By Muyiwa Adetiba
It was a languid Sunday; one of those days that seemed to stretch and I was at a loose end. So I decided to spend some quality time with a mentor. Only he had a prior appointment and wouldn’t be home. He then asked me if I could join him and his ‘date’ at Freedom Park for 6pm.
At the mention of the name, my mind went to Ojota where the fuel subsidy rallies took place last year. I was therefore surprised to learn that Freedom Park is on the island.
‘Do you remember the old prison on Broad Street? He asked. ‘Yes, I do but can’t remember where it is anymore’, I replied. To his chuckle, I retorted that it was before my time, besides, visiting prisons should not be anybody’s favourite past time.
Any way, Broad Street prison was one of the prisons where Chief Obafemi Awolowo was held during his treasonable felony ordeal. It has now been turned into a park by the Fashola administration. I was greeted with a few surprises when I stepped into the park. First, I had no idea that this kind of space existed in the heart of Lagos. Second, the ambience threw me. It was not an open space like the ones at Oshodi and Ojota. It was not all brick and mortar either. It had a museum, an art gallery, a few offices and restaurants.
It also managed to retain some of the cells where famous—an infamous—people spent a part of their lives. Yet you had a feeling of space; joyous, exhilarating space. A usually claustrophobic prison atmosphere had been freed, literally and figuratively!
Fittingly, Dejumo Lewis of the Old Village Headmaster, was said to be celebrating his 70th on that day and old tunes filled the evening air.I saw Ted Mukoro, Bayo Awala and Tunde Oloyede from afar. These were consummate artistes of the 70s and their presence at the park completed a picture in my mind.
Fortunately, the architect who designed the park was walking past and my mentor’s guest beckoned to him. He turned out to be Theo Lawson, my junior in the ‘good old school’, so I was able to enjoy a brief ‘history’ of the park.
Lawson was in one of the committees looking for ways of improving Lagos as a City. He did a design that did not see the light of day for years until a chance meeting with one of Governor Fashola’s Special Assistants brought the design back into focus. He subsequently had a meeting with Fashola who liked the idea and rest as they say, is history. This idea was to keep as much of the history of the prison as possible while opening it up—hence the retention of certain relics of the old prison.
Given its location and size, it is obvious the place would have been inhabited by the many who sought an abode as they tried to eke out a living. These people would have had to be flushed out for this place of beauty to emerge. But then, whoever heard of an omelette that didn’t involve the breaking of eggs?
I lived in Festac Town for almost 30years and it was my lot—or ordeal— to pass through Oshodi twice a day. I heard, witnessed and was a victim, of terrible things along the Oshodi axis. I was attacked and shot by armed robbers in Oshodi about 10 years ago. A friend, a medical doctor, was shot and attacked about the same time in about the same place.
Now the place wears a new, serene look. To achieve this, some buildings were brought down and people flushed out. The breaking of eggs to make an omelette…
Obalende bridge was another notorious spot until it was cleaned up recently. Many regular users of the place have since heaved a sigh of relief.* But what happened to the urchins and area boys that populated—and terrorised the place? Obviously they had to make way. The breaking of eggs….
What brings all these up is the noise that attended the Lagos State Government decision to demolish houses in Badia in its attempt to clean up the place. Many of the ‘do goody’ voices describing the exercise as insensitive, have never been near the place and can’t imagine how people there are living in the 21st century. I went to Badia once and vowed not to go there again. To bring the place up to scratch will involve many tough decisions. But remember, eggs will have to be broken to make an omelette.
Festac Town was a lovely place in the early 80s.It was a model town; the pride of Nigeria and black Africa. It used to be lovely after the rains because of the clean streets and clean, fresh air. Now each rain brings untold horrors because the drainage is gone along with the roads. In fact, who ever attended Festac 77 would weep to see what the place has become. But then, this is what happens when leaders look the other way and refuse to take tough decisions.
It would be easier and more politically expedient for Fashola to quietly make his money and look the other way as many of his colleagues are doing. Instead, he made the harder choice; to clean up Lagos and make it safe. In the process, a few eggs will have to be cracked.
I thank those who commented on last week’s article— both the positive and negative ones, including those who found ethnic bias where there was none. I still insist that Lagos needs help in accommodating people streaming in every day if it is not to become a slum and a haven for robbers. Other states have to do more to stem urban migration and defuse ethnicity.