Friday, March 29, 2013

Broad Street: A heritage lost to confusion, hustling, decay

By Chukwuma Okparaocha, Lagos
Nigerian Tribune, Saturday, March 30, 2013

IF Lagos Island occupies an irreplaceable spot in the annals of Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole, then Broad Street, which is arguably the most popular street on the Lagos Island, is equally indispensable.
Broad Street, like many other spots on the Island, is generally believed to represent some form of heritage for the entity called Nigeria, owing to some of the historical structures found on it.
For instance, it once played host to the dreaded colonial Broad Way Prisons, which once held in captivity not only criminals but freedom fighters and independence agitators such as the late elder statesman, Herbert Macaulay; Nigeria’s first President, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo as well as Adeyemo Alakija. These were all branded as rebels by Nigeria’s then colonial lords.
The prison has, however, been turned into a beautiful garden called Freedom Park by the Lagos State government.
Broad Street also serves as the home of a number of buildings occupied by banks and other companies that had been in existence long before the country gained independence from Great Britain. Though some of such banks and companies have since changed in name and size, their heritage and historical relevance remain unchallenged.
Broad Street also serves as the major link to the historic Marina as well as other parts of CMS, which play host to some of the most historic structures ever to be found in the country. These include the Cathedral Church of Christ, established in 1869 (widely regarded as one of the oldest churches in Nigeria); the CMS Bookshop and St Nicholas Hospital. It also has at its tail end, the historic Tinubu Square.
At this juncture, it is noteworthy to state that there are Broad Streets in some parts of the world too, including Broad Street London in England, which is believed to have inspired the colonialists to christen the one in Lagos as Broad Street. There are also Broad Streets in Birmingham (also in England) as well as in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.
Reports have it that the Broad Street in Philadelphia serves as a major arterial street and yearly enhances the tourism strength of the United States, where, despite having been in existence for many decades, it still serves as the home of several Philadelphia cultural landmarks, and it is hence called the Avenue of Arts and home of art gallery in the United States.
According to information gathered, Broad Streets in these countries have largely held on to their originality, and hence, they are believed to still be in the same shape they were decades ago.
Sadly, however, the same cannot be said of Lagos Broad Street, because, as with the case of many communities in Nigeria, it seems to have changed dramatically from what it used to be decades ago.
According to reports, the street once known for peace, quiet and tranquillity has, over the years, evolved into a land of hustling and bustling with little room for organisation and control.
Aside street trading, which has become the order of the day on Broad Street, car parks full of the ubiquitous 18-passenger buses have also sprung up, a development that can be said to have also aggravated the rowdy nature of the street.
Though Saturday Tribune could not verify this, it is said that street trading thrives on Broad Street because of the huge income it generates into the coffers of the local government. It is said that many of the traders who publicly display their wares on the floor on the Broad Street usually pay various fees to a number of ‘tax collectors’ who are always on the prowl on the Island.
This claim was corroborated by one of the traders, identified as Chidi, who disclosed to Saturday Tribune correspondent (who had posed as a customer) that before he (the trader) could have access to his spot, he had to part with nothing less than N300, as various levies are usually collected by mean-looking fellows on a daily basis.
“If we don’t do this, we will not be allowed to display our wares let alone sell them to passersby. Usually, you have different groups of people, many of who can at best be described as touts, coming here to ask for levies. The least they usually collect is N100 and you could have up to three groups coming at different times. Though they all normally claim to be working for the local government as members of some task forces, we all know that most of the money collected will end up in their pockets. But we traders have little choice in this, because if we don’t pay, we won’t be allowed to sell,” said Chidi, who trades in shoes.
Apart from this category of traders many of whom have also turned the base of one of the prominent banks on Broad Street into their ‘bedroom’ where they go for siestas, there are also numerous hustlers who are always on the prowl in search of anyone who would be willing to do any kind of business with them.
One of such people, a young man possibly in his 20s, accosted Saturday Tribune correspondent and asked if there was anything he needed to buy or fix.
According to information gathered, these categories of hustlers are like human maps of the Island, and whenever they spot anyone perceived as a prospective customer, they approach them and offer to take them to where they can find what they are looking for. This, for instance, could include where to buy shirts at cheaper prices, where to bind a book, where to fix one’s pair of glasses, and so on.
There are also scores of bureau de change operators on the Broad Street, particularly those spots closest to the numerous banks that abound on the street. They endlessly call on passersby who may wish to either buy or sell foreign currencies.
Many experts have identified several factors for this fate that has befallen the Broad Street and other parts of the Lagos Island in the last few decades. These include population explosion and its consequent massive unemployment, which is believed to have turned many youths into hustlers.
They also blame partial or total neglect of relevant building bylaws, among others.
Desmond Majekodunmi, the President of Legacy, a group which seeks to protect the architectural past of Lagos, recently revealed that the anticipated population boom was putting tremendous pressure on Lagos, because it is a land surrounded by water.
Recently while commenting on the declining state of infrastructure on Broad Street and Lagos generally, John Godwin, a renowned architect who arrived in Nigeria in 1954 from Britain, said “You have to say that in many areas of Lagos, not just on Broad Street, building bylaws have been totally ignored. Lagos is like a drug; you get emotional about it, but it tears you up. It’s a mess. But under that mess, there are a whole lot of very good people.”
An octogenarian resident of Lagos, Pa Amodu Adediran, who claimed to have spent the last 65 years of his life on the Island, told Saturday Tribune: “It is fascinating to watch the once sinister and mysterious prison wall on Broad Street crumble and the whole place turned into a beautiful garden. All these should remind the new generation of leaders – including the youth – of the selfless sacrifices made by the past leaders.”
However, when speaking generally on the massive change that has set in on Broad Street over the years, Pa Adediran lamented the deplorable condition of many of the facilities now available, while also noting that there had been a near total collapse of many of the amenities that used to make Lagos Island the toast of many regions in the country.
“There were fewer automobiles on the road. The streets were always clean, unlike now when there is refuse everywhere. We enjoyed much better scenery of peace and quiet. But nowadays, there seems to be confusion everywhere. Everyone is desperate to make ends meet; the whole land is full of filth. It is almost impossible to walk a few metres without spotting refuse dumped somewhere. Even the lagoon which used to be a beautiful sight to behold is now a large collection of water full of refuse,” he lamented.
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