Live music lovers gather at Freedom Park, Lagos for a monthly music concert, Afropolitan Vibes. The concert is second to none among folks who enjoy the natural, “none auto-tuned voices” while sipping fresh palm wine from a calabash. One a typical concert day, while old attendees who arrived the park early wait for the concert to kick start first-time visitors get arrested by the park’s historical artifacts. When the concert begins, they dance… without realizing that the dance floor has a sad history. It is the actual spot where many Nigerians were confined and maltreated in the then Broad Street Prison. It is her majesty prison transformed into a fun park. Hence, its name “Freedom Park”. An observant individual can spot out the clue in the thick white wall surrounding the compound.
Freedom Park was formerly the old Broad Street Prison, a place of agony and torment for some of our heroic and remarkable Nigerian freedom fighters such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Herbert Macauley, Pa Michael Imoudu, Lateef Jakande, Adeyemo Alakija who were imprisoned by the colonial masters. It was first established in 1862 after Lagos Colony was captured by the British navy.
The prison was originally built with mud and grass thatch. It had eight cells with rings and chains in which prisoners were bound. Incessant fire attacks by anti-colonialists led to the rebuilt of the prison into one with prison cells of 180-person capacity. Bricks were imported from England for £16,000 in the same year the British spent £700 on education in the colony. A sign of how important law and order was for the administration.
In the prison corner lies a place for execution. The executioners were usually brought from the northern part of the country, a deliberate attempt to avoid sentimental intervention in the execution of a condemned prisoner. The northern guys typically know no one so they cannot be sentimental.
The old prison was demolished after independence. Decades later, the site which holds memories of oppression, dehumanization, demoralization, and assault was transformed into art and recreational center for all sorts of freedom expressions by Lagos State Government.
Other places of interests at the park include Wole Soyinka Gallery which houses artworks and colonial artifacts, former Prison Record Office now the museum, Pergola Cells now internet booths, Administrative Office now the Warders Lodge, and Historical Statues among others.
It is indeed a symbolic destination for both lovers of history, arts and entertainment, constructed to preserve history and cultural heritage of Nigerians.