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British university agree to return looted Benin Bronze to Nigeria

More than a century after Britain looted sculptures in Nigeria and auctioned them to Western museums, a British university is set to return a Benin Bronze back to its place of origin.

The varsity identified as the University of Aberdeen said on Thursday it wants to return the artwork to where it came from within weeks.

In a report by Reuters, this is one of the first public institutions to carry out the action.

The university said the sculpture of an Oba or ruler of the Kingdom of Benin had left Nigeria in an “extremely immoral” fashion, leading it to reach out to authorities in 2019 to negotiate its return.

Speaking, the head of museums and special collections of Aberdeen, Neil Curtis said the Bronze, purchased in 1957, had been “blatantly looted.”

“It became clear we had to do something,” Curtis said.

On the part of professor Abba Isa Tijani, director-general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, the importance of displaying the Bronze inside Nigeria for the first time in more than 120 years was inexpressible.

“It’s part of our identity, part of our heritage… which has been taken away from us for many years,” Mr Tijani said.

British soldiers seized thousands of metal castings and sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, then separated from British-ruled Nigeria, in 1897.

According to a report, Germany is also 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.

Mr Tijani said museums in the United States have also agreed to return two more Bronzes.

The Governor of Edo State, Mr Godwin Obaseki, has also revealed plans to build a centre to store and study the returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025.

Artist and Edo state native 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.

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