Inside Nigeria’s first storey building

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.
Source: Punch

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