Onikan

Onikan neigbourhood in Lagos
Aerial view of Onikan neighbourhood in Lagos. Photo: Shutterstock

Onikan; central neighborhood on the Lagos Lagoon, which is home to some of the city’s most important cultural offerings, including the Nigerian National Museum and Rele Gallery, which focuses on contemporary art. Onikan was listed by CNN magazine publication, Time Out, as one of the coolest places to visit in the world[i]. In the first half of the twentieth century, European bank officials, such as those who worked for Barclays Bank, occupied buildings close to the banks. Lagos Island continue to be problematic with the real issue being the ownership of the land.  Families fail to agree on what to do with their land. There is also the problem of open spaces. There are not enough public areas for recreation. Security is another problem, walled and gated compounds are environmentally constricting. This is unlike it was in the past. Late in the 1950s, King George V Jubilee Park still existed, over the years it has been built over. The Onikan swimming pool is now a fire station. Another part was the children’s playground which was also used by the young people of Onikan for recreation, Parties and events could be held there at minimal cost[ii]. Not long after independence there were the Plaza Cinema at Onikan[iii]. Onikan is the site of several cultural icons and monuments. For organisations oriented towards the Art, being in Onikan now means that they are not only close to the likes of the National Museum, the MUSON Centre and Yoruba Tennis Club, but also close to art patrons. In terms of security, the Onikan area is safer. Visual artist, Olu Ajayi moved his studio from the national theatre where it was for decades to Onikan for these reasons[iv].

 

Places

Tafa Balewa Square
 
Tafawa Balewa, was where the story of the nation’s independence from British colonial rule began. It was where the British Union Jack was lowered for Nigeria’s green and white flag. The years that followed saw the TBS flourishing from every angle. Housing other important buildings like the old National Assembly complex, the place recorded a steady flow of revered visitors and tourists who came from far and near to behold its majestic looks. However, in December 1991, everything changed. The seat of power was moved from Lagos to Abuja and with that development came the gradual collapse of the historic structure. From a once serene and bubbling monument, the TBS became home to miscreants and other criminal elements that vandalised and reduced the gigantic facility to an eyesore.

In a bid to restore the former glory of the edifice, the Federal Government in 2008 gave out a larger part of the TBS in a a concession arrangement to BHS International, a notable infrastructure, tourism and development company. The firm was given the mandate to redevelop the place and turn it into an international tourist destination while still retaining the original image symbolic to the monument. The project, valued at $30 bn over a period of five years ultimately restored sanity to the once dilapidated structure.
 

TBS Onikan, venue of The Experience music concert.
Tafa Balewa Square, Onikan is the venue of Pastor Adefarasin’s Africa’s biggest December music gospel concert, The Experience. Photo: Youtube (SEYI LAWSON)

 
Independence Building
 
Located on old Defence Street, the Independence Building was erected and given to Nigeria as a gift from the departing British colonialists in 1960. It was the next most important building in Lagos after Dodan Barracks, the country’s former seat of power. The place was taken over and renamed Defence House during the period the military presided over the affairs of the nation. But a fire in 1993 and 2002 respectively ensured the place has remained an old, fading shadow of what it used to be. In 2004, the Federal Government under President Obasanjo  initiated moves for the building to be transformed into a World Trade and International Businesses Centre.
 
National Museum
 
Housing handful important artefacts related to Nigeria’s cultural and political evolution, the museum continues to five below its potential and expectations. Though a member of staff at the facility told our correspondent that they record large number of visitors on a daily and weekly basis, it was a different case when our correspondent checked at the museum earlier in the week. Many of the facilities at the place are due for urgent upgrade. The National Museum at Onikan get visitors from across Nigeria and beyond. The museum is meant to serve as a place for research, education and entertainment, so people go there for different purposes[v].
 

[i] Pulse NG September 19, 2019

[ii] The News June 22, 2015

[iii] TELL July 21, 2008

[iv] Punch May 15, 2015

[v] Punch October 1, 2016

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