism continues to be a highly significant aspect of British foreign policy. Though British society may be relatively ‘multicultural’ now, its ruling elite, like that of the US, is still predominantly white, middle-class, and male.’

Jonathan Harris, The New Art History. (35)

Kwame Opoku


Queen-Mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany. One of the looted Benin artefacts shown in Humboldt Forum’s current presentation of African artefacts.

Gold mask, 20 cm in height, weighing 1.36 kg. of pure gold, seized by the British from Kumasi, Ghana, in 1874 and now in the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom.

King’s throne, mandu yenu, Bamum, Cameroon, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

Was this really a voluntary gift from the King Njoya of Bamum to the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II?

Court dwarfs, Benin, Nigeria, now in World Museum, Vienna, Austria. Will they be returning to the Court of the Oba of Benin from where the British soldiers brutally wrenched them?

Mother-Goddess, Nation founder, Ngonnson, Cameroon, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.


Gelede mask, Yoruba, Nigeria, now in Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.4

Nimba shoulder mask, Guinea, now in Musée du Quai Branly, Palais des Sessions, Paris, France.

Gold jewel of two crocodiles, Baule, Côte d’Ivoire, now in Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.

Mwazulu. Diyabanza, a young Pan-African restitution activist from Congo whose vigorous methods have been discussed.

Akati Ekplékendo, produced around 1858, Benin, now in Musée du Quai-Branly-Jacques Chirac at the Pavillon des Sessions, Paris, France. Among the impressive African objects in the Pavillon des Sessions is the sculpture of Gou, God of iron and of war that the French looted in 1892 from the former French colony, Dahomey, now Republic of Benin. Benin again requested restitution of Gou during Macron’s recent visit to Republic of Benin.

The Ghosts of Colonization’” Interview with Laurent Védrine, director, Maureen Murphy, « Du champ de bataille au musée : les tribulations d’une sculpture fon », Les actes de colloques du musée du quai Branly Jacques Chirac [En ligne], 1 | 2009, mis en ligne le 28 juillet 2009, consulté le 17 août 2022. URL: ; DOI :

Text found at homepage of Louvre/Quai Branly, Pavillon des Sessions stating that the statue of Gou has been removed temporally for conservation reasons at the time Benin was asking again for its restitution.

Avis de recherche – où se trouve le DIEU GOU- ???

Publié le 09 octobre 2021 par 75a75a

Kukungu mask that Belgian King Philippe returned to Democratic Republic of Congo on indefinite loan.

The late Asantehene, Otumfuo Nana Opoku Ware II in full regalia. Will his successors recover the golden regalia stolen in 1874 by the British Army now displayed in the British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Wallace Collection in London?

Crown of Tewodros II, Ethiopia, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom. Looted during the invasion of Magdala in 1868 by a British Punitive Expedition army. The crown is labled at the Victoria and Albert as the "Crown of the Archbishop Abune Selam.” With typical colonialist and imperialist arrogance, this 18-karat gold crown was described as “barbaric” but still kept by the British.

Nefertiti, Egypt, now in Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. When will she return home to Egypt as requested by Zahi Hawass?

Queen-mother Idia, Benin, Nigeria, now in British Museum, London, United Kingdom. Will this Pan-Africanist icon return home to Nigeria?

Yaa Asantewaa I, (1840 - 17 Oct.1921) Queen-mother of Edweso. She led in 1900 the Ashanti war known as the War of the Golden Stool, also known as the Yaa Asantewaa War of Independence, against the British Empire.

Commemorative head of an Oba, Benin, Nigeria, now in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol, United Kingdom. Bristol Museum promised Prince Edun Akenzua in 2020 to return this artefact to Benin. The museum delayed the promised return and now the prince has died on 28 July 2022. Will the museum use this occasion to return the looted artefact or wait until there is nobody to request restitution?

One of the looted Nok pieces held by the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, with a post factum consent of the Nigerian authorities even though the ICOM Red Book for Africa forbids their export outside Nigeria.

Phwo mask. Tshokwe. Mwakahila, South Kasai, Democratic Republic of Congo, now in Africa Museum, (formerly Royal Museum for Central Africa) Tervuren, Belgium.

Female figure holding a bowl, Luba Peoples, Democratic Republic of Congo, now in Africa Museum, Tervuren, Belgium.

Androgynous figure with raised arm, Djennenke Pre-Dogon style, Mali, now in Musée du Quai Branly- Jacques Chirac, Paris France.

Equestrian figure, Dogon, Mali, now in Me tropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

Baule Mouse divination oracle, Côte d’Ivoire, now in Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, France

Mother and child, Bamileke, by sculptor Kwayep, Cameroon, now in Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac, Paris, France.

Salt cellar, Benin, now in Humboldt Forum, Berlin, Germany.

Face pendant, Baule, Côte d’Ivoire, now in Musée du quai Branly, Paris, France.


1. Oba Erediauwa in Introductory Note to the catalogue of the exhibition Barbara Plankensteiner (ed.) Benin Kings and Rituals, Court Arts from Nigeria, Snoeck Publishers, 2007, p. 13.

2. K. Opoku, Do Present-Day Egyptians Eat the Same Food as Tuthankhamun? Review Of James Cuno’s Who Owns Antiquity?

Culture wars – The return of Dr James Cuno

Neil MacGregor, The whole world in our hands

K. Opoku, Benin to Chicago: in the Universal Museum?

K. Opoku, Does the Demand for The Restitution of Stolen African Cultural Objects Constitute an Obstacle to the Dissemination of Knowledge about African Arts? Comments on a Letter from Philippe De Montebello, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

3. The United Nations General Assembly, like UNESCO, is also involved in this field. Indeed, since 1972, many resolutions on the Protection and the Return of Cultural Property, as part of the Preservation and Further Development of Cultural Values, have been adopted by the two bodies but have had no effect on the outlaw conduct of Western States who refuse to return any looted artefacts but instead keep inventing arguments and excuses for continued illegal detention of stolen African treasures. See K. Opoku, Did Germans Never Hear Directly or Indirectly Nigeria's Demand for Return of Looted Artefacts?

Parzinger’s Cri De Coeur: Genuine Plea for UN/UNESCO Assistance or Calculation to Delay Restitution of Artefacts?,of%20its%20opening%20in%202019.

UN General Assembly unanimously adopts resolution on “Return or restitution

of cultural property to the countries of origin”

4. K. Opoku, Declaration on the Importance and Value of Universal Museums: Singular Failure of an Arrogant Imperialist Project.

Former Metropolitan Museum director talks about restitution of artefacts

Recovered Masterpieces: The Objects

David Gill, Exhibition review: Nostoi, Rome, Palazzo del Quirinale, 2007

MIA among U.S. museums returning looted Italian artifacts

5 .Getty curator on trial over stolen artefacts (

6. K. Opoku, Macron Promises to Return African Artefacts in French Museums: A New Era in African-European Relationships or a Mirage?

7. Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics

8. Margareta von Oswald, The 'Restitution Report' - First Reactions in Academia, Museums, and Politics (2018) (99+) The 'Restitution Report' - First Reactions in Academia, Museums, and Politics (2018) | Margareta von Oswald -

9.K. Opoku, France Moves Closer To Restitution Of Artefacts to Benin And Senegal,

10. Benin authorities, traditional leaders seek return of more stolen artworks from France Benin authorities, traditional leaders seek return of more stolen artworks from France,

-Aljazeera, France returns 26 treasures looted from Benin

11. After Years of Debate, Two Universities Have Become the First U.K. Institutions to Restitute Benin Bronzes Cambridge and Aberdeen universities will return the treasured bronzes.


Glasgow Life welcomes Nigerian delegation for repatriation talks

12. Parthenon Marbles “Could be Shared” Between Greece and the UK Museum chair George Osborne says ‘deal’ can be done over Parthenon Marbles https://www.apollo-* MacGregor, À monde nouveau, nouveaux musées-Les musées, les monuments et la communauté réinventée, Editions Hazan, Paris, 2021.

13. Tristram Hunt, ‘For a museum like the V&A, to decolonise is to decontextualize: the history of empire is embedded in its meaning and collections, and the question is how that is interpreted.

K. Opoku, To Decolonize is to Decontextualize, Tristram Hunt. Should we Stop Asking for Restitution of our Looted Artefacts?

The same Tristram Hunt, says that legislation dating from 1983 preventing UK national museums from disposing of works should be re-evaluated to enable museums to dispose of certain objects

. uk-law-that-stops-museums-from-disposing-of-works

Tristram Hunt called for updating 1983 British Museum Act and Heritage act to enable museums to decide on restitution.

Neil MacGregor, À monde nouveau, nouveaux musées, EditionsHazan, Paris, 2021.

14. The British Museum's position The British Museum has excellent long-term working relationships with Nigerian colleagues and institutions, particularly through the Africa Programme which has provided an important framework forcolleagues to share skills and expertise. These enduring partnerships have enabled the Museum to engage in sustained and open dialogues concerning the Benin collections.

The Museum is committed to active engagement with Nigerian institutions concerning the Benin Bronzes, including pursuing and supporting new initiatives developed in collaboration with Nigerian

partners and colleagues.

This includes full participation in the Benin Dialogue Group and working towards the aim of facilitating a new permanent display of Benin works of art in Benin City, to include works from the British Museum's collections. The Museum is also a fully committed partner within the Digital Benin initiative, focused on developing an online tool and database to digitally reunite as many as possible of the historical objects, documents, and photographs that illuminate the Benin Kingdom.

The Museum is also committed to thorough and open investigation of Benin collection histories, and engagement with wider contemporary dialogues within which these collections are positioned. This includes fully acknowledging and understanding the colonial history which provided the key context for

the development of the Museum's Benin collections.

15. Oxford and Cambridge universities could return 213 looted artefacts from Benin britisheuropean-b1015640.html

Oxford and Cambridge universities could return 213 artefacts looted by British from Benin

Oxford and Cambridge universities could return 213 looted artefacts from Benin


17. Horniman to hand 72 Benin bronzes back to Nigeria

BBC, Horniman Museum to return 72 artefacts to Nigeria

The Guardian, London Museum to return 72 Benin treasures to Nigeria

The Art Newspaper, Horniman Museum in London hands over Benin bronzes to Nigeria

18.K. Opoku, Have Ethical Considerations Returned to Restitution for Good? Smithsonian adopts a Policy on Ethical Returns.

19. K. Opoku, Dutch Are Taking Giant Steps towards Restitution of Looted Artefacts,

20. Metropolitan museums returns artefacts to Nigeria.


22. Death of DRC’s Lumumba: ‘The Belgians weren’t the only bad guys’, says daughter Juliana

Patrice Lumumba’s Daughter: I’m Demanding Belgium Give Back My Father’s Remains

Belgium returns Congo independence hero's tooth to family

23. Federal Foreign Office on the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on museum cooperation with Nigeria

24. German officials such as Hermann Parzinger now declare themselves in favour of restitution, what were they saying just a few years ago?

Speaking with reference to the Benin bronzes, Parzinger declared: ‘Aber zu sagen, es ist alles gestohlen, also zurück damit, ist zu einfach, zumal etliche Stücke auch schon vor der britischen Strafexpedition auf dem Markt erworben worden sind.‘

‘But to say they are all stolen objects so send them back is too simple, especially since many pieces were acquired from the market before the British punitive expedition’

K. Opoku, Parzinger’s Misconceptions and Misrepresentations about Restitution of African Artefacts

According to Herman Parzinger, 'the primary question here is not restitution or not. There is a moral duty to clarify the origin of the collections and to discuss them with source countries how` we display these objects and how we tell their histories.'

K. Opoku, Parzinger’s Cri De Coeur: Genuine Plea for Un/unesco Assistance or Calculation to Delay Restitution of Artefacts?

25. Germany to return stolen Ngonnso' statue to Cameroon

Germany to return stolen Ngonnso' statue to Cameroon

26. Why restitution matters - with H.R.M. Asabaton Fontem Njifua, King of Fontem/Bangwa (Cameroon)

27. Swiss take steps to ‘decolonise’ cultural artefacts Swiss Benin Initiative: Research and Dialogue with

Online colloquium "Global Provenance" 27.1.2021: lecture by Michaela Oberhofer,

A lecture on the Swiss Benin Initiative on provenance research and cooperation with Nigeria.

28. Russell Chamberlin, Loot! Heritage of Plunder, 1983, Thames and Hudson, London, p.237. We would expect the new committee to pursue further the 1656 Ghanaian artefacts that the Sarr-Savoy report revealed to be in the Musée du Quai Branly. Felwine Sarr and Bénédicte Savoy, The Restitution of African Cultural Heritage. Toward a New Relational Ethics, 2018, p.148

29.Concept for the Presentation of the Non-European Collections in the Humboldt- Forum Ethnologisches Museum and Museum für Asiatische Kunst (2nd edition)

(99+) Concept for the Presentation of the Non-European Collections in the Humboldt- Forum Ethnologisches Museum and Museum für Asiatische Kunst (2nd edition) | Viola Koenig -

30. Sylvester Ogbechie, REPLY: Sylvester Okwunodu Ogbechie, 26 December 2011

31. K. Opoku, Berlin Decision on Benin Restitution: Germany on The Way to Restitution Of Looted African Artefacts

32. The following German institution agreed to send Benin artefacts to Benin on 29th April 2021:

Ethnologisches Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Ethnographic Collection of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Ethnologische Sammlung des Museums Natur und Mensch der Städtischen Museen Freiburg

Ethnographic Collection of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Linden-Museum Stuttgart

Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt (MARKK) in Hamburg

Museum Folkwang

Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum Hannover

Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum - Cultures of the World, Cologne

Brunswick Municipal Museum

State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony - Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD)

Overseas Museum, Bremen

Ethnological Collection of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck

Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main

Roemer- und Pelizaeus-Museum Hildesheim


According to Kathy Curnow, each of the following German cities have no more than 25 Benin artefacts: Braunschweig, Bremen, Dusseldorf, Freiburg, Göttingen, Hanover, Heidelberg, Hildesheim, Mannheim, and Ulm.Kathy Curnow, IYARE! Splendour & Tension in Benin’s Palace

Theatre, 2016, p. 201, WWW.IYARE.NET. Printed in the USA by

33. “We Shall Be Telling our own Stories”: Bernie Grant, the Africa Reparations Movement, and the Restitution of the Benin Bronzes

Cresa L. Pugh in Politique africaine 2022/1 (n° 165)

Vimeo, Bernie Grant MP came to Glasgow in 1997 to campaign for restitution of looted African artefacts.

Bernie Grant and the Benin Bronzes on Vimeo


K. Opoku, Reflections on the Cairo Conference on Restitution: Encouraging Beginning.






35. Jonathan Harris, The New Art History A critical Introduction, Routledge, London, 2001, p. 275.

[\|n collections are positioned. This includes fully acknowledging and understanding the colonial history which ANNEXE

Joint Declaration on the Return of Benin Bronzes and Bilateral Museum Cooperation


The Federal Republic of Germany,

represented by

The Federal Foreign Office


The Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media,


The Federal Republic of Nigeria,

represented by

The Federal Ministry of Information and Culture


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

hereinafter also individually referred to as “The Side” and collectively as “The Sides”:

Considering that German public museums and institutions hold significant collections of “Benin Bronzes” (including artefacts made from other material), looted from the former Kingdom of Benin after its colonial occupation and acquired in the aftermath mainly through colonial trading networks,

Acknowledging the great artistic, historical and current value of these artefacts for Nigeria, its present and future generations, particularly for the Edo people, as well as their universal importance for humankind,

Recognising the need to achieve not only the return of objects but also a new

understanding of cultural cooperation between Nigeria and Germany,

Recalling the Report of the German-Nigerian Bi-National Commission, signed on 3 November 2021, as well as the Bilateral Agreement between both governments on Cultural Cooperation, signed on 17 December 1999,

Mindful of the German Statement on the handling of the Benin Bronzes in German museums and institutions of 29 April 2021,

Whereas Nigerian and German delegates and representatives of German museums met in Berlin in July 2021 as well as in Abuja in October 2021 and reconfirmed their resolve to return Benin Bronzes in German museums to Nigeria as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding signed on 13 October 2021,

Considering that German museums and their trustees support this process and are taking the relevant decisions on transfer of ownership,

The Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Federal Republic of Germany conclude the following joint declaration:

1. Both Sides emphasise the common understanding and the aim in returning Benin Bronzes unconditionally to Nigeria. Both Sides underline the significant potential in building further relationships in the areas of preservation and digitalisation of cultural heritage, museum and research cooperation, art exhibitions, and archaeology.

2. Both Sides welcome the progress made by the discussions initiated in 2021 concerning the cooperation on and the return of Benin Bronzes. Both Sides express their political willingness to ensure the transfer of ownership to Nigeria of all Benin Bronzes held in public museums and institutions in Germany.

3. Both Sides express their political willingness for all Benin Bronzes held in German public museums and institutions to be returned. To date, 1130 such artefacts have been identified in German public museums and institutions.

4. Both Sides declare that the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) and the respective German public museums and institutions which currently hold the Benin Bronzes will sign transfer agreements, including transfer of ownership, physical return of objects to Nigeria from 2022, provisions on loan and on traveling exhibitions.

5. Both Sides intend that German public museums and institutions will continue to display Benin Bronzes on loan as set out in the transfer agreements.

6. Both Sides understand the importance of sharing related documentation such as reports, archive material, inventories and historical loan reports.

7. Both Sides declare their mutual willingness to deepen their cooperation, including archaeological exploration work, training and institution building, in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute (DAI), joint training of museum managers in cooperation with the planned International Museums Agency and German museums, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and other partners.

8. Both Sides jointly undertake to support the establishment of museum facilities in Benin City.

9. Both Sides intend to support the exchange and cooperation in the field of contemporary and future production of art works.

10. Both Sides declare their intention to contribute to the universal role of the Benin Bronzes by cooperating in the field of exhibitions and research and by ensuring their display is accessible to the general public and to research.


Sides understand that the issue of digitalisation, copyright and associated issues will be considered in the ransfer agreements.

12. Both Sides intend to facilitate the circulation of cultural objects, particularly the Benin Bronzes, by collaborating on international travelling and joint exhibitions.

Signed in duplicate,

Berlin, 1 July 2022

For the Federal Republic of Germany For the Federal Republic of Nigeria

________________ _______________

Annalena Baerbock Zubairu Dada

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Minister of State for Foreign Affairs

________________ ________________

Claudia Roth Lai Mohammed

Minister of State for Culture and the Media Minister of Information and Culture