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University will return looted Benin bronze statue to Nigeria

Nigeria’s Minister of Culture describes it as “a step in the right direction”

By: Anttoni James Numminen

A bronze sculpture, looted from Benin (modern-day Nigeria) by British troops in 1897, will be returned ‘within weeks’, according to the University of Aberdeen.

The decision to return the statue, acquired by the University at an auction in 1957, was made unanimously by an “expert panel”, including academic specialists and curators, as well as representatives of the University Court, the Hunterian Museum in the University of Glasgow and the Nigerian claimants.

Before the statue was bought in 1957, it had been displayed at a London exhibition on African Art in 1927.

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections, said that it had been acquired in a way “that we now consider to have been extremely immoral.”

“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.”

The return of the statue has acquired international media attention, with coverage in African News Agency, numerous Nigerian news outlets such as NewsNG and Legit, The Guardian, CNN and others.

Annie Wilson, convenor of the Students’ Association’s BAME Forum, said the forum was pleased to see that the University is “finally taking some measures in enacting decolonisation across campus” while expressing hope that universities and governments would continue with similar actions in the future.

“This is a very small step forward, a drop in an ocean of colonialist and imperialist violence, but it is a step that we are nonetheless happy to see. Decolonisation does not and should never just mean adding some BAME authors to reading lists and hiring BAME speakers for a few lectures or conferences.

“It means returning stolen goods and artefacts, reimbursing the nations robbed and torn apart by British colonialism and imperialism, and doing so regardless of if it makes the White Man uncomfortable.”

Principal George Boyne 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."

According to its website, the University’s Marischal Museum holds “a significant collection of Egyptian antiquities”. These include “over 4,000 items ranging from everyday objects to pieces with ceremonial connotations. Main features of the collection include a mummy of a young girl and various mummified animals.”


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