A City of Motion

27 Jan 2013

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John and Gillian recently

By Okechukwu Uwaezuoke

All eyes were riveted on the white screen. A prelude to the actual press briefing, the Communication for Change director Sandra Obiago told the coterie of newshounds. Fleeting scenes of the termite-dense city of Lagos filled the screen. It was a documentary about this city of over 15 million people anchored by the English-born couple Professor John Godwin and his wife, Gillian Hopwood.

So is the book, Sandbank City: 150 Years of Lagos, which will be launched on Thursday during a ceremony that begins from 7 p.m. at the Wheatbaker Hotel in Ikoyi, Lagos. The supporters of the presentation ceremony have been listed as the Lagos State Government, the Wheatbaker Hotel, and Arra Vineyards. This 262-page illustrated coffee table book sifts through history to unearth the social, cultural, trade and architectural roots of this Africa’s important economic and cultural hub.

Godwin and his wife were born in the United Kingdom in 1928 and 1927 respectively. They both graduated from the Architectural Association School in London in 1950 and came to Nigeria in 1954. In Nigeria, they first worked for a London practice before starting their own practice in Lagos 18 months later. This was because of their belief that architectural developments should be rooted in its local peculiarities. 

Professor Godwin and his spouse are eyewitnesses to the city’s phenomenal evolution from a city of barely 600, 000 people to what it has become today. So much has happened since their arrival in February 1954. Working in partnership with a historian, Prince ‘Kunle Akinsemoyin, and a former Town Engineer of the Lagos Municipality, Timothy Aluko, the couple has been able to conjure a picture of a vibrant city in constant evolution.

Through the book, a reader will not only be enthralled by its rich history but also its physical feature and mosaic of peoples. Not unexpected to the reader is the book’s fixation on the planning of Lagos and its diverse architecture. This city spawned by both political and economic interests of the colonials flaunts a diverse population of British, Brazilian, and African roots.

Segmented into ten parts, the book also offers firsthand accounts of visitors and Lagosians dating back to the 1800s. Among those whose accounts feature in the book are Sir Richard Burton, Madam Efunroye Tinubu and Sir John Hawley Glover. There are also accounts by first settlers, slave traders, early Lagos personalities, traditional rulers and the general citizenry up to present times. 

The book, which also delves into the political issues that buoyed the city’s growth, derives its title from the fact that Lagos was originally “perched on a sandbank at the estuary of the Ogun River where it flows in to the Atlantic Ocean”. Its evolving character explains not only its growth but also its incredible cultural diversity! Savour its fascinating account of a city’s experience “from the time of the Bini overlords” to its glory days as Nigeria’s political capital at independence. The book also captures Lagos in the turbulent sixties. The reader shares the city’s anxieties, wonder at its resilience despite its infrastructural deficit. Besides being the most populous city in Nigeria, Lagos has becomeAfrica’s second fastest growing city and the world’s seventh fastest growing city.

The book’s foreword was written by Professor A. L. Mabogunje, one of Nigeria’s finest geographers now retired from the University of Ibadan while its preface was written by Disun Holloway, the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and Inter-Governmental Relations.

Tags: Life and Style, Arts and Review, Featured, Motion

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