"The man who goes alone can start today;
But he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready"

-Henry David Thoreau

A Journey to Colonial Lagos with Kelechi Anabaronye

How much of Lagos’ history do you know about? How often do you notice a piece of history that’s been forgotten? We came across a very interesting traveller who tries to capture these pieces of architectural history and bring them out of a forgotten past. His work curating historical buildings takes us on interesting journey through time to a forgotten Colonial Lagos.

Kelechi is a political science student at the University of Lagos with a passion for colonial structures. His journey started after being admitted to King’s College rather than St Gregory’s which he’d preferred because of its exquisite colonial structures he had perceived as beautiful. Regardless he was drawn to the old structures within and around the school campus.

During school hours he would take strolls around the administrative building especially the building adjoining it which houses the laboratories and the decades old bell [which is now non-functional], touching the walls, trying to feel what the buildings are made of and imagining how life was when the British were still in control of the school. “I was fascinated by the structures but I wasn't sure how they came about, the school authority or management never mentioned that part of the school history but I was curious.”

After school hours, he would go with friends who lived around Campos Area, Igbosere Road, Glover, Tokunboh Street etc which at that time had so many colonial structures from times past, many of which have now been demolished. “While walking, it dawned on me how such structures littered the streets of Lagos Island. I was intrigued at the very elegant facades they each possessed”

How and when did you begin curating these old buildings? What was your first building?

It all goes back to when I started research in 2009. A cyber cafe had opened adjacent to my street junction and I had started surfing the net for information on my history, the history of my people; from my tribe to my nation and then I delved into African history and the diaspora. I found out so many things that oral history won't tell. But was not until I started my Sunday walks and coming to the realization that the structures I found in Lagos were similar to structures in the Carribean that I returned to information I had gotten years back and started building on it.

My first building if I remember correctly would have been either St. George's Hall or the Cathedral Church of Christ, right after I graduated from King’s College.

Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

What excites you the most about discovering an old piece of architecture?

Ah. It gladdens my heart to find other colonial architecture that I had never discovered. Recently I found other residential colonial structures as well as the Massey Children’s Hospital after I ventured to find the Branco House. Finding hidden gems in Lagos is the most beautiful thing ever and there are many scattered all over.

What is your favourite style of ancient Lagos architecture?

The Afro Brazilians have my heart honestly. I would have said the British "Victorian" architecture because of the former Governor General's House and the Old Secretariat but honestly the Fernandez House, Lumpkin House, Water House, Vaughan House, Hephzibah House amongst others have shown that the Afro Brazilians really influenced architecture in Lagos and it cuts across not just Isale Eko but Sabo/Yaba and Ebute Metta.

The Hephzibah House, which I also call the Luquicia Ponphilio House [in respect to the first inhabitant]. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

What cultural influences have you uncovered in your journey through Lagos’ architectural history?

Slavery influenced the architecture of Lagos. Through slavery, some of the most exquisite, elegant and eccentric architecture to ever grace our country came about as returnee slaves resettled and began constructing residential houses for themselves and their families.

How far has your journey discovering historic buildings taken you?

I've been to Abeokuta twice. A friend hosted me in Ibadan on my first intentional journey to discover colonial buildings outside of Lagos, which am grateful to him for. I've also been to Ile Ife and found the Atobatele House which I'd say is more elegant than many colonial structures in Lagos even the Da Rocha House and the Vaughan House. I've explored Enugu and Umuahia as well; the latter is a place I call home. I'd like to explore Calabar, Port Harcourt, Ijebu Ode and beyond Nigeria to Angola, Brazil, Bermuda, Cape Verde, Colombia, Cuba, Mozambique, Peru and Panama because what other joy can you find in these former colonial havens than their historical structures?

Mapo Hall. Since 1925. Standing atop the Mapo Hill, Ibadan. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

What are your favorite historic buildings and why?

Lol. I love them all honestly but I'd say the Old Secretariat, Lumpkin House, Fernandez House, Centenary Hall - Abeokuta, Former Colonial Governor's House now State House [Federal]. 

The Old Secretariat is in the same category as the Government House [Federal] at the end of the Marina. One thing that attracted me to it was the two towers from which you can view the other end of Lagos across to Apapa. It was constructed in 1906 when Lagos was made the seat of government of Southern Nigeria and built in an E-shaped manner after Walter Egerton.

Old Secretariat, Marina. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

Lumpkin House is another favorite of mine because of its facade which is undeniably gorgeously Afro Brazilian and the fact that it is painted white. It was built in 1890 and was occupied by Jenkins Lumpkin who earned the title "colonial surgeon".

Fernandez House reminds me of the Salvador and Havana. It has this colonial feel with its wrought iron balustrades even though we are in the 21st century. Built in 1855 and owned by the Olaiya family before it's demolition, it used to sit at a corner of the Tinubu Square.

Fernandez House. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

Centenary Hall Abeokuta which sits opposite the Ake Palace and was constructed in 1830, celebrated its centenary in 1930. It.is undeniably the most elegant city hall I have ever seen. On its side it looks like a castle within a fort.

Centenary Hall, Abeokuta. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

Centenary Hall, Abeokuta. Credit:Kelechi Anabaronye (Instagram: @oc.wonder)

Colonial Government House which was constructed in the 19th century has this royal regal look which cannot be found in any other city in Nigeria.

What challenges have you faced?

Nigerians are anti-photograph. They feel like you're trying to sell off their building or house which is really funny but what's a passion like this without such experiences? But the major challenge is finances. This sort of project requires some coin and there is so much I would like to do to preserve our history and projects I am working on which require funding. So if anyone is interested in donating to an interesting cause, please reach out.

Lastly and equally as important is the lack of awareness for and preservation of these buildings from a government level which takes away from their importance. These pieces of history should be included in school curricula and preserved rather than demolished.

What tips do you have for an exploring tourist?

Go in twos or threes in case of any hassle especially in the Lagos Island area. If you can, use your phone camera for certain places but if you take permission to use your professional camera, your day is made! In exploring these buildings, take your time observing every part of them, don't be in a rush. Sundays are the best days to explore.

What’s the plan for the future?

I'm looking for a very kind Nigerian that will be willing to dash me any colonial building in Lagos Island, Abeokuta and Calabar. Further projects will be undertaken when acquired.

Where are you off to next?

I would like to say Cape Verde or Angola but lol. I really would like to travel to either of those countries first, but Calabar has my heart honestly. I feel like walking to Calabar haha.

Where can people follow more of your photo documentary/travels?

It's more appropriate and visible on Instagram: @oc.wonder. You can also find me on twitter [@kelechinaba] ranting about the negligence of the governments and even private firms and individuals on the preservation of these structures.

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