The Okukor, a sculpture that was looted by British troops in 1897, has handed over to Nigeria by the Jesus College at Cambridge University, London.

The development has been described as setting a precedent expected to put pressure on other institutions to return stolen artefacts.

The handing over documents were signed yesterday during a ceremony at the college to transfer ownership of the Okukor to the Nigerian delegation.

London-based Daily Mail reported that the sculpture of a cockerel was one of hundreds of Benin Bronzes pillaged from the Kingdom of Benin, in Nigeria.

The college’s Legacy of Slavery Working Party concluded in 2019 that the cockerel “belongs with the current Oba at the Court of Benin”. gathered that the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the campaign to return the stolen artefacts commenced in 2018. Mohammed said he had travelled to London to engage the Secretary of Arts and Culture over the Ife Bronze, which was stolen from the museum in Jos and was thereafter sold to an art collector in Belgium.

In his words: “The art collector in Belgium now sent it to an auctioneer to value it for sale. But because we had reported the case to the International Organisation of Museum (IOM), Interpol, and all authorities, it was intercepted and the British government held it.

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“So, we asked them to return it to us. I had to travel to London to push for its return. The auctioneer then said we must pay for it and we refused. Then we also pursued the cockerel, which is the one that they are returning now.

“For the cockerel, I must give credit to our young students at Cambridge University. They put up a very good fight asking for the return of the cockerel. It was these young Nigerian students that started the fight about three years ago and then we joined them, as well as several other Nigerians joined in the campaign to get it back.”

Lai also revealed that the University of Aberdeen, United Kingdom, had also promised to return Nigeria’s artefacts in its custody.

He said, “Before then, France and Mexico have returned some of our artefacts. I was in US in July and we reached an agreement that the US government would help us intercept and return to Nigeria artefacts that were stolen or smuggled out of Nigeria and hope that before the end of November, the agreement would be signed.

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“The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) is also going to the US in a few weeks. The Metropolitan Museum has said it is ready to return some arts to us. So, you can see that the momentum is building. We are also negotiating with the German government for the return of 1,130 looted artefacts.”

Mohammed faulted the insinuation in some quarters that the delayed return of the stolen objects was the result of the country’s inability to make a formal request. He pointed out that the late Ekpo Eyo, who was Director General of the NCMM, had at the IOM made a formal request, which was endorsed then.

“So, what I have done now is that I have written a formal letter asking for the return of all the Ife and Benin Bronzes and all other artefacts that were stolen,” he said.

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