Wednesday, 19 August 2009

‘Dry bones’ of Awo House rise again

RECENTLY, the Lagos State government officially opened the Institute of Government and Public Policy. Located in the Lekki axis of the state, the facility was once referred to as ‘Awo Jail House.’ It was the abode of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, between June 19 and July 5, 1962 during the crisis of the Western Region. When The Guardian visited the compound some years ago, the colonial guesthouse looked dingy and decrepit. It had suffered abandonment for many years with the wall paints peeling off and some parts of the building crumbling. The compound did not quite command any impressive view, but I was able to see details with the help of a guide, Mr. Ibukun Fakeye, who had just mobilised men and materials to begin reclamation work with the view of transforming the complex, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, into a tourism project. Fakeye, who is the new czar on the Lagos State tourism bloc, had spoken on plans to make the long abandoned guesthouse a Nigerian version of Mandela’s Robben Island: A place where tourists and others would encounter the late sage, with different memorabilia of his on display. In June, I repeated a visit to the site, only to be accosted by an imposing structure. In fact, I missed my way having mistaken the structures ahead for something else until I was properly directed. The once sandy road now has interlocking blocks, which enhance mobility. The entire complex presents a breathtaking view extending to the Atlantic Ocean that now adds colour and panache to the scenery. It is to the credit of Fakeye and others, who worked earnestly to make the place a befitting structure than earlier imagined. JUNE 25 was indeed historic as many came to see the place Awo described in his book The Years of Travail, as ‘mosquito – infested’. The bungalow, which is made up of two small rooms is believed to have been built by a Portuguese merchant and later served as guesthouse of the colonial masters one of the formal occupants, Chief Hannah Awolowo, aka Mama Awo, cutting the tape. The new vision, Fakeye said, “would compete favourably with anyone globally in terms of its structure and purpose. The Institute, he said, “would compete favourably for attention, people and funding with similar research destinations both locally and globally. He added, “this is an educational resort for youths and adults and a post retirement place for people in government, education and private institutions.” In his remark, Governor Fashola stressed the need for an institute of this magnitude that is devoted to training and education. Having benefited immensely from the exemplary live of the late sage, Fashola insisted that the best he could do was to play a role in entrenching his legacy, especially that of good governance, by deploying state apparatus to bring social development and its gains to the people. This principle, he reminded that the late Awo lived and died for. The rapid development that was enjoyed by the former Western Region stands as a tribute to the good governance and social engineering that Awo introduced and nurtured. THE institute, which is funded by the Lagos State government in partnership with Ocean Beach Golf and Leisure Resorts Limited, currently has a museum, resource centre, kitchen, access road, walks path and a beautiful landscape overlooking the Atlantic Ocean However, Fakeye informed that the second phase of the project, which is due to commence soon, will have a multipurpose hall, research library, lecture theatre, offices, in- residence accommodation, 20 suites of boutique accommodation and five cottages. Also on the list are shops and art gallery and three cabanas at the beachfront. The poet Odia Ofeimun, who is known for his long association with the late political icon, is the co-ordinator of the exhibits. Trustees of the institute include the former governor of Osun State, Chief Bisi Akande (chairman), Dr. Wale Adebanwi, Mrs. Francesca Emanuel, Ibukun Akin Fakeye, Professor Segun Gbadegesin, Odia Ofeimun, Professor Sophie Oluwole, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Professor Adebayo Williams, Labisi Silva and a representative of Lagos State government. Tested hands, supervised by the board of trustees that is expected to provide guidance and policy trust, will manage the institute. Funding of its various programmes are expected to come from the Lagos State government and the internally generated revenue from its in –house activities alongside grants, sponsorship and endorsements.

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