One hundred and twenty four years after thousands of Benin bronze artefacts were looted from the Oba of Benin’s Court in the ancient Benin Kingdom, the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, United Kingdom, has handed over one of them to Nigeria.
This comes days after Cambridge University’s Jesus College handed over ‘Okukor’, the first of the bronze artefacts.
In his reaction, His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, thanked the university for returning the artefact, urging other institutions around the world who had the bronzes as part of their collection to reconsider their position by returning the stolen pieces to their rightful owner.
He said, “Much has been said about the significance of heritage art and, in spite of the occasional attempts in some quarters to downplay their cultural and religious relevance, these works are often imbued with the spirit of the people from whom they were taken.
“Regardless of the resistance in some quarters, the return of stolen art is the right thing to do. Some say that they acquired their own collections. This is like saying, ‘well, I know this item was originally stolen but because I bought it somewhere, then I’m okay.’ That notion is completely wrong and unfortunate. In any event, we thank the University of Aberdeen for this noble act of returning our bronze work. We hope that other institutions worldwide will see the injustice when they insist on holding on to items which in fact should be a reminder to them of the great injustice that was inflicted on a people so far away and so long ago.”
The ceremony, held on Thursday in Scotland, had in attendance the Oba of Benin represented by his younger brother, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa; the Obasuyi of Benin, Chief Charles Uwensuyi-Edosomwan; Director of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Professor Abba Isa Tijani; the Legal Adviser of the NCMM, Babatunde Adebiyi, and the Director, Museums, NCMM, Abdul Mohammed Gimba, to take possession of the artefact.
The sculpture, depicting the head of an Oba, is one of the thousands scattered across the globe and only the second to make a return to Nigeria in over 100 years. The University of Aberdeen purchased the bronze piece at an auction in 1957.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, Professor George Boyne, noted the symbolism the artefact, stating that returning the bronze work was only the right and just thing to do.
He 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.’’