Some have become ordinary spots where daily trading activities take place, while others have turned into beautiful fun spots. Yet, others have become the place for the homeless. In this report, Chukwuma Okparaocha looks at the current state of some monuments in Lagos.
Virtually all nations of the world have historical monuments or structures that tell stories about them.
Nigeria equally has some historical monuments that tell the story of its transformation from a colony of slave trade to a land under the British rule and finally an independent nation.
Some of such monuments include Tinubu Square, Freedom Park and Tafawa Balewa Square, all of which are situated in one of the oldest and historic regions of Lagos State – Lagos Island.
Though formerly in a derelict condition, Lagos Island’s Tinubu Square is a site of historical importance; it was here that the amalgamation ceremony that unified the Northern and Southern protectorates that gave birth to Nigeria took place in 1914. It is named after Madam Efunroye Tinubu, the first Iyalode of the Egba clan, who was reputed to have been an active antagonist of slave trade.
Located at the end of the popular Broad Street on Lagos Island, the square had, however, been in a state of disrepair for a number of years before it was eventually rebuilt by the immediate past administration of Mr Babatunde Fashola.
Meant to stand as a reminder of the struggle against slave trade and man’s inhumanity to man, Tinubu Square, formerly known as the Independence Square, carries messages of hope, courage, freedom, liberation, sacrifice and heroism.
A teacher of history in one of the tertiary institutions in the country, Mr Segun Toriade, told Saturday Tribune: “Sadly, the entire Tinubu Square arena has, over the years, been transformed into a commercial hub where various items are sold.
“The square, which was meant to be a spot that would remind us all of our past struggles and create in everyone who comes visiting a sombre reflection of the pains and sacrifice made by generations long gone, has been swallowed by hustle and bustle of people striving to eke out a living.”
Any idea of a quiet visit any tourist may be hoping to have at the Square would be quickly drowned in the sea of the noise typical of any Nigerian market.
In contrast to Tinubu Square, Freedom Park is situated in a serene environment.
Located on a site that once housed a notorious pre-colonial prison called Broad Way Prisons, Freedom Park seems apt for a complex that once held in captivity not only criminals, but freedom fighters and agitators such as the late elder statesman, Herbert Macaulay; Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe; foremost leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and even Adeyemo Alakija, who were all branded rebels by Nigeria’s then colonial lords.
According to history, the 52-cell Broad Street Prison used to be one of the earliest facilities established by the colonial masters after the ceding of Lagos by Oba Dosunmu in 1863 to the British colonial masters.
Now a park full of beautiful flowers, fountains and shrubs, Freedom Park has become a tourist centre. Where once stood a dreaded 52-cell prison now sits a row of small 45-inch rooms (this is according to a measurement made by Saturday Tribune’s correspondent who visited the park), which retain the size, shape and originality of the previous prison cells.
A Lagos resident, Pa Amodu Adediran, who claimed to have spent 65 years on the Island, noted in a chat with Saturday Tribune: “It is fascinating to watch the once sinister and mysterious prison walls crumble and the whole place turned into a beautiful garden. All these should remind the new generation of leaders, including the youth, of the selfless sacrifices made by past leaders.”
Speaking generally on the massive change that has happened to Broad Street over the years, a nostalgic Pa Adediran lamented over the condition of many of the facilities now available, while also noting that there had been a near total collapse of many of the amenities that had made Lagos Island the toast of many regions in the country.
“There were fewer automobiles on the road. The streets were always clean, unlike now when there is refuse everywhere. We enjoyed better scenery of peace and quiet. But nowadays, there seems to be confusion everywhere,” he lamented.
Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) is another historical monument that seems to have also been forgotten. Indeed, it has not been totally forgotten, as it still battles for relevance in the scheme of things.
Formerly known as the Race Course, with its signature being a row of huge horse and eagle statues that adorn its surroundings, TBS was the symbol of Nigeria’s political struggles. It was the point where the green and white flag of the nation was hoisted for the first time ever, replacing the Union Jack of the Great Britain.
But nowadays, despite a few political events that are occasionally held there, this great monument has merely been reduced to a centre where periodic trading activities are held in the form of the Lagos Trade Fair. Its once beautiful landscape has now turned into the resting place of the homeless, while its frontage and other sections have largely evolved into a mini market of a sort where various items such as clothing, shoes, food, shoes, household items, sunglasses, books, and movie discs are sold on a daily basis.
What was meant to be the monument’s car park has now become a major garage where commercial buses plying different parts of Lagos are stationed. Thus, there, it is not uncommon to hear shouts of “Ajegunle!” “Mile 2!,” “Apapa-Wharf!” and “Oshodi!” among other names of places coming from the operators of the various buses stationed there.
Even a section has been cut out for the government-owned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Lagbus buses to also carry out transport activities.