British university to return Benin Bronze to Nigeria ‘within weeks’ By Reuters

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By Libby George and Paul CarstenLAGOS/ABUJA, March 25 (Reuters) – The University of Aberdeensaid on Thursday it would return a Benin Bronze to Nigeriawithin weeks, one of the first public institutions to do so morethan a century after Britain looted the sculptures and auctionedthem to Western museums and collectors.The university said the sculpture of an Oba, or ruler, ofthe Kingdom of Benin, had left Nigeria in an “extremely immoral”fashion, leading it to reach out to authorities in 2019 tonegotiate its return. Pressure has mounted to return to their places of origin theBenin Bronzes – actually copper alloy relief sculptures – andother artefacts taken by colonial powers. Neil Curtis, Aberdeen’s head of museums and specialcollections, 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’sNational Commission for Museums and Monuments, said theimportance of displaying the Bronze inside Nigeria for the firsttime in more than 120 years was inexpressible.”It’s part of our identity, part of our heritage… whichhas been taken away from us for many years,” Tijani said. Britain’s soldiers seized thousands of metal castings andsculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, then separate fromBritish-ruled Nigeria, in 1897.The British Museum, which holds hundreds of the sculptures,has alongside several other museums formed a Benin DialogueGroup to discuss displaying them in Benin City, some officiallyon loan. It has said discussions are ongoing.Germany is in talks to send back 440 Benin Bronzes as earlyas the autumn, according to newspaper reports, while theUniversity of Cambridge’s Jesus College said it had finalisedapprovals in December to return another Bronze. Tijani said U.S.museums had also agreed to return two more Bronzes. The governor of Edo state, of which Benin City is thecapital, plans to build a centre to store and study the returnedartefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025.Artist and Edo state native Victor Ehikhamenor said he hopedthe decision would prompt others to follow suit. “Because some of these things are missing from ourenvironment, people are not able to contextualize where we arecoming from,” Ehikhamenor said.
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