THE UNIVERSITY of Aberdeen will today return a statue to Nigeria which was looted by British soldiers in the 1800s.

The statue is a bronze sculpture that was taken by British soldiers in 1897 in what was described as a "notorious example" of the pillaging of cultural treasures associated with European colonial expansion.

The University of Aberdeen acquired the sculpture in 1957 at an auction, but earlier this year they announced that it will be handed back to the African nation.

The sculpture depicts an Oba, or king, of Benin City, a powerful kingdom in West Africa.

Its return is due to the university staff’s modern "concern" for the provenance of the object and more of a desire to find its origin.

Head of Museums and special collections at the University of Aberdeen, Neil Curtis, said that it was considered more of an African work of art during its auction in the 50’s and its historical significance was unfortunately not considered at that time.

He also added that there are many more artifacts of similar circumstance in the University’s possession.

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Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland this morning, he said: “Today the artifact will be handed over to the Nigerian authorities. We have a group representing the federal republic of Nigeria, the national museums of Nigeria and the Court of the Oba coming to collect it.

“The university’s collections amount to tens and hundreds of thousands of items, and the more we find out about the history the more we understand them.

“Some things were acquired in equal and fair ways, but some were acquired in ways like this statue in a way we would now find very reprehensible.

“This is all about increasing understanding the history, people, and collections better and eventually we’ll be able to show them in the appropriate place.”


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Thousands of metal and ivory sculptures and carvings were looted by British forces in 1897 during the destruction of Benin City in present-day Nigeria by a British military expedition.

Now the Nigerian authorities, who will reside over the artifacts transfer, have welcomed the return of the nations stolen property. 

His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II said the return will act as staple in encouraging other nations to see the 'injustice' of holding on to similar items. 

He said: "“Regardless of the resistance in some quarters, the return of stolen art is the right thing to do.

"We thank the University of Aberdeen for this noble act of returning our bronze work. We hope that other institutions worldwide will see the injustice when they insist on holding on to items which in fact should be a reminder to them of the great injustice that was inflicted on a people so far away and so long ago."

The Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, added: "Nigeria warmly welcomes the return of the Benin Bronze Head by the University of Aberdeen and once again calls on all individuals, organizations and countries in possession of Nigerian artefacts to voluntarily return them to where they belong – Nigeria."

The Aberdeen Uni have previously agreed to repatriate sacred items and ancestral remains to countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and can now add the African nation to that list.

The head sized statue is expected to be housed in a planned Edo Museum of West African Art in Nigeria.