The University of Aberdeen on Thursday said they are set to return back to Nigeria a sculpture of an Oba, or ruler, of the Kingdom of Benin that was looted by Britain during the colonial era.
The Benin Bronze which is expected in Nigeria within weeks was among thousands of metal castings and sculptures seized from the Benin Kingdom by the British soldiers in 1897 and auctioned to Western museums and collectors.
According to the institution, the Benin Bronzes and other artefacts taken by colonial powers had left Nigeria in an “extremely immoral” fashion.
Neil Curtis, Aberdeen’s head of museums and special collections, said the Bronze, purchased in 1957, had been “blatantly looted.”
“It became clear we had to do something,” Curtis said.
The university had reached out to the Nigerian authorities in 2019 to negotiate on how to return the sculptures following series of pressure mounted to return them to their places of origin.
The Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Professor Abba Isa Tijani, expressed delight on the importance of displaying the Bronze inside Nigeria for the first time in more than 120 years, while revealing that U.S. museums had also agreed to return two more Bronzes.
He said, “It’s part of our identity, part of our heritage… which has been taken away from us for many years.”
Reuters reported that the British Museum, which holds hundreds of the sculptures, has alongside several other museums formed a Benin Dialogue Group to discuss displaying them in Benin City, some officially on loan. It has said discussions are ongoing.
According to newspaper reports, Germany is in talks to send back 440 Benin Bronzes as early as the autumn, while the University of Cambridge’s Jesus College said it had finalised approvals in December to return another Bronze.
Meanwhile, the Edo State government, is making plans to build a centre to store and study the returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025.
In his reaction, Edo State artist, Victor Ehikhamenor said he hoped the decision would prompt others to follow suit.
“Because some of these things are missing from our environment, people are not able to contextualize where we are coming from,” Ehikhamenor said.