(LONDON) — A college at the University of Cambridge is set to return an artifact looted by British soldiers to Nigeria, in a move described as “the first institutional return of its kind.”
On Wednesday, Jesus College Cambridge will hand over a statue of a cockerel — a young rooster — to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments. The statue is a Benin Bronze, part of a collection of artifacts stolen from the Kingdom of Benin in modern-day Nigeria by British soldiers in 1897. Many of the other Benin Bronzes are on display at the British Museum.
The return comes amid growing pressure in Western countries to return artifacts looted during colonization.
“This is an historic moment,” Sonita Alleyne, Master of Jesus College, said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming representatives from Nigeria and Benin to the handover ceremony and to celebrating the return of this Bronze.”
“This is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage and history of this artifact,” she added.
The Nigerian government has welcomed the return of the statue.
“We thank Jesus College for being a trailblazer and we look forward to a similar return of our artifacts by other institutions that are in possession of them,” Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister for Information and Culture, said in a statement.
This week, British media reported that the Nigerian government had sent a formal letter to the British Museum, which holds the largest collection of Benin Bronzes, requesting the return of the artifacts.
In France, the Quai Branly Museum is also set to return 26 Benin Bronzes, with the collection on display until the end of the month before they are sent to Nigeria. Germany is also set to return hundreds of looted artifacts to Nigeria.
“This return offers new hope for amicable resolution in cultural property ownership disputes,” Professor Abba Isa Tijani, the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, said. “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,” he added.
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