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University of Aberdeen to repatriate ‘looted’ Nigerian bronze sculpture

A sculpture will be repatriated to Nigeria by the University of Aberdeen as its acquisition is now considered to have been “extremely immoral”.

The “priceless” bronze is described as having been looted by British soldiers in Benin City in 1897.

Depicting an Oba (king) of Benin, it was acquired by the university in 1957 at an auction.

However, amid growing calls for the return of such items, the university has now approved its repatriation.

Thousands of sculptures and carvings were taken during the destruction of Benin City in present-day Nigeria.

Many were sold to museums or private collectors.

Sacred items

A number of museums have been discussing the Benin bronzes in their collections in recent years, amid support for the creation of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City to display returned items.

Map showing ancient Benin kingdom

Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections, said: “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.

“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.”

Bronze sculptureIMAGE COPYRIGHTUNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN

A panel unanimously recommended its return to Nigeria, and the university’s governing body supported the move.

Burning issue of repatriation

Prof George Boyne, the university’s principal and vice-chancellor, said: “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.”

Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria said: “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”.

Source : BBC