Jesus College Returns a Benin Bronze, Okukor, to Nigeria

        (Okukor and delegates at the handover ceremony)

On Wednesday, Jesus College, part of Cambridge University returned the Bronze, a statue of a cockerel known as Okukor, which has been held at the College since 1905. It became the first institution to return a Benin Bronze having presented it to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

The ceremony which celebrated the rightful return of the Bronze was held at the college and it had delegates from Nigeria in attendance. Before the agreement to hand over the statue, there was a long duration of discussion after demands were made that the statue be returned in 2016.

Okukor has been in the custody of the College since 1905 after it received it as gift from a student’s father. The Benin Bronzes comprises a collection of about a thousand pieces of Benin artworks from the thirteenth century which were stolen from the Court of Benin, now part of Nigeria, by the 1897 British Expedition to Benin.

At the start of his term in 2019, the present Master Sonita Alleyne OBE  agreed that the Bronze would be returned to Nigeria. The Charity Commission of England and Wales approved the transfer of the statue to the Oba of Benin and a handover ceremony was planned in December 2020.

The younger brother of the Oba of Benin, His Royal Highness Prince Aghatise Erediauwa 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.”

The handover ceremony had Professor Abba Isa Tijani, the Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments of Nigeria, and Jesus Fellow Dr Veronique Mottier, who chairs the Legacies of Slavery Working Party in attendance.

Professor Tijani 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.”

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