The University of Aberdeen in Scotland has announced its readiness to return looted Benin kingdom bronze in its possession to Nigeria.
In a statement on Thursday, the institution said it acquired the bronze sculpture, depicting an Oba of Benin, in 1957 at an auction.
According to the institution, the bronze was among thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings looted by British forces in 1897 when they invaded Benin City in Edo state.
It added that the development makes the University of Aberdeen “the first institution to agree to the full repatriation from a museum of a Benin bronze.”
Neil Curtis, Aberdeen’s head of museums and special collections, said the move followed a review initiatied by the institution which found the bronze was acquired in an “extremely immoral” manner.
“The University of Aberdeen has previously agreed to repatriate sacred items and ancestral remains to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has a procedure that considers requests in consultation with claimants,” he said.
“An ongoing review of the collections identified the Head of an Oba as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do.”
Also speaking, George Boyne, the institution’s principal and vice-chancellor, said the bronze was acquired in “reprehensible circumstances”.
Boyne said the repatriation was in line with the values of the varsity as an international and inclusive insitution “dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.”
“It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances. We therefore decided that an unconditional return is the most appropriate action we can take, and are grateful for the close collaboration with our partners in Nigeria,” he said.
On his part, Lai Mohammed, minister of information and culture, described the varsity’s gesture as a welcome development while urging others in possession of art works looted from Nigeria to replicate such.
“The reaching out by the University of Aberdeen and eventual release of the priceless antiquity is a step in the right direction. Other holders of Nigerian antiquity ought to emulate this to bring fairness to the burning issue of repatriation,” he said.
The development comes days after the Humboldt Forum, a museum of non-European art in Berlin, Germany also announced move to return looted Benin bronzes to Nigeria.
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