Jesus College became the first institution in the world to return a Benin Bronze, presenting it to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
Delegates from Nigeria and Benin took part in a ceremony to complete the handover process and celebrate the rightful return of the Bronze.
His Royal Highness, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, immediate younger brother of the Oba of Benin said: “For coming to the conclusion that it’s immoral to retain such items, Jesus College is challenging the erroneous argument that stolen art cannot be returned.
“We are grateful for the student body who initiated the efforts for the return of the bronze. We are also grateful for the work of the Legacy of Slavery Working Party and most importantly we must thank Sonita for the promptness with which she decided Okukor is a royal ancestral heirloom.”
Ms Sonita Alleyne OBE, Master of Jesus College said: “This is a truly momentous occasion. We are pleased to be able to welcome here today representatives from Nigeria and the Royal Court of Benin and return this property.
“This is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage value and history of this artefact. I would like to thank all those both in the UK and Nigeria who have worked towards this moment and made it possible.”
Professor Abba Isa Tijani, Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, said: “It’s an honour to be here at Jesus College and to be part of this ceremony to do what’s right. We are very happy to be part of this process.
“We want to enable Nigerians to see what belongs to them – objects of their history, of cultural and religious importance, that have been away for so long.
“We would like other museums and institutions across the world to take this opportunity and follow suit.”
In May 2019 Jesus College set up its Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) – comprising Fellows, staff and student representatives – to explore the historical, legal and moral status of the College’s ownership of the Bronze. They examined evidence showing that the statue was looted directly from the Court of Benin, as part of the punitive British expedition of 1897, and was given to the College in 1905 by the father of a student.
Dr Véronique Mottier, Chair of the LSWP, said: “I think I can speak for the entire LSWP when I say that this is a moment of mixed emotions. We are all thrilled at seeing this day arrive, when the Bronze is finally returning home, but we are also painfully aware of having deprived its rightful owners for so long of its presence, and offer our heartfelt apologies for this historic wrong.