University of Aberdeen returns looted Benin Bronze today

The University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom, will today (Thursday) complete the return of a Benin Bronze at a handover ceremony which will commence at 5.30 p.m. in the King’s College Conference Centre of the university, the institution announced in its media release on Wednesday.

Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, Chief Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan, the Obasuyi of Benin; Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments; Babatunde Adebiyi, the Legal Adviser of National Commission for Museums and Monuments; and Abdul Mohammed Gimba, Director, Museums, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, are expected to receive the sculpture.

They will be accompanied by Prince Isa Bayero, a prince of the Kano emirates and Mrs Edith Ekunke, retired director of the National Museum, Lagos State.

The university became the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin Bronze in March and will hand back the Bronze on Thursday evening.

The sculpture, which depicts the head of a king), is one of thousands of religious and cultural artefacts looted by British forces in 1897 during the destruction of Benin in present-day Nigeria by a British military expedition.

It was purchased by the University of Aberdeen at an auction in 1957. A recent review of collections included research into its provenance confirming that it was one of the so-called ‘bronzes’ acquired in immoral circumstances during the Benin Punitive Expedition in which the royal palace of the Oba was burned and looted.

As a result, in 2020 the university instigated a conversation through Professor Bankole Sodipo, Professor of Law in Babcock University, Nigeria, with the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, the Edo State government and the Royal Court of Benin, regarding its return.

A formal request for repatriation by the Nigerian Federal Government and supported by the other parties, was then proposed and in March 2021 and this was unanimously approved by the university following discussion by an expert panel.

The process of a legal transfer then began with the university working to support the timescales identified by the Nigerian partners for its physical return.

According to the media release, Professor George Boyne, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said: “Over the last 40 years, the Benin Bronzes have become important symbols of injustice.

“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural significance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances.

“The university took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do and we are extremely grateful for the collective approach taken by the partners in Nigeria, which has facilitated this return.

“We are delighted to welcome our guests representing Edo State, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Kingdom of Benin, and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments and commend their spirit of cooperation in making this possible.”

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