Six objects stolen by British soldiers in 19th century are handed over in ceremony at Horniman Museum.

Six artefacts looted by British troops 125 years ago from Benin City, in what is now Nigeria, are being repatriated to their place of origin, increasing pressure on the British Museum to follow suit.

The objects, including two 16th-century Benin bronze plaques ransacked from the royal palace, were handed to Abba Tijani, the director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), at a ceremony at the Horniman Museum in south London on Monday.

Tijani said he hoped other museums holding looted artefacts from Benin City would be encouraged by the Horniman’s example. In particular, he believed that an agreement could soon be reached with the British Museum, the national cultural flagship that holds 900 objects, the largest collection in the world.

Benin Items in Horniman’s collection

The six artefacts handed over on Monday were selected as being representative of 72 Benin items in the Horniman’s collection. An agreement between the NCMM and the Horniman will allow the remaining 66 objects to stay in the UK on loan for the next 12 months, with a second phase of repatriations to come.

The move is the first time a UK government-funded institution has agreed to hand back treasures looted by British forces. Two other Benin bronzes – a cockerel sculpture held by Jesus College, Cambridge, and the head of an oba (ruler) held by Aberdeen University – have also been returned from Britain to Nigeria.

The bronzes were stolen in 1897, when British forces sacked the Benin kingdom. The royal palace was burned and looted and the oba exiled.

The British confiscated all royal treasures, giving some to individual officers and taking most to auction in London. Thousands of objects eventually made their way into museums and private collections around the world.

The British Museum has resisted calls to return the objects in its collection, arguing it is prevented from doing so by the British Museum Act of 1963 and the Heritage Act of 1983.