The University of Aberdeen has said it will return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria, many years after the British looted the sculptures.
In a statement on Thursday, the university explained it has previously repatriated sacred items and ancestral remains to Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
“An ongoing review of the collections identified the Head of an Oba as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do,” the school said as it became the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze.
The bronze sculpture showing an Oba (king) of Benin was acquired by the University in 1957 at an auction and is believed to be a great example of Benin Late Period Art
“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances,” the university added.
“We, therefore, decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners.”
A Right Step
The release of the bronze work, according to Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, is a right step in the right direction.
1/ The University of Aberdeen is to return a Benin bronze, the first-ever fully repatriated to Nigeria by a museum. The University announced it would return the sculpture more than 125 years after it was looted by British forces. pic.twitter.com/ZhZlkM2vXU
— University of Aberdeen (@aberdeenuni) March 25, 2021
“The reaching out by the University of Aberdeen and eventual release of the priceless antiquity is a step in the right direction,” the institution quoted him as saying. “Other holders of Nigerian antiquity ought to emulate this to bring fairness to the burning issue of repatriation”.
‘In Line With Our Values’
The move was also backed by Aberdeen University’s governing body and the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the school, Professor George Boyne, said the development is in line with the values of the institution.
“This is in line with our values as an international, inclusive university and our foundational purpose of being open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others,” the school quoted him as saying.
“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We, therefore, decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria.”
According to the school, it started the conversation for the return of the artwork through Professor Bankole Sodipo, Professor of Law in Babcock University, Nigeria with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria through its Legal Adviser, Babatunde Adebiyi, the Edo State Government through the then Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Professor Yinka Omorogbe and the Royal Court of the Oba of Benin through Prince Professor Gregory Akenzua in 2020.
The British forces looted thousands of metal and ivory sculptures as well as carvings during an invasion of Benin City in 1897.
Some of the soldiers and administrators involved sold the artworks to museums, while others were given as gifts to museums or sold at auction or by art dealers.