Friday 1 February 2013

'Sandbank City' …preserving heritage of an unwilling Lagos

By Tajudeen Sowole
Although, the new book, Sandbank City: Lagos at 150, chronicles colonial and post-independence eras, but the complexity of preserving the city’s heritage is more pronounced in the work authored by Prof John Godwin (OFR OBE) and Gillian Hopwood (MFR). 

PRESENTED yesterday at The Wheatbaker, Ikoyi, Lagos, Godwin and Hopwood's book is, no doubt, a comprehensive documentation that may become a reference point in today’s management of a city in transition. More importantly, in a mono economy environment such as Nigeria's, which is largely built on oil revenue, the place of history and heritage underscores the significance of tourism contents such as monuments, among the highlights of the book.

With choices of Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-governmental Relation, Disu Holloway for the Preface and one of Nigeria's renowned town planners Prof Akin Mabogunje for the Foreword, the synergy between monuments and tourism have been properly articulated by the authors. 

The Prologue of the 202-page book brings two sides of gain and loss in preservation of monuments, which, perhaps represents the contents and characters of the individuals, governments and institutions mentioned in the book.

 Cover of the book Sandbank City: Lagos at 150
The authors, for example, note two of the oldest monuments along inner Marina, still standing today: the Government House (now Governor’s Lodge), built in 1894 and the Government Secretariat, 1895.  Having lived and worked in Nigeria, Lagos Island specifically, since 1954, the authors, no doubt are great resource persons on the thematic engagement of the book.

Divided into 10 parts, the book starts with the Part 1, Summary of the Story, in which the authors note the similarity between Lagos, Singapore and Hong Kong as “strategic trading enclaves” created by the British Empire. Though they avoid comparing the rate of development among the three cities, but argue that Lagos “certainly has made a name for itself,” sometimes, for the wrong reason of lacking in urban planning, despite rise in population, particularly on the mainland axis of the state. 

As natives of Britain, the authors recall their coming to Nigeria as “raw recruits in 1954,” who were “fashionably anti-colonial” and expected to stay here “for just 18 months and return home.” From then on, they have decided to stay and share a “different life and understanding other cultures” as one of the sub headings in Part 1 explains. In fact, Godwin in a short documentary viewed about a week before the book launch claimed: “we are Lagosians.” 

Perhaps, diverse views of Lagos, captured by different writers in newspaper articles and books have not really kept pace with the city’s challenges, so suggests Part 2, Writing About Lagos. Two of the major references include Alister Macmillan’s 1920 publication titled The Red Book of West Africa and a 2005 documentation, Lagos: A City At Work published by Glendora.

The consequence of under-assessing the city, perhaps portends great infrastructural deficit, as a 1998 study by a team from Harvard University, U.S. raised the alarm. Referencing the study, Godwin and Hopwood disclose that among the “hair-raising conclusions” of the Harvard study, showed Lagos as a “lesson” for the future “of all our cities and that we might already be on the threshold of a revolution in a new planning strategy for survival in our cities.” 

 Lumpkin House on Abibu Oki Street, Lagos Island is one of the renovated remnants of post-1861 heritages. 
Parts 3 to 6 revisited the efforts of various governments from the colonial eras to 2007 in creating a city as well as a state. However, Part 7, Nigeria’s Capital appears like the heart of the book. It listed four most crucial periods in the history of Lagos. These include the colonial era, under the Governor, Lord Lugard; the military years of Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, when the first post-colonial attempt at restructuring Lagos came; first civilian government in Lagos headed by Alhaji Lateef Jakande when the state had enormous, but short-lived development; the Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu-Babatunde Raji Fashola eras currently pushing for the megacity status, despite political and socio-economic constrains.  

Among several areas Jakande impacted on the state, the authors note, included restructuring of the school system, establishment of State Television and Radio stations. Under the sub-topic of the same part, Messrs Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola (1999 till date), the authors argue, “together” the two governors “are responsible for finally grappling with the huge infrastructural problems of the state in the face of apparently uncontrollable population growth.” Indeed, the Tinubu-Fashola eras would go down in the history of Lagos as periods of the most aggressive development. This much appeared to have earned the state’s metropolis a recent recognition as one of 25 most innovative cities in the world (only two from Africa, including Cape Town, South Africa), courtesy of two internationally renowned organizations, Citi Group and Urban Land Institute.

THE last three parts of Sandbank City: Lagos at 150 highlights the monuments under such headings as The Building Heritage, The Town Engineers’ Problems and Planning: Crisis Management.  The opening sentences of the first of the three parts explicitly celebrate the city’s heritage: “In 1950, Lagos had a remarkable heritage of impressive buildings from the past. It is unfortunate, however, that many have been destroyed to create valuable sites for profitable developments, without providing, even a photographic record. Practically, nothing is left of the time before 1861.”

And in preservation of whatever is left of heritage buildings in Lagos, Godwin and Hopwood’s aesthetic perspective may not be solely from the prism of the couple’s attachment to their 1971 Land Rover model; the octogenarians appear as contemporary as hybrid vehicle.

For example, one of their works – as restorers – is the Lumpkin House on Abibu Oki Street, Lagos Island, which was renovated in 1993 for the Leventis Foundation is a modest example of how to be modernist without losing the past. Also, Godwin’s input into the ongoing renovation of one of the remnants of post-1861 buildings mentioned in the book, the Ilojo Bar at Tinubu Square, Lagos Island showed a blend of contemporaneity and the past. In 2011, during a visit to the site, in company of the Director-General of the National Commission for Museums for Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, he (Godwin) assured that today’s design dynamics and taste would be considered. He however warned that restorations would not change the original features such as the designs and peculiar columns to retain the Portuguese identity of the building.

Prof John Godwin and Gillian Hopwood Godwin. 
The coordinator of the book’s presentation, Sandra Obiago says it is “a fascinating account of how Lagos was experienced ‘from the time of the Bini overlords’ to Nigeria’s independence, through the turbulent sixties to the anxieties and infrastructural deficits of the nineties and finally to the resilience, hope and inspirational change of the present.”

Godwin and Hopwood are architects who have been cataloguing and photographing the growth of the Lagos metropolis in the past decades.  They are celebrated authors whose previous books include The Architecture of Demas Nwoko, and Fifty Years of Sailing in Lagos 1932-1982. Their commitment to the preservation of historical buildings in Nigeria led them to found a not-for-profit group, Legacy1995, which has been credited with restoration of many historical structures in Lagos. 

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