The Church of England is now set to return two Benin Bronzes to Nigeria that were gifted to a former Archbishop of Canterbury during a tour of Nigeria about 40 years ago, the Telegraph of UK reported.
Following Black Lives Matter protests, there have been renewed calls to return the sculptures created for royalty in the Kingdom of Benin, present-day Nigeria, most of which were seized by British forces in 1897.
The Church owns two statues given to Archbishop Robert Runcie during an Easter visit to Nigeria in 1982 by the University of Nigeria and by then governor of Bendel State, Professor Ambrose Alli on behalf of the nation’s modern-day Benin region.
Despite the artworks being gifts and not imperial loot, the Church of England has offered to “return the bronzes as a gesture of goodwill” following a request from campaigners for repatriation.
A statement from Lambeth Palace reads: “We have recently been contacted by the Digital Benin project… who enquired about our collection of gifts at Lambeth Palace and if we had received any Benin kingdom objects as gifts over the years
“We have two bronze busts given to us by the Benin kingdom in 1982. The two bronze busts were not taken from Benin in 1897. We have offered for the two busts to be included in the Digital Benin project and eventually, returned to our friends in Edo State, Nigeria, where they may remain.”
The late Professor Alli gave one bust on behalf of the people he represented in Bendel State, encompassing the territory of the former Kingdom of Benin, and the other was given to Archbishop Runcie by the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
The archbishop held the office from 1980 to 1991 and died in 2000.
Talks are ongoing between the Church of England and officials in Nigeria regarding the two statues being moved to the Edo Museum of West African Art, which is designed to house returned Benin Bronzes on completion in 2025.
Author and expert on the Benin Bronzes, Professor Dan Hicks, said the Church’s decision “underlines the importance of transparency” over what artefacts institutions hold in their collections.
He added: “Lambeth Palace is just one of more than 150 collections worldwide that currently hold Benin Bronzes. There are dozens of others in the UK alone
“We need to understand these collections and be open about what is held.”