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Jesus College returns Benin Bronze to Nigeria, first global institution to do so

Jesus College of the University of Cambridge became the first institution in the world to return a Benin Bronze to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

The bronze, a statue of a cockerel known as Okukor, has been held at Jesus College since 1905. It was returned on Wednesday, October 27.

His Royal Highness Prince Aghatise Erediauwa, the younger brother of the Oba of Benin, thanked the college and was grateful that Okukor could return.

“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,” Prince Aghatise said.

“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.”

Jesus College’s Master Sonita Alleyne OBE has resolved to return Okukor since her term began in 2019.

“It was a pretty much unanimous decision that this was morally the correct thing to do, so it was a very swift decision, and we then went about getting permissions from the Charity Commission, and then Covid struck,” Alleyne told Varsity.

The Benin Bronzes, a group of over a thousand pieces of Benin artworks dating from the 13th century, were forcibly taken from the Court of Benin, now part of Nigeria, by the 1897 British expedition to Benin.

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