The state house, Marina
The documents effecting the formal change of ownership were signed by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode and his predecessor in office, Babatunde Raji Fashola who is now the federal minister in charge of power, works and housing. It was the conclusion of a long journey of two decades.
In the months and years ahead, Lagos State must fulfill all its pledges to upgrade the structure to a monument for Leadership. Its success in this will serve as a ready reference for other states that may similarly be entrusted, in the future, with the custody and maintenance of buildings of historic importance to the nation.
Given the importance of the State House in Nigeria’s history, there were many voices of disapproval when Lagos State requested to take over the building. That was indeed justified; especially in the last two years when it seemed the federal government was positively inclined to approving the release.
Every nation has buildings and structures depicting its evolution. In other climes, these are accorded the highest consideration in all ramifications.
The State House Marina was the official residence of the colonial Governor-General of Nigeria. After Independence and later the attainment of the Status of a Republic, it was occupied by the first Ceremonial President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. In the period immediately following the military take-over in January 1966, it was occupied for a short period by Nwafor Orizu, the former Senate President.
In 1976, the complex housed the offices of the Federal Capital Development Authority headed by Mobolaji Ajose-Adeogun until the movement of that agency to the Field Camp in Suleja, and the change to the Ministry of the Federal Capital Territory.
After Federal Government relocated to Abuja under General Ibrahim Babangida in 1992, the massive building has seen little use and suffered progressive deterioration. An attempt was made during the Goodluck Jonathan administration to use the place as the Presidential Guest House in Lagos, but this was jettisoned because of security considerations. The residence of State House support staff occupied the large grounds set between the former European Church (now St. Saviour’s Anglican Church) and the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club.
Many of the quarters had been demolished years ago, leaving fallow land in one of the highest valued real estate locations in the country.
That the process lasted 20 years can be explained by the labyrinthine nature of government operations and civil service drudgery. The idea was first floated during a military regime. A simple fiat by the Military Head of State would have sufficed to effect the ceding to Lagos State.
Afterall, in 1976, General Yakubu Gowon released to the nascent Lagos State (the successor to the erstwhile Ministry of Lagos Affairs) the building that is now the residence of the state governor on the same Lagos Marina. But, alas, this did not happen until now.
Although the details in the document of transfer to Lagos are yet to be published, the hope is that it precludes, in perpetuity, the conversion of the historic building to private or personal ownership.
In 2012, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua evinced true statesmanship when he handed federal properties on the Ikoyi landing the Ikoyi-Lekki Bridge to the Lagos State government. Although in a rival political party, that approval carried with it the statement that political considerations must not be allowed to hinder the progress of the nation. And for his grace and foresight, Yar’Adua will be remembered in history as a true leader.
Lagos has drawn out an ambitious plan to develop the Structure into a Monument of international stature that will be dedicated to Leadership.
The whole country is keeping watch to ensure that the State Government lives up to the standard it has set and the promise it has made. It is heart-warming that the federal government decided to allow a state government adjudged as having the resources, to have custody of a national monument in its territory and maintain it for posterity.
This cooperation exactly is what Nigeria needs for its journey to nationhood to begin.
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