US museums return trove of looted treasures to Nigeria Published duration 4 October 2011
image caption The National Museum of Nigeria is one of the UK’s most heavily looted
Among the most highly looted art treasures which have been recovered by the British Museum and British Institute in Lagos are paintings looted from the National Museum of Nigeria, said the museum’s director.
The paintings are believed to have been stolen by British troops during the 1960s and from their collections.
More than 150 of the paintings are being returned to Nigeria, museum director Dr Andrew Aitken said.
The museum is the country’s largest, and one of the most heavily looted art collections in the world.
Most of the works – which include works by British art stars such as Pablo Picasso and John William Waterhouse – had been donated to the museum in London by a South African businessman.
The collection has been split up by museum trustees into four regional programmes, and about half of the paintings are being rehung on three large canvass.
“This is not just a return of treasure, this is the acknowledgement of the debt we have owed the Nigerian people for 50 years,” Dr Aitken said.
“The return of these paintings is an important first step in the long-term restoration of this magnificent collection.”
He said the museum did not want to be viewed as a museum of Nigeria’s past, but as a museum of modern art.
“In Africa, some countries may view our museums as museums of the past, but I am not one of those. In Africa, there is something of the past and something of the present that a museum should try to reflect,” he said.
The museum’s most recent theft, reported in October 2008, is thought to have taken place in the 1980s.
During the 1980s, Nigerian troops were in northern Nigeria with the US army.
The troops, commanded by Colonel Robert Ames, were based at Camp Abuja, and fought against the feared Islamist sect