The university said the sculpture of an Oba, or ruler, from the Kingdom of Benin left Nigeria in “extremely immoral” ways, leading him to contact authorities in 2019 to negotiate his return.
Pressure has mounted to return Benin bronzes – in fact copper alloy relief sculptures – and other objects taken by the colonial powers to their places of origin.
Neil Curtis, director of Aberdeen Museums and Special Collections, said the bronze, purchased in 1957, had been “obviously looted”.
“It became clear that we had to do something,” Curtis said.
“It’s part of our identity, of our heritage… which has been taken from us for many years,” Tijani said.
British soldiers seized thousands of castings and metal sculptures from the Kingdom of Benin, then separated from Nigeria under British rule, in 1897.
The British Museum, which holds hundreds of sculptures, has, alongside several other museums, formed a dialogue group on Benin to discuss their exhibition in Benin City, some of which are officially on loan. He said discussions were ongoing.
Germany is in talks to return 440 bronzes from Benin as early as the fall, newspaper reports say, while Cambridge University’s Jesus College said it finalized approvals in December to return another bronze . Tijani said American museums have also agreed to return two more bronzes.
The governor of Edo state, of which Benin City is the capital, plans to build a center to store and study returned artefacts by the end of 2021, and a permanent museum by 2025.
Artist and Edo State native Victor Ehikhamenor said he hoped the move would inspire others to follow suit.
“Because some of these things are missing from our environment, people aren’t able to contextualize where we’re coming from,” Ehikhamenor said.