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A bronze cockerel stolen in the 19th century to be returned to Nigeria

A bronze cockerel looted by British soldiers in the 19th century and later given to Jesus College at the University of Cambridge will be repatriated to Nigeria.

The artifact, described as a royal ancestral heirloom, was found to have been stolen in 1897 during a punitive expedition in the Kingdom of Benin, in present-day Nigeria, according to the Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP), the college said.

A group of academics, activists, and students, LSWP was created this year to establish the college’s historical ties with the slave trade. Members have held discussions with a member of the Benin Dialogue Group over the last three years to determine the origin of the artifact.

The statue was donated to the English college by a student’s father in 1905.

In 2016, the bronze, known as Okukor, was removed from the college hall after students called for it to be returned to Nigeria.

The decision to return the stolen cockerel was not an attempt to “erase history” but became necessary following the diligent work of the legacy group, which had recommended its return, said Jesus College Master Sonita Alleyne.

After thorough investigation and diligent work by LSWP into the bronze’s origin, the college had to find the “best way forward,” Alleyne added.

The college did not give an exact date and the process for the return.

British forces plundered Benin bronzes when they ransacked the kingdom in the 19th century. The artworks have been sold across Western museums, and the Nigerian government has been pushing for their repatriation since it gained independence in 1960.

Last year, the British Museum in London, which has some of the collection on display, agreed to return some pieces temporarily to the Benin Royal Museum in Edo within three years.