Benin Bronzes in the British MuseumSon of Groucho / Flickr

Nigerian royals have insisted that Cambridge University was “duped” into negotiating the return of looted artefacts with “false claimants”.

Members of the royal family, as well as the former President of Nigeria, have demanded that the University repatriate 116 Benin Bronzes currently displayed in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA).

The return of the artefacts stalled when it emerged that the bronzes would become the property of the King of Benin, rather than the Nigerian Government.

The Bronzes are part of a collection of artworks dating from the 13th century onwards and were looted from Benin City by a British expedition in 1897.

In October 2021, Jesus College became the first institution in the world to return one of the Benin Bronzes, a bronze cockerel called Okukor, that was donated to the college in 1905 by one of the leaders of the 1897 expedition.

A deal was initially approved in December 2022 for most of the University's Bronzes to be returned to Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

The Benin royal family now claims that the museum is not the legitimate claimant to the Bronzes.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Prince Aghatise Erediauwa of Benin, the younger brother of Oba (King) Ewuare II, stated that he feels “sorry” for the “Europeans” who have been “duped and received promises” about the artefacts from illegitimate claimants.

“Cambridge should most definitely return the artefacts. The Oba of Benin is the legitimate owner,” the Prince added, claiming that the President of Nigeria has “recognised this”.

“They [Cambridge] must now do the right thing, and return the artefacts to the right people,” he continued.

Then-President Muhammadu Buhari previously issued a decree in March 2023 declaring that the repatriated Bronzes must be “handed over to the Oba”.

Oba Ewuare II later affirmed that the former President “spelt it out clearly” that the “ownership, custody, and management” are in the control of the Oba as an institution.


Mountain View

Don faces backlash for criticising gender pronoun ‘zealots’

The Oba has put forward plans for the establishment of a Royal Museum in Benin City where the Bronzes would be housed, though there are concerns over the funding of the institution.

The MAA’s director, Professor Nicholas Thomas, asserted in May that he has “no doubt” that the transfer of ownership will go ahead.

The University stated that they are “in talks with all parties in Nigeria over the implementation of the Council’s decision to return Benin Bronzes in its collections.”