The University of Aberdeen in Scotland on Thursday handed over a Benin Bronze to Nigeria after over 100 years since it was looted by British forces.
The sculpture is the head of a king (Oba). It was looted by British force, with thousands of religious and cultural artefacts in 1897 during the destruction of Benin City in present-day Nigeria by a British military expedition.
The artefact was later purchased by the University of Aberdeen at an auction in 1957.
According to a recent review of collections included research into its provenance, it was revealed that the artefact was one of the so-called ‘bronzes’, acquired in immoral circumstances during the Benin Punitive Expedition in which the royal palace of the Oba was burned and looted.
Professor Bankole Sodipo, Professor of Law in Babcock University, Nigeria, in 2020 facilitated a meeting between the UK University and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, the Edo State Government and the Royal Court of the Oba, to discuss how to return the artefact to base.
A formal request for repatriation by the Nigerian Federal Government and supported by the other parties was then proposed and in March 2021 it was unanimously approved by the University Court following discussion by an expert panel, which included representatives of the University, the Director of the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow and Professor Sodipo representing the Nigerian partners.
The Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, the younger brother of the current Benin monarch; Chief Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan, the Obasuyi of Benin; Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments; Babatunde Adebiyi, the Legal Adviser of National Commission for Museums and Monuments; and Abdul Mohammed Gimba, Director, Museums, National Commission for Museums and Monuments were in UK to receive the artefact.
Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare (II) while thanking the University of Aberdeen for returning our bronze work charged other institutions worldwide still in possession of loot by the colonial masters.
The Oba said, “It is injustice when they insist on holding on to items which in fact should be a reminder to them of the great injustice that was inflicted on a people so far away and so long ago”.
“Much has been said about the significance of heritage art and, in spite of the occasional attempts in some quarters to downplay their cultural and religious relevance, these works are often imbued with the spirit of the people from whom they were taken.
“Regardless of the resistance in some quarters, the return of stolen art is the right thing to do. Some say that they acquired their own collections. This is like saying, well, I know this item was originally stolen but because I bought it somewhere, then I’m okay. That notion is completely wrong and unfortunate.
“In any event, we thank the University of Aberdeen for this noble act of returning our bronze work. We hope that other institutions worldwide will see the injustice when they insist on holding on to items which in fact should be a reminder to them of the great injustice that was inflicted on a people so far away and so long ago”.
Earlier on Wednesday, Jesus College Cambridge indicated interest in handing over a statue of a cockerel — a young rooster — to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.
The statue is also one of Benin Bronzes, which are part of a collection of artefacts stolen from the Kingdom of Benin in modern-day Nigeria by British soldiers in 1897.
Many of the other Benin Bronzes are on display at the British Museum.