Two things happened in Lagos recently that teach us the value of place. Alpha Governor Akinwunmi Ambode reiterated the need for the federal government to return its properties to the iconic city. In another development, a little controversy was put to death over uprooted monuments to Moshood Abiola and Gani Fawehinmi at the famous Ojota Park.
What Governor Ambode sought was not merely the monetary value of the properties but the soul of the city. What makes the soul of a city is as much the people, the heroes, the workers in the routine glories of their days, when they work and play. So, when he fought to get the National Stadium the other day, it was not the stadium but the memory. Lagos was taking back its own, when Yakubu Mambo scored the first goal, when Haruna Ilerika made fancy work of the midfield, Segun Odegbami turned mathematical, when we won gold medal as a nation.
If Lagos gets those properties back, the money only makes sense in the context of its culture. The city is nothing but its past and dreams. New York is the economic capital of the world, but it is nothing without how it grew from a lowly port settlement with its geniuses and workers. Like Lagos, London is nothing without Queen Elizabeth’s exploits, and the tower, Buckingham Palace, the German bombardment, Churchill and its heroics.
So, Lagos swaggers with such names as Tinubu Square with its independence roots. Now the governor has restored its fountain pride. This brings a memory to my childhood days. So also is the memory of Chief MKO Abiola, who roiled for democracy. Abiola risked money for the public good to immortalise him. Gani Fawehinmi duelled with the law. He dared the gun, groaned in Gashua prison, defended the weak and poor. Eventually, he died. Writer George Crabbe said even monuments need memorials. Hence Governor Ambode wants to memorialise the monuments by making them bigger and grander. A few already are materialising in public like the headless ardour of Abami Eda, Fela Kuti.
“Monuments, like men, submit to fate,” wrote poet Alexander Pope. Governor Ambode giving new fate to the monuments. In the same way, he is building new ones, like the flyovers in Abule Egba and Lekki. Monuments are messengers of the might within the land, to quote Joseph Conrad. So, if it is a high rise, a residential quarter, a bald piece of land, they are as important as a bust in Idumota. That is Ambode’s point.