The University of Aberdeen said on Thursday it would return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria within weeks, one of the first public institutions to do so more than a century after Britain looted the sculptures and auctioned them to Western museums and collectors.
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.
Pressure has mounted to return to their places of origin the Benin Bronzes – actually copper alloy relief sculptures – and other artefacts taken by colonial powers.
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.
Professor Abba Isa Tijani, director general of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments, said 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,” Tijani said.
Britain’s soldiers seized thousands of metal castings and sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, then separate from British-ruled Nigeria, in 1897.