1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC
Buckingham Palace, London
Eiffel Tower, Paris
Robben Island, Cape Town
A visit to any of these cities would be incomplete without a whistle-stop and an opportunity of a selfie at one landmark location, at the very least. But why are these places important in today’s hyper-speed gigabyte and terabyte social-media-means everything global-village world? Simply because to the nations that these edifices belong, they represent a significant aspect – time, event, personality, achievement – of the development of that nation.
Note that I have chosen to use the word nation as the term country does no justice in this context. In other words, the heritage of these nations which has been a long time in formation, is a critical part of the journey to where they are now. Their today couldn’t have happened without their several yesterdays. And they are proud to say so. Proud to remember their past and determined to make it a reference point that shows their progress in all aspects of life as a people.
Acknowledging differences, learning about personalities, healing wounds of a tortuous pathway to development: all in a bid to make sure that a collectiveamnesia does not envelope the citizens of the geographical entity and make them erroneously believe that only today matters.
So where are we now in Nigeria? If size was all that really mattered, Nigeria would be on top in almost all areas – population, land mass and potential – compared at least to
her neighbours. As many have found out to personal embarrassment, knowing how to use a resource is also key to its value and a definite factor on its ROI. The answer is even more simply put: we have lost it. We don’t even know where we want to go to,where we have come from and therefore it stands to reason that we are going no wherein a hurry.
If you call your pet dog Bingo, everyone else will address it in the same way. No-one will say, . . . “come here, Rover” because you who owns Bingo has placed value,identification and relevance in the dog as Bingo and nothing else. Bingo is representative of something (or anything) that is held dear or that is simply held. In this context, our Bingo is our heritage and the various ways in which it manifests in our everyday lives.
Obviously in the UK, USA and even in our sister nation South Africa, the value ascribed to their ‘Bingo’ is certainly of a different kind than what we as Nigerians are used to.
It doesn’t need a detective or diviner to prove that there is an inherent pride in the citizenry of these nations – a pride that has come from an understanding that today isan incontrovertible result of the jigsaw puzzle that was the turbulence, inventions and personal and ideological struggles of yesterday which will continue in an unending cycle to make our tomorrow.
Their pride comes from knowing, appreciating, understanding, learning from their indelible and valued past – their history. And because the item, place, relic or dance routine (for example) is passionately valued locally and outwardly valued too, visitors
from far and wide come curious to know wherein lies the reason for the value?
This is an appetite that is very rarely sated – it feeds off the locals pride and so there is always another place to visit, another anecdote to hear, another fact about an amazing people that enhances our appreciation of where these people are as a nation and where they are headed. It’s a national sort of pride.
Nigeria hasn’t got it yet. Maybe it never will.
What exactly is our present situation?
Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 14km-long defensive city walls in Kano known as KofarNa’isa which were completed mid-14th century were demolished in 2010. The 161-year old Afro-Brazilian style Olaiya House at Tinubu Square, Lagos popularly known as the Ilojo Bar was reduced to rubble on September 11th again despite its listed status.
As if we hadn’t had enough trauma, more recently the famous JK Randle Hall and its ancillary buildings were demolished later that same month. Arewe not in a state of crisis? How much more of our built heritage will disappear in thenext year? It is extremely important to create the awareness of what our valued heritage is amongst Nigerians, especially the upcoming generation.
Legacy (a not-for-profit group involved in the conservation of Nigeria’s architectural heritage) is a rolemodel in this regard and I can only commend most sincerely, its efforts in creating innovative fora at which our creation stories can be told in different easy-to-appreciate formats such as in the pictorial form of Dimeji Coker’s recent superb monochrome photographic exhibition, Ile.
There is no time like the present for creating a new value system in young Nigerians and also in those who are older and have the resources to commit to preserving the precious little that still exists somewhat precariously, in an environment where steel
and glass are the metaphors of accomplishment in the built environment.
The Department of Architecture at the University of Lagos is proud to have access to Legacy and will continue to benefit from the learning experience which collaboration with Legacy gives.
Ile, in Yoruba is the home, it is where it all starts from. It will always be important and is never to be forgotten.
Let us heed the advice in the artist Dimeji Coker’s words, to reconnect with our origins before all is lost forever, as it may soon be in this mindless craze for misplaced modernity at all costs in the concrete jungle of Lagos.
Please encourage Legacy in its arduous task of costly and time-consuming heritage preservation in any way that you can.
Dimeji Coker’s exhibition was held at the Jaeckel House, Railway Compound, Ebute Meta, Lagos. Jaeckel House, which was named after Francis Jaeckel who served as Superintendent of the Nigeria Railways for almost thirty years, was lovingly restored by Legacy without loss of its architectural style or authenticity.