Historical relevance of Freedom Park, Lagos

By Ejikeme Ndudim

The relevance of Freedom Park Lagos to Nigerian pre-colonial history till its independence and its pride of place as a reference point for colonial rule and struggle for independence cannot just be ignored.  The relics of colonialism in the country as regards to subjugation and suppression of the peoples will and desire to self rule which the Freedom Park today serves as a sharp reminder of the old colonial prison facilities which ironically is known as a park for Freedom instead of confinement, a sharp contrast of its old use.

So many years ago, it was used as a prison cell for prisoners of different categories, but today, it’s a Freedom Park, telling the captivating story of freedom in an environment used so many years ago as dungeon. Freedom Park on the Lagos Island is a transformed old prison premises which is over a hundred years old and today is a historic site for tourism and leisure, drama and other forms of theatrical performances, that is affordable, fun, possess local history with good scenery, added security, private dance performances, live music, soccer watching and others.

The Park was conceptualized and transformed by Total Consult, led by Mr. Theo Lawson who had a vision to transform the colonial prison to a symbol of freedom which is the ideal place for relaxation and leisure in the centre of Lagos. Lawson is the architect who converted Fela’s old family house into the government-funded museum, with a boutique hotel, a bar and stage. He transformed the ruined old Broad Street colonial prison into a memorial park symbolizing freedom. Lawson had the vision to transform this symbol of oppression into a place of peace and hope, the building and areas around it now act as not only a memorial to Nigerian history, but a leisure space in which events and recreational entertainments often take place.

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The gallows of the first prison in Nigeria now converted to a stage at Freedom Park, in Lagos.

Initially, Mr. Lawson worked only with a group of students to develop the concepts, with the dream of creating spaces that reflected the history of the former colonial prison. For example, the former gallows were transformed into a concert stage, while the administration block was made into an art museum. The result was not only the literal unearthing of a traumatic history of the oppression of Nigeria’s independence movement from the prison ruins, but also giving these painful spaces a new and hopeful meaning and significance.

According to experts, the transformation of the prison tells a powerful story of exhuming the layers of history, while also creating a space where Nigerians can go to recollect the memory of their forefathers, where the tourist can explore the colonial past, and where creative people can meet in cultural and artistic spaces. The park also has a museum, works of arts, painting, open threatre and offering something unique and exciting.

Freedom Park located on the site of the colonial prison was where prominent Nigerian past leaders had their jail terms during the colonial era. The park, which is now a peaceful place for individual and collective contemplation and interaction, is open to the public daily. The Park was born out of the ruins of Her Majesty’s Broad Street Prisons which was reconstructed to preserve the history and cultural heritage of the Nigerian People.

Freedom Park Lagos is a National Memorial, a Historical landmark, a Cultural site and an Arts and Recreation centre. The project commemorated the 50th anniversary independence celebration in October, 2010 in remembrance of the Nation’s foremost fathers for their patriotism which ultimately led to the Nation’s Independence from colonial masters. The Park is a Heritage Site which promotes cultural values in a natural environment, its leisure offerings, culture, art, design and music, all of which combine to tell the Nigerian story, its history, its future and gives better insight into its people.

Taking Journalists round the park, the tour guide, Omotola Ibeh explained that the park served as detention facilities used by the British colonial masters to detain, torture, imprison and hang in the gallows those that are opposed to colonial rule of Nigeria including Herbert Macaulay, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Chief Michael Imodu, Sir Adeyemo Alakija and others, including Ester Johnson, a female prisoner whose real name was Ada Ocha who was later granted pardon by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the President at the time of Nigeria’s independence. It was learnt that Easter killed her British boy friend that promised her marriage but later deceived her by taking her money away and used it to bring his British girl friend to the country from London. Even the story of her pardon by Dr. Azikiwe published in Nigerian Daily Times was also on display at the museum.

The tour guide disclosed that on payment of a fee of N200, a visitor will have access into the park, for leisure, sightseeing and relaxation and other experiences. Mrs. Ibeh also took the journalists to the old gallows which now serves as theatre, sculptors donated by Yemisi Shyllon, the prison cells, prisoners workshop, which is now a pond, the prison point ground now a hall of fame ground, among other facilities. At the museum, pictures of prominent Nigerians that were imprisoned there were on display at the museum up stairs.

Though the facilities at the park are not for lodging, there are provisions for people to buy food at any of the restaurants for N1000 or more and drinks, even the park is sometimes used by movie director to shoot films. Freedom Park is a memorial leisure park dedicated to preserving the Lagos colonial heritage and history of the Old Board Street prison. Today, Freedom Park provides venues for events and recreational entertainment. The park provides venues and the grounds for events and recreational entertainment, with relevant facilities like, Open Air Stage, Amphi-theatre, Pergola Cell (internet booths), Skeletal Cells, Food Court, Ponds and Fountains, Historical Statues, Museum Complex, Historical displays, Souvenir shops, Resource centre, Court yard, Cells Units, open air stage, Wole Soyinka gallery and others.

Freedom Park can be said to be in tune with the Rhythm of Lagos. It is a good place to visit and feel the vibe and heartbeat of Lagos. It will transport one to what life was like in Nigeria in the past through theater and drama events, old school live bands, prison setting and on a different day entertain one with where Nigeria is going in the nearest future (dance troupes, workshops and courses, film festivals, ballet, Felabration, art gallery). At the amphitheater people can watch plays like a Greek, friends around you and hearty laughters in the air.

The Park is located in the heart of the Lagos Central District. There are four entrances to this place but the public uses three at the moment. There are several food courts (including one strictly for vegetarians) and it has two bars and a Lounge. An asun vendor is also on ground. Tourists who feel they would enjoy learning about the history of Lagos should make time for visit the Freedom Park which is just a short distance away from the rich cultural splendour of Oba’s Palace, the Park is one of the premier highlights of Lagos. It perfectly encapsulates the indomitable Nigerian spirit, looking back at both a difficult past and an increasingly optimistic present and future. The park is situated in the imposing, broad white-washed walls of what used to be a colonial prison that held prominent Nigerians in the past.

Freedom Park hosts a great range of events and visitors may find any number of exciting activities during a visit. From African drumming displays to traditional dancing, Nigerian culture is brought to life in the broad spaces that make up the park.

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