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Following BLM protests, Church of England to return Benin Bronzes gifted to Archbishop in 1982

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The Church of England will repatriate Benin Bronzes to Nigeria, despite the artworks being gifted to a former Archbishop of Canterbury during a tour of the country just 40 years ago.

This is amidst renewed calls to return the sculptures created for royalty in the Kingdom of Benin, present-day Nigeria, most of which were stolen British forces in 1897.

The two statues to be returned were given to Archbishop Robert Runcie during an Easter visit to Nigeria in 1982.

The Church offered to “return the bronzes as a gesture of goodwill” following a request from campaigners for repatriation.

A statement from Lambeth Palace said: “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, Nigeria, where they may remain.”

Prof Alli gave one bust on behalf of the people of Bendel State and the other was given to Archbishop Runcie by the University of Nigeria in Nuskka.The churchman held his office from 1980 to 1991, and died in 2000.

Talks are ongoing between the Church of England and officials in Nigeria, home to 18 million Anglicans, 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.

The Edo museum could receive a number of these items from institutions in the UK, as regional museums not legally bound to retain objects have increasingly adopted a policy of repatriation following Black Lives Matter protests.

Museums in Liverpool, Derby, Cambridge, Bristol and Manchester have also responded to calls for the return of Benin Bronzes by changing their policies to accept claims for repatriation.