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Caveat emptor: Tafawa Balewa square belongs to Lagos state

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Tafawa Balewa Square

This won’t be the first time that the current state of the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos would be a subject of interest on this page.

The ugliness on its face, the abandonment of its history and other issues relating to the edifice have been discussed at various fora but judging by the controversies surrounding it, one cannot but begin to take a closer look at the psyche of its landlord, who, at least so it seems has failed to give it the deserved attention.

We shall defer discuss on the legions of derelict Federal Government Properties in Lagos State to another day so that the discussion at hand, would be given the desired focus.

Flipping through literature gives a better insight into the predicament of one of the most important monuments in the history of Nigeria. In many nations of the world, the Tafawa Balewa Square would have been so bedecked with ornaments, garlands and bouquets that would give the impression that it is a deity of a sort.

Not in Nigeria where the goose that lays the golden egg is never fed until it goes into extinction.

One point that came to the fore, however, is that the property in question is probably receiving less attention because it is in the wrong hand.

In truth, the Federal Government of Nigeria that is claiming land-lordship of the property today is doing so fraudulently because the land on which it is erected is a jockey club ceded to the people of Lagos by King Dosunmu in 1859.

In a memorandum dated 8th October 1897, Governor of Lagos Colony, Henry McCaullum sent a prayer to Her Majesty, Queen Victoria for Confirmation and Approval of Ordinance Number 8 of 1897 which provides for the control and management of the Race Course in Lagos.

For avoidance of doubt and without fear of repetition, McCaullum was the governor of Lagos Colony between 1897 and 1899 and died on November 24, 1919 at the age of 67 years. He was succeeded by William McGregor.

The Ordinance titled “An Ordinance to provide for the control and management of the Race Course” which was prepared by a Queen’s Advocate’s Office in despatch Number 345 of October 13, 1897 to the governor of Lagos Colony the Advocate said and I quote “ The piece of Land in the Town of Lagos known as the Race Course was given in or about 1859 by King Docemo TO THE PEOPLE OF LAGOS,.

Governor Freeman confirmed the Grant in 1862 and Governor Sir Samuel Rowe marked out the boundaries in 1883.”

Governor Samuel Rowe (1835-1888) was the former governor of Sierra Leone and at that time the Governor General of West African Settlements while Governor Henry Stanhope Freeman ( 1831–1865) who took over from William McCoskry became the first governor of Lagos Colony after the Colony was established by an enforced treaty in August 1861.

He was in office from the 22nd of January 1862 till his death in April 1865. He was succeeded by John Hawley Glover.

It is clear from the aforementioned that whatever or whichever other interest may exist on the land, it is first and foremost the exclusive property of the people of Lagos and the only obvious custodian is the Governor of Lagos State and not the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The despatch went further to say: “This ground has been and continues to be the recreation ground of the people of Lagos, but it has never been subject to any management or regulation.”

The Ordinance itself in Section Two vested the piece of land in a responsible and representative Board of Management who, it says: “will hold it in trust for the use of the public for exercise and recreation.

Further in Section Three, the ordinance explained the constitution of the Board” and further gives the Board power subject to the approval of the Governor of Lagos Colony in Council.

We should be reminded that there was no unitary entity called Nigeria until 1914.

The essence of the above comprehensive explanation is to show that the 35.8 Acres landmass surrounded by Awolowo Road, Cable Street, Force Road, the Catholic Mission Street including the 26-storey Independence Building belongs to the people of Lagos and the power to manage it is vested in a Board of Management that is to be appointed by the governor of Lagos State.

Therefore, any transaction on it by the Federal Government of Nigeria with any other person or persons without the input of Lagos State and its people remains invalid until a proper agreement is perfected on it by the three parties, namely, the governor of Lagos State, the management board (consisting of the people of Lagos represented by its traditional institutions) and the Federal Government.

The next question is how can a tidy contractual arrangement be put in place considering the importance of the property to the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

This is achievable with proper delineation of legal ownership and proper documentations.

Nobody quarrels with the name ‘Tafawa Balewa Square’ because the man whom it represents deserves such huge honor but the maintenance and management of the gigantic edifice must live up to that great name.

As mentioned in my previous article, the sordid and sorry state of the property beclouds its enormous importance to the independence of Nigeria.

Handing it over to the state does not mean that its importance would be demeaned.

We must put history in perspective and also ensure that we do not confound historical facts with sentiments. We must learn to do things right.

Identifying the ownership of the property will not relegate its national importance to the rare.

As it is today, anything goes in the building and it shouldn’t be so if the management style is of the Nigerian Government at the Centre in Abuja is apt and adequate.

It is difficult for an outsider like me to know why the Lagos State government has decided to look the other way on this issue but that should not deter the people of Lagos from asking for their inalienable rights though the law courts, particularly, that the Federal Capital of Nigeria is no more in Lagos.

Prof. Ojikutu wrote from Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.


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