DAKAR, Senegal – A bronze statue that was looted from what is now Nigeria more than a century ago will be returned, Cambridge University in Britain said, as Nigeria’s government announced a campaign on Thursday for the return of the West African nation’s looted and smuggled artifacts from around the world.
The statue of a cockerel was taken in 1897 from the Court of Benin and given to the university several years later. The statue was removed from public view in 2016 after students protested, saying it represented a colonial narrative.
Nigeria’s minister of information and culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, welcomed the return of the statue, especially the role of the students in bringing about its repatriation.
However, he called the decision to return the statue a “drop in the ocean” considering that hundreds of Benin bronze pieces were taken after Benin City was occupied by British imperial troops in 1897.
Mohammed said Nigeria would be coming for all those holding Nigeria’s cultural property anywhere in the world, using all legal and diplomatic instruments available.
“Those who looted our heritage resources, especially during the 19th century wars, or those who smuggled them out of the country for pecuniary reasons, have simply encouraged the impoverishment of our heritage and stealing of our past,” he said.
The government also considers the artifacts critical components to make use of for the culture and tourism sectors, he said.
Governments and institutions in the West are under growing pressure to return artifacts taken decades or centuries ago, especially from Africa. Some have begun assessing their collections and discussing next steps to hand them back.
Last year, a report commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron recommended that French museums give back works taken without consent, if African countries request them.
The experts who presented the report estimated that up to 90 percent of African art is outside the continent, including statues, thrones and manuscripts. Thousands of works are held by just one museum, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, opened in 2006 to showcase non-European art.
Since the French report, Congo, Senegal and Ivory Coast have also requested the return of artifacts.
This month, France restored to Senegal a sword that had belonged to 19th century Islamic scholar Omar Saidou Tall, who led an anti-colonial struggle against the French.
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe visited Senegal to hand the sword to President Macky Sall.
Last week, The Open Society Foundations, an international grant-making organization founded by billionaire George Soros, announced a four-year, $15 million initiative to help repatriate cultural objects to African nations.
(China Daily 11/30/2019 page7)