Nigeria's neglected bronze artifacts given new life

STORY: These workers are carefully scraping rust and patina off thousands-of-years-old Nigerian Bronze artifacts.

But unlike the better-known Benin Bronzes, these cultural treasures are not scattered across Western museums and private collections.

This is the National Museum in Lagos and the artworks are Igbo-Ukwu Bronzes.

They are, says National Museum curator Omotayo Adeboye, "masterpieces of creativity and craftsmanship."

‘’...indigenous craftmanship that is comparable to any craftmanship, technological craftsmanship all over the place.’’

The National Museum is carrying out restoration work on some of Nigeria's oldest, but lesser-known, collections.

But it is doing so at a time when there is uncertainty over the return of thousands of Benin Bronzes.

Many are kept at the British Museum in London, which has resisted calls for repatriation.

In March, President Muhammadu Buhari decreed that all returned Benin Bronzes, looted by British soldiers from the ancient Kingdom of Benin in 1897, should be in the custody of the a royal ruler in modern day Benin city.

That led a British university to postpone the return of more than 100 artifacts.

Some institutions have also raised questions over whether Nigeria can safely keep artifacts returned from abroad.

But at the National Museum, a grant from the Bank of America is enabling the restoration works - says the head of the conservation unit Adenike Niyi-Dare.

‘’The Igbo-Ukwu objects, they are alloys of copper, brass and lead, and so they are very susceptible to corrosion."

Niyi-Dare said the grant will provide modern equipment and training to boost conservation.

The Igbo-Ukwu artifacts date back to the 9th century, according to the museum.

They were discovered in 1939 in the southeastern Anambra state - part of the region inhabited by the Igbo people.

The 200-strong collection includes intricately designed bowls, pots, vases and shells - now being lovingly restored to their former glory.