In the first institutional return of its kind, Jesus College is to return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments on Wednesday 27 October.
Delegates from the Commission and Benin will visit Jesus College for a ceremony to complete the handover process and celebrate the rightful return of the Bronze.
His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II said: “We are indeed very pleased and commend Jesus College for taking this lead in making restitution for the plunder that occurred in Benin in 1897.
“We truly hope that others will expedite the return of our artworks which in many cases are of religious importance to us. We wish to thank our President Buhari and our National Commission for Museums and Monuments for their renewed efforts in securing the release of our artefacts on our behalf.
“Finally, we wish to thank the student body of Cambridge University for bringing to light the historical significance of this revered piece of the Royal Court of Benin. It is worthy of note that our father attended Cambridge University but was then Prince Solomon Akenzua. He later ascended the throne of our forefathers as Omo N’Oba Erediauwa, Oba of Benin.”
Ms Sonita Alleyne OBE, Master of Jesus College, said: “This is an historic moment. We look forward to welcoming representatives from Nigeria and Benin to the handover ceremony and to celebrating the return of this Bronze.
“This is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage and history of this artefact.
“Since we took the decision to return the Bronze following the College’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party’s (LSWP) extensive research, many organisations have followed in our footsteps. I would like to thank the LSWP for its diligent and careful investigation into the provenance of the Bronze, to the Fellows for their keen support for its restitution, and to our students who pioneered early calls for this.”
In May 2019, Jesus College set up its Legacy of Slavery Working Party – 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.
In November 2019, Jesus College became the first institution in the world to announce its decision to return a Benin Bronze.
Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, said: “We thank Jesus College for being a trailblazer and we look forward to a similar return of our artefacts by other institutions that are in possession of them.”
Professor Abba Isa Tijani, the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, said: “This return offers new hope for amicable resolution in cultural property ownership disputes. We hope that it will set a precedent for others around the world who are still doubtful of this new evolving approach whereby nations and institutions agree with source nations on return without rancour.
“On our part, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments is receiving this antiquity for the benefit of the Benin people and the people of Nigeria.”