US museums return trove of looted treasures to Nigeria
Three of the country’s best museums have been repatriated from Germany, and two others are under repair, after the United States returned hundreds of looted and stolen items to Nigeria for safekeeping.
U.N. cultural agencies and private collectors have spent tens of millions of dollars on collections such as statues, manuscripts, and paintings that have disappeared in the past, often as a result of decades of looting.
Germany and the United States returned more than 1,000 items to Nigeria in July, with Germany taking a lion’s share of the returnees. The remainder are now under repair, as the U.S. embassy in Abuja repairs the damage from a fire at a storage facility to which the items were delivered in early July.
The German government has expressed concern over the possibility of further damage.
German culture minister Dorothea Reiss said on Sept. 5 that Germany would not participate in future collections in Nigeria unless it is assured that the rights of the country’s citizens would be protected. Other German museums and collectors have refused to go forward with projects in Nigeria.
“For that reason, it is our position that no works of cultural value will be returned to the Nigerian government in the context of any future collection program,” said Reiss, in a statement.
Many of the items that were repatriated to Nigeria are from the Berlin State and University museums in Berlin, with the rest from the United States, the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The U.S. embassy in Abuja estimates that it will cost about $300,000 to repair the damage from the fire to the storage facility where many of the items were stored recently.
A statement by the U.S. embassy says the ministry is assessing the damage, which was sustained overnight on July 14.
“After thorough examination, an assessment of the extent of the damage to the building and the extent of the damage to the objects stored in the building is ongoing,” the embassy says.