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Cambridge college to return looted cockerel statue to Nigeria

The cockerel statue

A Cambridge college is to return a looted bronze cockerel statue to representatives from Nigeria in a ceremony this month.

The legacy of slavery

Jesus College set up its Legacy of Slavery Working Party in 2019 to explore the “historical, legal and moral status of the college’s ownership of the Bronze”. It followed a campaign by students for the item’s return.

The group concluded that the statue, which was looted by British colonial forces in 1897 and given to the college in 1905 by the father of a student, “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin”. The Oba of Benin is head of the historic Eweka dynasty of the Benin Empire, centred on Benin City in modern-day Nigeria.

Jesus College said in a statement that it “became the first institution in the world to announce its decision to return a Benin Bronze” in 2019. The statue had been removed from display at the college in 2016.

It will be returned to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments in a ceremony at Jesus College, attended by delegates from the commission and Benin, on 27 October. The Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II said:

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We are indeed very pleased and commend Jesus College for taking this lead in making restitution for the plunder that occurred in Benin in 1897. We truly hope that others will expedite the return of our artworks which in many cases are of religious importance to us.

History

Master of Jesus College Sonita Alleyne described it as a “historic moment”, adding:

This is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage and history of this artefact.

She went on:

Since we took the decision to return the Bronze following the college’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party’s (LSWP) extensive research, many organisations have followed in our footsteps. I would like to thank the LSWP for its diligent and careful investigation into the provenance of the Bronze, to the Fellows for their keen support for its restitution, and to our students who pioneered early calls for this.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, said:

We thank Jesus College for being a trailblazer and we look forward to a similar return of our artefacts by other institutions that are in possession of them.

Professor Abba Isa Tijani, director-general of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, said:

This return offers new hope for amicable resolution in cultural property ownership disputes. We hope that it will set a precedent for others around the world who are still doubtful of this new evolving approach whereby nations and institutions agree with source nations on return without rancour.

On our part, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments is receiving this antiquity for the benefit of the Benin people and the people of Nigeria.

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