Reuters: Nigeria's first precedent is set by the return of Bronze from Cambridge College

This undated image from social media shows a looted Benin Bronze artifact. It was taken October 27, 2021, after Cambridge University announced that it would return the sculpture to Nigeria. Courtesy of Chris Loades/Jesus College, Cambridge/Handout via REUTERS

LONDON, Oct 27 (Reuters) - A Cambridge University college and a Paris museum on Wednesday handed back cultural artefacts looted from West Africa during the colonial era, setting a precedent that will pressure other Western institutions to return similarly stolen works.

Jesus College, Cambridge, received a sculpture of a cockerel that was taken by British troops in 1897. It was one of hundreds of bronzes stolen from the once-powerful Kingdom of Benin. The statue is located in what is now Nigeria. The Benin Bronzes are among Africa's most culturally significant artefacts.

Sonita Alleyne Master of Jesus College said, "This is the right decision to make out of respect for this unique heritage and history," before the ceremony in which the cockerel was given to a Nigerian delegation.

The father of a student gave the artifact to Jesus College in 1905 after it was looted. The college, whose crest features a cockerel, announced in 2019 it would return it to Nigeria.

In Paris, the Quai Branly museum handed over to the republic of Benin 26 artefacts stolen in 1892. They are among 5,000 works requested by the West African country, which borders Nigeria.

The handovers signify a landmark in the decade-long battle by African nations to recover works plagiaged by colonisers.

Some 90% of Africa's cultural heritage is believed to be in Europe, French art historians estimate. Quai Branly alone houses around 70,000 African items, while London's British Museum has tens of thousand more.

President Emmanuel Macron presided at the Paris ceremony. He said that "all young people need to seize their country's history to better build their future." Restitution is much more than just a restitution. It is an entire program of cooperation."

Germany has accepted to begin returning Benin Bronzes it holds in its museums next spring. Britain's University of Aberdeen declared that it would be returning a Benin Bronze that depicts a head of an Oba. It claimed that the sculpture was purchased at an auction in 1957.

"We really need this, it's only the beginning," said Eusebe Dossou, a Benin national visiting the Quai Branly Museum. "We want everything back."

Nigeria's government thanked Jesus College, calling it a "trailblazer", adding that they look forward to seeing other artifacts returned by other institutions.

Although the British Museum has mentioned "opportunities for sharing" and "displaying" items from Nigerian collections, it has not indicated that it will transfer ownership.

Reporting - Estelle Shirbon. Additional reporting - Matthieu PROTARD in Paris. Editing – William Maclean and John Stonestreet

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