A visit to the first storey building in Nigeria revealed many things about its historical significance, writes ARUKAINO UMUKORO
The whispers of palm trees from afar off welcome any visitor to Badagry, the serene town which is home to some of Nigeria’s famous historical sites.It is also home to the country’s first storey building.From the building, which overlooks the Marina waterfront, one could hear the sound of the waves of the ocean waters.Currently donning a fresh coat of white paint, with its wooden windows painted in light blue colours, the 168-year-old building, which is located in a sprawling compound in the town hundreds of miles away from Ikeja, the Lagos capital, still holds the aura of historical significance for any visitor.“The foundation of the building was laid in 1842, although it was built by the missionaries in 1845.
The first storey building is a monument today and many people come to see it every week. It also contains pictures of the first missionaries who came to Badagry and that of the late Bishop Samuel Ajayi-Crowther, the first African Anglican Bishop in Nigeria; who helped the missionaries to translate the Bible into Yoruba,” Ezekiel Viavonu, an indigene of the town and curator of the building, explained.The said Bibles – the Yoruba and English versions – are located side by side in a glass casing in one of the two rooms on the upper floor of the building. “While the English Bible is 171 years old, the Yoruba Bible is 168 years old. The Yoruba Bible was printed in Great Britain by Lowe and Brydon Printer Limited, London,” Viavonu noted.According to the curator, the first missionaries came to Badagry in September, 1842. “These were Thomas Birch Freeman of the Methodist Church, England, and his assistant, Reverend Deegraft. In December, 1942, Reverend Henry Townsend of the Christian Missionary Society also came to join them in Badagry to spread the gospel. They used to preach under a tree called Agiya tree. The Badagry town hall was built where the tree was once located,” he explainedOn the ground floor, one could still see some of the materials used for building, including the bricks, nails, the hinges to mount the doors and the iron corrugated sheets to roof the building. ‘1842’ was written on one of the corrugated sheets in one the rooms where the labourers was said to have stayed. A part of one of the rooms where some of the building items were placed is decorated with thin bamboos.The floor also housed the room of the ‘first teacher in Nigeria’, Mr Claudius Philips. Philips, who wore a black shirt, suit and a white trouser in the portrait which adorned the wall, lived in the room for 23 years, from 1845 to 1868.Philips was said to have built the first primary school in Nigeria called St. Thomas Primary School, which was established in 1845 with 40 men. According to the history, the pupils spent 12 years in the primary school. There are no historical records of the pupils, but Viavonu said they also became teachers themselves.The floors are connected by a wooden staircase which seem to require renovation. Another staircase leads to the upper floor from outside.There are also two rooms upstairs, as well as a sitting room, two stores and a safe. One of the rooms upstairs was where Ajayi-Crowther lived in for seven years, between 1843 and 1850, said Viavonu.A picture of Ajayi-Crowther’s grandson, Herbert Macaulay, hung on the wall.Inside one of the rooms where the Bibles were placed sits a missionary trust fund box, with an inscription encouraging visitors to ‘donate generously to the maintenance of this building.’From the look of it, the building will make do with more donations, as the source of light was the afternoon sunshine from the open windows.The portraits of Freeman and Townsend were in the sitting room, while the other room had the pictures of Ajayi-Crowther and that of Reverend C.A Gollmer, the first CMS parsonage said to have finally completed the building in 1845. A wooden bench, the first bench used by the missionary, is also kept in the room.Just at the extreme, beside one of the rooms, was a safe designed in 1856 in West Bromwich, UK. It was used by the missionaries to store their valuables, as well as their documents and Bibles.There was also a well inside the compound which Viavonu said was dug in 1842 and served as drinking water for some in the community. Just then, a woman walked into the compound to fetch water from the well. On enquiry, she acknowledged that this was indeed the first storey building in Nigeria.History is not lost on the young generations in the vicinity. About two hundred metres away from the building, our correspondent accosted some children in the community who also recognised the significance of having the first storey building in Nigeria in Badagry.“I have visited there and I saw the English and Yoruba Bibles,” said one named Godwin.“I enjoyed my visit there because I learnt a lot of things about the missionaries who came here first,” said another called Cynthia.Although there is a counter claim by some historians that a few multi-storey mud structures may have existed in the northern part of Nigeria before 1845, when the firststorey building was completed in Badagry, it is generally accepted that it is the first ‘European’ storey building in Nigeria’.Nevertheless, it still holds a significant place in the country’s history. If well preserved, the first storey building will remain a tourist attraction and historical landmark for many years to come.
A visit to the first storey building in Nigeria revealed many things about its historical significance, writes ARUKAINO UMUKORO
Ejindu: I am glad to meet you, Sir. How would you feel if you knew that you are being regarded as a hero?
Nzeogwu: Very pleased naturally. But the truth is that I am not a hero. If there was any famous Major Nzeogwu, I have never heard of him
.Ejindu: It is rumoured that you have just finished writing a book, what is it like?
Nzeogwu: Good gracious! Ninety-nine per cent of all the stories you hear in this country are false. I have not written any book because there was nothing to write about. You can only write about a finished job. It would have been a useful means of warding off boredom though, but one did not do it for the fear that the authorities might seize the papers. However I had enough time to make detailed notes on what happened, and one might use them if in future there was any need to write something.
Ejindu: Before you went into prison, the cloud was so clear above this country that one could see very far into the future. Now that you are out, what do you see ?
Nzeogwu: A job very badly done. If I may borrow your metaphor, the atmosphere is admittedly somewhat cloudy. But I don’t think there will be rain. Indeed if you look steadily up you will find that the sun is not yet set and might still peep through. The trouble is that people generally can’t tell which is a rain cloud and which is not, and as a result they tend to be confused. As you know there is too much bitterness at present in the country, and in the past people had imagined that they could conveniently do without one another. But the bitterness will clear in the end and they will find that they are not as self-reliant as they had thought. And they will long to be together.The .same applies to the Northerners. It may take ten or fifteen years for them to come together again but there is no doubt, as far as I can see, that they will. You see, in this world of imperfection, it is sometimes very difficult to capture the ideal. But we can, at Ieast start with the second best.
Ejindu: What is the second best?
Nzeogwu: A Confederation.
Ejindu: Before I come back to that, may 1 take you back to January, 1966. What exactly happened at Nassarawa (the premier’s residence at Kaduna) on the night of the 14th?
Nzeogwu: No, no, no; don’t ask me anything about that, I don’t want to remember it.
Ejindu: All right. A lot has been talked and written about the January coup. But how tribalistic was it really in conception and execution?
Nzeogwu: In the North, no. In the South, yes. We were five in number, and initially we knew quite clearly what we wanted to do. We had a short list of people who were either undesirable for the future progress of the country or who by their positions at the time had to be sacrificed for peace and stability. Tribal considerations were completely out of our minds at this stage. But we had a set-back in the execution. Both of us in the North (himself and Major T. C. Onwuatuegwu) did our best. But the other three who were stationed in the South failed because of incompetence and misguided considerations in the eleventh hour. The most senior among them (possibly Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna) was in charge of a whole brigade and had all the excuse and opportunity in the world to mobilize his troops anywhere, anyhow and any time. He did it badly. In Lagos, even allowing for one or two genuine mistakes, the job was badly done. The Mid-West was never a big problem. But in the East, our major target, nothing practically was done. He and the others let us down.
Ejindu: You must have anticipated that Gen. Ironsi would let you down in the end. Why did you surrender to him the way you did?
Nzeogwu: I was being sensible. The last thing we desired was unnecessary waste of life. If I had stuck to my guns there would have been a civil war, and as the official head of the Army, he would have split the loyalty of my men. Again, you must remember that the British and other foreigners were standing by to help him. Our purpose was to change our country and make it a place we could be proud to call our home, not to wage war.
Ejindu: It has been said that Gen. Ironsi set out to complete your job for you. Was there anything you did not like in his administration ?
Nzeogwu: Yes, everything. First he chose the wrong advisers for the work he halfheartedly set out to do. Most of them were either mediocre or absolutely unintelligent. Secondly, he was tribalistic in the appointment of his governors. Thirdly the Decree 34 (which nullified the federal constitution and established a unitary government) was unnecessary, even silly. In fact .
Ejindu: But you wanted a unitary government ?
Nzeogwu: No. Not a unitary government as such. We wanted to see a strong centre. We wanted to cut the country to small pieces, making the centre inevitably strong. We did not want to toy with power, which was what he did.
Ejindu: Tell me, what do you think of him as a soldier?
Nzeogwu: I am afraid I cannot tell you that. But I will say that as a person he was very well liked and as the Supreme Commander, his orders were promptly carried out.
Ejindu: If he joined the Army as a gunner, he must have progressed as a military strategist?
Nzeogwu: Yes, if he had, he could have done so. But he actually joined the Army as a tally-clerk and was a clerk most of the time.
Ejindu: From the present chaos, what type of Nigeria do you envisage?
Nzeogwu: In the first place, secession will be ill-advised, indeed impossible. Even if the East fights a war of secession and wins, it still cannot secede. Personally, I don’t like secession and if this country disintegrates, I shall pack up my things and go. In the present circumstances, confederation is the best answer as a temporary measure. In time, we shall have complete unity. Give this country a confederation and, believe me, in ten or fifteen years the young men will find it intolerable, and will get together to change it. And it is obvious we shall get a confederation or something near it. Nothing will stop that.
Ejindu: Do you think there will be any war?
Nzeogwu: No. Nobody wants to fight. The East which is best equipped and best prepared for war, does not want to attack anybody. The North cannot fight. And Lagos cannot fight now. If they had attacked the East in August or September, they would have had a walk-over. Today, I think they will be ill-advised to try.
Ejindu: An Englishman said to me the other day that the best thing Ojukwu can do is to take over Lagos. Do you think he can do it even if he wanted to?
Nzeogwu: Yes, I think the East is strong enough to do it if they want to. But it will serve no useful purpose. It can only serve to destroy life and property. You see, the effective power does not lie in Lagos but in Kaduna, and if you remove Gowon somebody else will take his place. If you capture the South against the North, all you can achieve is civil war, disintegration and border clash.
Source: Crisis and Conflict in Nigeria, January1966 – July 1967. A. H. M. Kirk-Greene.Oxford Univeristy Press, 1971
King’s School (as it was then called) came into being by an act of British parliament on the 20th of September 1909, with Mr Lomax as its first principle.
The school opened with 10 pioneer students which included J.C. Vaughan, Isaac Ladipo Oluwole, Frank Macaulay, Herbert Mills (from the Gold Coast), O.A. Omololu and Moses King. Oluwole was the first senior prefect of the school.
In 1914, Sir Fredrick Luguard, the Governor General of Nigeria described Kings College, Lagos in a white paper as ” the leading school in the colony as well as the premier school”
Happy anniversary KC!
(Picture: Kings College c1909)