Cambridge University returns stolen Benin bronze cockerel to Nigeria

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A Cambridge University college has handed over the statue of a bronze cockerel looted by British colonial forces during its invasion of Benin in 1897 to representatives of Nigeria.

According to a BBC report, the statue, locally called ‘okukur’, was given to Jesus College in 1905 by the father of a student

The college’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party had in 2019 concluded that the cockerel “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin.”

This conclusion came after the college removed the statue on display in 2016, saying it will be given to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

“It’s massively significant,” BBC quoted the master of Jesus College, Ms Sonita Alleyne, as saying at a handover ceremony held at the college Wednesday. “It’s a momentous occasion.”

She added that returning the artifact was the “right thing to do” especially because the said bronze statue was of “cultural and spiritual significance to the people of Nigeria.”

“It’s part of their ancestral heritage,” Ms Alleyne added.

The Nigerian delegation is expected to decide decide how and when to move the Okukur.

Having crushed Benin’s resistance to its expansionist move, the eventual conquest of Benin by British forces was characterized by large scale systematic destruction and looting.

Described by author Max Siollun in his book, What Britain Did to Nigeria, as “one of the most brazen cases of colonial looting that Britain committed in Africa,” British invaders looted a haul of carved bronze, ivory and artworks, insignia and sculptures which were hundreds of years old and presented them as trophies among themselves, including to the Queen.

The minister of information, Mr. Lai Muhammad had in 2019 said the Nigerian government will use all “legal and diplomatic instruments” to demand the return of Nigeria’s stolen artifacts and cultural materials worldwide.

At the handover ceremony, the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II, said he hoped that others would “expedite the return of our artworks, which in many cases are of religious importance to us.”

Recall that in March, the University of Aberdeen also said it will return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria within weeks, becoming the first institution to do so more than a century after Britain looted the sculptures and auctioned them to Western museums and collectors.

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