The Okukur was forcibly removed from Benin in 1897 and will be the first Bronze to be returnedChris Loades

Jesus College is set to become the first British institution to return a Benin Bronze as it prepares to hand over the sculpture later this month.

The bronze cockerel, known as the Okukur, will be handed over to delegates from Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments at a ceremony on Wednesday 27th October. 

His Royal Majesty, Oba of Benin, Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Ewuare II said: “We are indeed very pleased and commend Jesus College for taking this lead in making restitution for the plunder that occurred in Benin in 1897.”

“We truly hope that others will expedite the return of our artworks which in many cases are of religious importance to us. We wish to thank our President Buhari and our National Commission for Museums and Monuments for their renewed efforts in securing the release of our artefacts on our behalf.”

He added that he wished to “thank the student body of Cambridge University for bringing to light the historical significance of this revered piece of the Royal Court of Benin.”

Ms Sonita Alleyne OBE, Master of Jesus College, said: “This is an historic moment. We look forward to welcoming representatives from Nigeria and Benin to the handover ceremony and to celebrating the return of this Bronze.”

“This is the right thing to do out of respect for the unique heritage and history of this artefact.

“I would like to thank the LSWP (Legacy of Slavery Working Party) for its diligent and careful investigation into the provenance of the Bronze, to the Fellows for their keen support for its restitution, and to our students who pioneered early calls for this,” Alleyne continued. 

The Okukur was removed from Benin in a punitive expedition by British forces in 1897 and is one of hundreds of Benin bronzes in the UK.

In response to growing student criticism, the Okukur was removed from public display in Jesus College in 2016.

Research by the LSWP - established by the College in 2019 to investigate the College’s links to the slave trade - revealed that it was given to the College in 1905 by the father of one of the students. 

The decision to return the Bronze follows the College’s application to move the Rustat plaque, a plaque to a prominent donor who made much of his wealth in the slave trade, from the College chapel to an educational exhibition space.