Cambridge college hands back looted African sculpture

Cambridge (United Kingdom) (AFP) – A Cambridge University college will hand over to Nigeria an African bronze looted over a century ago, in the first return of its kind by a British institution.


The elaborately carved cockerel, known as "Okukor", was one of thousands of African artefacts taken from the continent during the colonial period.

Students protested for it to be returned, prompting its eventual handover to Nigerian officials Wednesday.

"We're excited, very happy to see that this artefact, which has been away from Nigeria for decades, is in good shape," said Abba Isa Tijani, the head of the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Speaking at a ceremony to hand over the treasure, he said it was the first time a UK institution had given back a Benin bronze.

The bronze was taken from the kingdom of Benin -- now part of Nigeria -- in 1897 when Britain had a foothold on the continent.

The head of the college Sonita Alleyne told AFP she was "proud" of the move to give it back, saying it was a "moral imperative" to return it.

"It's absolutely right. This belongs to the people of Nigeria," she said.

Cambridge's Jesus college removed the cockerel from public display in 2016 after a campaign by students arguing it was a symbol of Britain's colonial past.

Several other Western institutions have said they too plan to hand looted African treasures back.

The British Museum, which has the world's largest collection of Benin bronzes, has however not done so.

Many are facing mounting pressure to give back colonial-era treasures, a movement given momentum in part thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement.

This week, the Quai Branly museum in Paris is exhibiting a trove of Benin treasures for a final time before they are handed back to the West African nation.

Tijani was set to travel to Scotland to receive another Benin bronze from the University of Aberdeen.