UK returns stolen Benin artifacts to Nigeria

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A Benin bronze stolen from the country in 1897 has finally been returned by the Cambridge University, United Kingdom to Nigerian authorities after over a hundred years.

The bronze cockerel named Okukor was taken from the Benin Kingdom during a punitive expedition in 1897 when thousands of bronzes were looted by British forces.

The bronze cockerel was looted by British colonialists from the palace of the King of Benin and was given to Jesus College, a college of Cambridge in 1905 by the father of a student.

According to reports, Cambridge University handed over the statue of the cockerel to a delegation from Nigeria, led by Professor Abba Issa Tijani from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments in a ceremony that took place at Jesus College.

Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments received the Benin bronze from Jesus College on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Royal Court of Benin.

A decision for it to be returned was made in 2019 after students campaigned, following which the statue was removed from display at the college in 2016.

The return of Okukor, described by the college as a “royal ancestral heirloom” is expected to spark a wave of repatriation ceremonies, as the cultural world continues to reckon with concerns over the ethics of plundered historical artefacts.

According to Sonita Alleyne, master of Jesus College, returning the artefact was the “right thing to do” and that the bronze piece was of “cultural and spiritual significance to the people of Nigeria”.

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