Holders of Nigerian origin artefacts in Europe may have local public sentiment to contend with in the future, so suggests anti-British imperialism protest in the U.K. The protest by students of Jesus College, Cambridge University, England over Okpa (the Benin bronze cockerel), seems to be yielding interesting results. The work was said to have been on display at the school for quite a while.
Nigeria's National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has expressed joy on what it noted as the decision of Jesus College, in agreeing to bring down the Okpa from where it was mounted. The NCMM therefore seeks return of the sculpture.
NCMM stated that the students of the college were worried about link of the Okpa to Britain’s colonial past and voted that the bronze cockerel that stands in the hall of the college be repatriated to Nigeria from where it was looted in the 19th century.
"While expressing our deep appreciation to the students and college authorities for this breakthrough, we look forward to the return of this important artifact soon," NCMM stated.
Provenance of the Okpa reveals that it was commissioned by the then Oba of Benin for the Queen Mother (Iyeoba) as the decoration of her ancestral shrine in Uselu. The brass/bronze roosters or cockerels are placed on ancestral altars. They are symbols for fowls and other animals that are sacrificed during rituals in honour of royal ancestors. NCMM describes the symbols as "explicitly male creatures that acknowledge the Queen Mother was different from other women and shared powers and privileges with men."
And in depicting the birds, Benin bronze casters, according to NCMM, indulge their love of dense overall patterns.
Expressing disapproval of state of the Okpa, the museum authority said: "It is harrowing and heart rendering that such an iconic cultural object should be forcefully taken and irreverently exhibited for more than a century.
"Our position is that this and other objects similarly purloined should be returned to their countries of origin notwithstanding the one sided legalese that have been introduced by the purloiners to justify their acquisition. We call on all well meaning people of the world to join us in this struggle to redress the ills of the past.
"It is to be noted that the National Commission for Museums and Monuments has an existing “Plan of Action” concerning Benin bronzes in European Museums whereby we are adopting the policy of collaboration, cooperation and negotiation in getting back our cultural heritage properties from European Museums and other public institutions around the world. The talks are ongoing with meetings held in Germany, Austria and Nigeria.
"We believe that the Benin Plan of Action is the first step that will lead to greater understanding and that Cambridge and other important United Kingdom establishments should be part of subsequent engagements on this issue.
"It can be recalled that Nigerian nation has ratified many treaties which purposes are to prevent illicit export and to facilitate the return of unlawfully exported cultural property.
"Other organization and bodies which Nigeria has joined in order to ensure the return of Nigerian antiquities include Scheme for the Protection of Cultural Heritage within the Commonwealth. Furthermore, Nigeria has signed Bilateral Agreement with nations such as China and Peru to facilitate return of cultural property to countries of origin."