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Poor state of Osogbo Freedom Park worries residents

By Timothy Agbor, Osogbo
06 February 2022   |   4:04 am
Nelson Mandela Freedom Park, Osogbo, Osun State was designed as a tourist centre by the administration of former Governor Rauf Aregbesola, the current Minister of Interior, and handed over to the Nigerian Railway Corporation.

Nelson Mandela Freedom Park, Osogbo, Osun State was designed as a tourist centre by the administration of former Governor Rauf Aregbesola, the current Minister of Interior, and handed over to the Nigerian Railway Corporation.

The railway station and its surroundings were like slum before the previous state government transformed it and turned it into an exceptional park and tourist haven. Residents of the capital city and visitors from far and wide had thronged to the park to have fun. It was a beautiful environment.

Unfortunately, the park is now begging for attention as it is fast returning to its former sordid state. Some parts of the park such as garden and fountain have been overgrown by weeds, the paints are washing off and litters dot nooks and crannies of the centre. A visit to the park showed that unlike before, it has been starved of maintenance, thus, it is gradually turning to ghost of itself. Some of the attractive arts works are rotten away.

Last year, the park was looking so horrible as it was totally overgrown by weeds. A group, World Institute for Peace, had called on Governor Adegboyega Oyetola to act fast in bringing the park back to life.

The chairman of the group, Lamina Kamiludeen, in an open letter titled: “Call for Retract from Railway Management: Nelson Mandela Freedom Park Losing Its Value”, said it was embarrassing and disturbing that the park, which had hitherto been full of life, is now being abandoned.

Reacting, the state Commissioner for Commerce, Industries, Cooperatives and Empowerment, Dr. Bode Olanipekun, had said the government did not abandon the park, but is rather trying to give it a new and better look.

According to Olanipekun, there were some anomalies that needed to be corrected in the area of managing the place, hence the delay in redesigning and renovating the place.

The commissioner had said both the government and Nigerian Railway Corporation were working hard to come to an agreement on the issue.

He said: “There were anomalies that are being corrected. The Freedom Park originally belongs to the Nigerian Railway. The State Government took the initiative of making the place attractive by redesigning the place.

“But if the government is repairing what belongs to somebody else, there must be an agreement between both parties in order to know their responsibilities and that did not happen between the state government and the Nigerian Railway during the time of the immediate past administration.

“So when we came in and there were issues about control over the place, we looked into our book and discovered that there was only draft agreement that was not signed. We now said let us work together on it, since there was an understanding that the state should take over and manage it, let us now go into proper cultivation of the agreement.

“Also, we consider that the place should take a better look than it is wearing now. More so, the overhead bridge (flyover) coming around that place will also bring a new design to the park.

“For everything that we are taking over from the Nigerian Railway which comprises both operational and non-operational segments of the park and other ones that is not park-related, we should do an agreement that will be all-encompassing, touching on everything that is Railway which the State Government is interested in, and that includes Dagbolu Axis, Osogbo Axis, Parking Area, Tarmac and the Garden.

“And we cannot agree if we do not know the quantity of what we are agreeing on. That put us into making designs, drawing, architectural and engineering work, for us to have the basis for our agreement.

“This is all we have been doing that has delayed what the State Government and the Nigerian Railway are working on, and you know COVID-19 has not helped things either, but very soon by the grace of God, the place will wear a new look.”

Apparently due to the complaints of residents, some of the bushy parts at the park were cleared recently. Some vendors who have rented a section of the park for commercial activities have lamented low sales adding that people no longer visit the park because of its bad conditions. They also blamed lack of maintenance by concerned authorities.

Some residents of the state have expressed displeasure over the worrisome state of the park. They called on the state government and the Nigerian Railway Corporation not to allow the park to serve as hideouts for criminal elements, as that was the case before it was overhauled by the administration of Rauf Aregbesola.

To some other traders around the park, nothing is wrong with its present conditions.

A trader who identified self as Mr Ejike, said, “The Freedom Park is okay now compared to some past time. It was an abandoned property then, but now, you can see they are making use of a part of it for business purposes, which are the second purpose it was meant for; the first being attraction site.

“You know we are business people around here. We just noticed that people stopped trooping by and nobody comes here anymore. A great part of the park has become bushy. Even there are still a lot to be done on the utilized side so as to attract more people. If you notice you will see some of the amusement equipment are no longer working.”

Mr Hamzat Shola, a lotto agent around the park, said: “Since Oyetola came, there is no much development at the park. Everything came to a halt since the construction of this Olaiya Flyover. It has been a stalled economy at the park since last year.

Another resident, Mr Isiaka Ademola, said, “I can say there have been some partial development in the park. It’s not like this before, but we thank God now, at least, a part of the park is put to a good use. We thank the government for the intervention for this not to be a totally abandoned project. If put to a good use, this park could bring a lot of money into the state government’s pocket. It is government we have to appeal to for the resuscitation of the centre.

For Mutiat Abdulakeem, “there is nothing wrong with the Freedom Park. It’s okay. I have not been noticing the said gory part except that people have not been patronising it, unlike when it was just opened.”

Tawfiq Abdullateef, a trader at Old Garage, Osogbo, said, “When it (park) was opened, it served as a tourist attraction then. There were trains of people during weekends and during festive seasons that come there. The place was highly maintained then. There were people who used to collect gate fees.

“But now, I say nobody comes here (park) again. There are no much activities again. If you come here in the evening, you will see many young people playing football in the place. I don’t know what to say to people in government on this because I don’t know those who are at the helms of affairs. I work around here and I park my car in the Freedom Park. There was a time they didn’t allow us to park here, I think they are reshuffling people in the system. They used to collect gate levies from us then, but it now seems Railway employees are in charge of it now.”