The UK government is resisting pressures to restitute the country’s collection of looted treasures, asserting that British museums are the right homes for them. The government’s contention is that keeping the artifacts under the care of Britain’s museums makes them more accessible to a larger number of audience, as they also have the best facilities that will see to their proper upkeep.
Many consider the argument insulting yet typical of the British Empire that resulted in the looting of said artifacts. Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University, Kehinde Andrews, say the argument suggests that countries like Nigeria is incapable of properly looking after the treasures, being poorer countries. The argument overlooks the fact that currently, there is now a state-of-the-art museum in Nigeria, awaiting the return of the many bronze statues looted by British soldiers. According to Professor Andrews, the contention the Britain is a place of refinement, while its museums knows best, is a classic racist argument.
Restitution Actions by UK Universities and in Other European Countries
Recently, two restitution ceremonies in the UK were held to acknowledge the return of ancient bronze statues to Nigeria. One was held at a University of Cambridge college, which marked the official return of a Benin bronze cockerel statue to the National Commission for Museums and Monuments in Nigeria. It was part of the bronze treasures looted during Britain’s invasion of Benin in 1897 in which Britain’s invading forces burned down the royal palace and other buildings in modern Nigeria.
The other restitution ceremony was held in Jesus College, at the University of Aberdeen where a bronze sculpture of a Benin king, was likewise returned to Nigeria.
Elsewhere in other European countries like Germany and France similar objects have been repatriated to their country of origin. The most recent event was held in France, at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. No less than French President Emmanuel Macron attended the event to witness the ceremonial return of 26 Benin bronze artifacts stolen from the ancient Kingdom of Dahomey, during the Franco-Dahomean War that led to the naming of the country as Benin.
These ceremonial events have increased pressures on a number of British cultural and academic institutions, including the British Museum. The latter apparently has the largest collection of more than 900 bronze artifacts. The calls for the British Museum to return its collection of stolen treasures have been mounting, as the museum is also in possession of world-famous stolen artifacts and a series of ancient sculptures looted from Athens, Greece, including the Parthenon Marbles.