Nigeria has sent a formal request to Glasgow Life this week for the return of items from Benin held by the city's museums.
Glasgow Museums holds eight bronzes and another 21 cultural artefacts whose exact provenance has not been established. These are among the many cultural treasures that were looted by the British army from Benin City, Nigeria, in 1897 and ended up scattered across museums across Europe and America.
The request follows last year’s reconstitution of a Working Group for Repatriation and Spoliation of Artefacts. This group was reconvened to authorise Glasgow Life, on behalf of Glasgow City Council, to begin dialogue regarding objects that have been identified as being linked to the sacking of Benin City.
“Glasgow Life Museums has been working with the Royal Family of Benin's official representatives, the Nigerian museums and monuments commission [National Commission for Museums and Monuments – NCMM], on the repatriation of Glasgow’s Benin collection to Nigeria since November 2021,” said a Glasgow Life spokesperson.
“A formal request for the return of the collection has been received this week, which will be passed to Glasgow City Council's cross-party Working Group for Repatriation and Spoliation for their consideration.”
A report requesting the reconstitution of the group was presented by Glasgow councillor David McDonald on 19 August 2021.
The report said: “Throughout Europe, there are increasing claims, and requests for collections information, by African-based organisations and African diaspora communities for the return of African heritage from museums to their countries of origin. It is reasonable to anticipate that dialogues with communities from other countries and continents will also arise.”
The report continued: “The re-establishment of a cross-party working group with clear terms of reference will provide the council and Glasgow Life with a governance process to develop policies that outline the council’s approach and position on repatriation matters and requests.”
Glasgow Life has been working with cultural agencies in Nigeria to communicate with the Royal Family of Benin and begin a dialogue about the items from Benin.
It has been advised to talk to the NCMM, the custodian of Nigeria's treasures, and the Oba of Benin (the traditional ruler and the custodian of the culture of the Edo people). The organisation also intends to consult with interested diaspora groups in Glasgow. The process is expected to take up to two years.