Freedom Park on Lagos Island, a former prison yard, is now a place of relaxation, where free speech is also encouraged
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Apr. 8, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IT used to be a maximum security prison. A place of solitude where rebels and enemies of the British Colonial government were confined with no hope of getting what they wanted most — freedom. Today the story is different. Behind the walls where Nigeria’s freedom fighters in the mould of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Anthony Enahoro and many others were bound in chains, children from various backgrounds now mill about. Adults relax in cozy gardens to savour local and continental delicacies, drink, chatter and dance to the sound of music wafting from giant speakers. It is no longer a prison; it is now a relaxation spot in the heart of Lagos.
Located on the popular Broad Street in Lagos Island, Freedom Park has an interesting history. It was once known as Broad Street Prison during the colonial era when the British annexed and subsequently colonized Lagos, and then the larger Nigeria. A formal control was imposed through the introduction and administration of the British common law and relevant ordinances which necessitated the construction of a prison where those who flouted the laws would be kept.
In 1876 when the British colonial government passed the prison ordinance, it evolved with the imposed British criminal justice system which was the enabling penal system that prompted the design and construction of prisons. This new law manifested in the construction of Her Majesty’s prison which was also referred to as Broad Street Prison.
To ensure that the prison was maximally secured, the colonial masters decided to fortify its walls in 1885. The bricks used to rebuild the prison were imported from England at a cost of 16,000 Pounds. After the renovation, the prison which was initially designed to hold 20 prisoners, was expanded to accommodate 224 inmates.
Before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, Broad Street prison was home to freedom agitators and prominent national figures such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Anthony Enahoro, Michael Imodu, Adeyemi Alakija and others who were branded as rebels by the colonial overlords. In the post-colonial era, the prison welcomed the likes of Obafemi Awolowo and Lateef Jakande.
After the Nigerian civil war in 1970, the Broad Street Prison remained active as various military administrations continued to send their perceived enemies there. But when General Ibrahim Babangida moved Nigeria’s capital to Abuja in 1991, the prison gradually fell into disrepair after it was abandoned by government.
However in 2012, Theo Lawson, the chief executive officer of Theo Lawson Consult, came up with the idea of transforming Broad Street Prison into Freedom Park. The idea was promptly accepted by Babatunde Fashola, Lagos State Governor, and the prison was demolished to accommodate the new Freedom Park.
During the reconstruction, there was a conscious effort to preserve some monuments in the prison. For instance, the fence which was made with bricks imported from England is still standing. The gallows where prisoners on death row were hung still stands and now serves as a stage for musical performances and other events. The cells where many prisoners were kept and the prison kitchen are also still intact even though they are now used for other purposes.
Today, Freedom Park is one of the most patronized tourist spots in Lagos because it holds the key to history, culture and leisure. According to Oma Imishue, the facility manager, the park recorded a total of 16,000 visitors comprising of 14,601 adults, 1,304 children and 95 foreigners between September 2012 and January 2013.
Imishue added that the history of the park makes it an attractive destination for tourists from any part of the world. “Freedom Park is a symbolic testament. It represents a journey towards the greater goal; the triumph of humanity over all forms of tyranny, both political and social and the ultimate liberation of the human spirit from all that seeks to confine it. This place is a great tourist centre for anyone visiting Lagos because it shows what transpired in the colonial era.”
For some visitors, Freedom Park is more or less an escape from the hustle and bustle of Lagos because it offers maximum relaxation and fun. A medical practitioner, Joe Abang, said he loves to come to the park every weekend because it offers him the much needed relaxation after a busy week at work. He said: “I come here every week because the serenity makes me relax. After a busy week, I like to come here to spend time with my family and friends. To think that there is a place like this in the heart of Lagos where you can enjoy yourself is a good thing.”