Cambridge college to return stolen artwork to Nigeria

The British institution took the artifact off public display in 2016 after students complained it espoused colonialism

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A Cambridge University college said Friday that it would return a looted bronze cockerel to Nigeria later this month, making it the first U.K. institution to hand back one of the artifacts known as the Benin Bronzes.

Jesus College announced in 2019 that it would return the Okukor, a statue that was taken from the Court of Benin in what is now Nigeria. British colonial forces took the artwork in 1897, and it was given to the college in 1905.

The college removed it from public view in 2016 after students protested, saying it represented a colonial narrative. The college set up a working group to examine the legacy of slavery, and the group concluded that the statue “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin.”

The Oba of Benin is head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire, centered on Benin City in modern-day Nigeria.

Archivist Robert Athol looks at a bronze statue of a cockerel called The Okukor, one of the Benin Bronzes, at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, England on Oct. 15, 2021. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP)

The college said Friday that it will hand over the statue to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments in a ceremony at Cambridge on Oct. 27.

His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, said he was “indeed very pleased and commend Jesus College for taking this lead in making restitution for the plunder that occurred in Benin in 1897.”

“We truly hope that others will expedite the return of our artworks, which in many cases are of religious importance to us,” he said.

Thousands of artifacts were looted after British imperial troops occupied Benin City in 1897.

Hundreds of bronzes ended up in the British Museum in London, and hundreds more were sold to other collections such as the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. Germany has said it would return the items in its possession.

The British Museum has said it doesn’t currently have plans to return parts of its collection.

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