The witches in J.K. Randle Hall, Onikan
During the last four months, I have been doing research on J.K. Randle Memorial Hall, the Lagos Swimming Pool and Love Garden in Onikan. I spoke to several people including J.K. Randle, Elda Akerele and others because I was hoping that the hall would be rehabilitated and the swimming pool would be managed by volunteer organisation as a public swimming pool where children and even adults could learn how to swim; a public place for relaxation which does not exist in Lagos. We have lost the facilities in Rowe Park Yaba, the dancing schools in Lafiaji and Onikan and at Lewis and Foresyth Street, the countless Lawn Tennis courts and Table Tennis tables dotted all over Lagos. We have lost the love garden enclosed between Randle Hall and Muson Centre; earlier we had lost the lovers’ paradise which ran on the Marina from the Stadium to John Holt where people strolled in the evenings. We lost the Bar Beach and the Race Course. In fact, Lagos, a wonderful city for people to sit, relax was full of public places to play football, cricket etc. but these facilities no longer exist. I had wished to send a letter to the governor about how to revitalise Onikan and follow this up with a delegation of volunteers to do it at no cost to the government, only to wake up on Monday, September 26, to notice that the hall, the swimming pool, the love garden, had all been bulldozed and flattened. Allepo had come to Onikan. Why?
The patriarch of the Randle family, J.K. Randle had built the swimming pool and love garden over 80 years ago. He had acquired the land in which swimming pool and love garden were built after the colonial office did not heed his advice to build a swimming pool to teach swimming. When no one else would, he built the swimming pool and love garden; it is said that he gave the swimming pool and love garden to the Lagos town council and left funds for their upkeep. He had built it for recreation and teaching Lagosian how to swim.
The Randle Hall was built on land donated by the Federal Government. It was built opposite the official residence of the Prime Minister, Hon. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, as a memorial hall for J.K.Randle, a sportsman, who had died leading a sports delegation oversea. The Prime Minister himself ordered the memorial hall and secured both the land and building through the help of the Ministry of Works. It was used for performing plays and staging cultural shows. Akin Euba, Adelugba, Professor JP. Clark and so on, and members of the schools of Drama Arts in Ibadan, Ile Ife and Lagos were regular users of the Randle Hall. In fact, J.P. Clark had resident Ghanaian actors there for several years. It was later remodeled but begun to be rarely used for the reasons that need not detain us here. It was managed by a Board of Trustees – Femi Majekodumi, (an Architect), J.K. Randle (an accountant) and Femi Williams, a PR mogul.
My intervention was aimed at revitalizing all three establishments – the hall, the swimming pool, the love garden. I am sure the Trustees had their own plans too, but the swimming pool and the love garden, I suspect, did not come under the purview of the Trustees of the Randle Hall. None of these matters now as all structures in the area from the Hall to the swimming pool were flattened a few days ago. To what purpose, I do not know. I do not wish to go into the murky waters of legalese – can Lagos State Government demolish a building donated to charity under a trust established by the Federal Government without reference to the Trust? Lagos State Government is very strong on the problem of reversionary interests but surely the hall did not come under this category.
My main concern is what will replace the hall and swimming pool which they had been remodeled and developed, would be a recreation centre for the public – facilities which are sorely lacking in Lagos.
I hope it will not go the way of the Lagos Nursing School, which is a mere 400 yards from the Randle Hall, or the Nigerian Museum building which is less than 60 yards from the swimming pool, whose building was sold to developers who turned it into a shopping mall! How can a Nursing school be closed in a country with an acute shortage of nurses? A swimming pool be demolished when there is no public swimming pool in Lagos Island, Victoria Island and Ikoyi; Lekki, Park view, indeed anywhere in the whole of the state?
I was accused of being a witch by J.K. Randle, he said I had cried at night and the baby died in the morning. I had spoken to so many people about the hall and swimming pool, and now it had been bulldozed in the morning!
The governor last Monday, October 17 said he commenced “within the National Museum axis, Onikan to Tafawa Balewa Square and from Lagos House Marina and Freedom Park…..a major tourist destination in West Africa.” This is the governor’s explanation for demolishing Randle Hall, the Lagos Swimming Pool and Love Garden. We will withhold judgment until we see the plans of the tourism efforts. But questions still remain.
I am not sure Lagos has the right to knock down a hall built for the public in remembrance of a Lagos icon, who built a theatre, a swimming pool and so on. How can we have heroes, and therefore a history, if we go on demolishing buildings put up in their honour? There is a special class of Lagosians who appreciate the basic tenets of civilised behaviour. There is another class unfortunately who do not but even though they have power. Cast not your pearls upon a swine.
• Dr. Cole is a consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.