Nigerian artefacts have always been at the mercy of plunderers. In 1887, a British force of 1,200 men led by Sir Henry Rawson invaded Benin City and ransacked the city, thereby destroying the Benin Kingdom. The expedition was in response to the ambush of a previous British group led by James Phillips, the Acting Consul General of the Niger Coast Protectorate who were on a trade visit to the Oba of Benin.


After the plunder of the city, the British army captured more than 2,500 religious' artefacts, over 1,000 metal plaques and sculptures—collectively known as the “Benin Bronzes”, and other prized Benin visual arts, mnemonics and artworks. About 40% of the plundered artworks were accessioned to the British Museum while other works were either given to members of the invading army as spoils of war or were auctioned off.

Most of the Benin bronzes and artworks were scattered across the world after the expedition. Some have been found in German museums and other museums across the world.

Benin Bronzes at the British Museum
Benin Bronzes at the British Museum

In November 2022, Horniman Museum,a museum in the United Kingdom, returned six artefacts looted by the British troopsmore than 125 years ago, including a 16th century Benin Bronze plaque. Twoother Benin bronzes, including a cockerel sculpture and the head of a Benin Oba have been returned by Jesus College,Cambridge and Aberdeen University respectively. The British Museum still holdsabout 200 Benin artefacts, even though Britain has suggested that it loans back the stolenartefacts to Nigeria.


In December 2022, Germany returned 21 Benin artefacts. President Muhammadu Buhari has appealed to all countries across the world to return Nigeria’s artefacts in their possession.


Nigeria has enacted the Antiquities Act (1964) and the National Commission for Museum and Monuments Act (1990) to protect Nigerian cultural goods and other precious artefacts.