If you got the chance to stand in the exact spot history was made, would you take it? I bet you would. You would at least want to see where history took place. I did, and I tell you it was something. I have always wondered how our independence day played out in 1960. I read books and saw movies, but I still thought of where it held, the energy that filled the air, what type of celebrations and parties were held, the speeches made etc.
I got to stand on the steps of greatness and history and while I was there, I closed my eyes for a minute and I saw it all. School kids lined up, (I like to assume Kings College boys were there, as they are within walking distance), Nigerians cheering loudly as Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa delivered his speech, the National Anthem being played for the first time, Princess Alexandra watching the last moments of Nigeria being colonized and all the other events that may have taken place. The things your mind can play out if you just use a little imagination. I also couldn’t resist making my own little speech at the very spot where I believe the independence speech was made.
If like me, you’ve wondered about everything that happened the day Nigeria got her Independence, Tafawa Balewa Square is the place to be. Located in the heart of Church Mission Street, TBS as it is fondly called stands as an imposing monument with the capacity of accommodating 50,000 people (huge right?). More importantly, it is a place that represents our independence that was fought for so long ago.
Most people know it as a center for hosting concerts, official functions, and exhibitions amongst other things , but believe me it is so much more. National day celebrations, Presidential speeches done in Lagos, and rallies are held here because of its significance. It is no wonder that buildings such as the former National House of Assembly, the National Defense liaison office, the 26 storey Independence house and the Remembrance Arcade are all around it.
So what exactly is Tafawa Balewa Square? It was originally a horse racing track until 1972, when it was converted to what it is now. It is named after the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. It was at this very place that he delivered his Independence Day speech on the 1st of Oct 1960, and where our Independence Day celebrations took place so many years ago.
On each side of the gates, you find 4 huge horses and 7 eagles which are found on the coat of arms. They represent strength and dignity. (There are two sets of gates, depending on how you choose to enter the square).
If you are lucky enough to go in through the front, you are welcomed by 3 Eyo statues. They represent the masquerades that are seen during the Eyo festival otherwise known as the Adamu Orisha play. Anyone else remember the Eyo festival folk song? Think it went like this..
‘Eyo O , Eh , Eyo O Eyo Baba ta wa, to fi golu sere, awa O le fo wo, oni golu Sere’
Behind where I assume the podium usually stands during events, you can see the coat of arms firmly placed, just in case you are not already familiar with it. The seats there are reserved for dignitaries and VIPs. The princess, governor generals, delegates and our government probably sat there in 1960.
As with all my other adventures, I enjoyed coming here but its surprising that while it’s free to enter, the security guards are very hesitant about letting people in. While they understand the importance of the place, they still require you to explain the purpose of your visit, and are even more hesitant about pictures being taken. Considering its history, people should be allowed to visit it. Someone however said it might be because they don’t want people to destroy/vandalise the place.
It is however not being taken care of properly, which is unfortunate. Hopefully it is rectified in the future. In the annex you can see people trading their wares, sleeping or just doing as they please. it should be better tended to, and opened as a tourist attraction with guided tours to help with the fear of vandalisation.
After all the struggle that led to the great events that took place here, we should do our own part in making sure that we don’t let it all go to waste. We can do this by going out to vote on sat. Vote for those you honestly think will carry on the legacy that began here and who knows, they just might do something historical too.
So the next time you pass TBS, why not stop by and say hello to a piece of history.
Enjoy the pictures & the very brief video I made so you can see TBS below. You can find the transcript of Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa’s speech below too. Throwback pictures from 1960 sourced from here, have also been included
PS, don’t forget to go out and vote on sat.
SIR ABUBAKAR TAFAWA BALEWA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY SPEECH – 01/10/1960
‘…….Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years, Nigeria has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent Sovereign nation. Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember forever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country.
This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now, we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations. Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began fifteen years ago and has now reached a happy and successful conclusion. It is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our Independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history.
Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious cooperation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority. At the time when our constitutional development entered upon its final phase, the emphasis was largely upon self-government: We, the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria, concentrated on proving that we were fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation.
However, we were not to be allowed the selfish luxury of focusing our interest on our own homes. In these days of rapid communications, we cannot live in isolation, apart from the rest of the world, even if we wished to do so. All too soon it has become evident that for us, independence implies a great deal more than self-government. This great country, which has now emerged without bitterness or bloodshed, finds that she must at once be ready to deal with grave international issues.
This fact has of recent months been unhappily emphasised by the startling events which have occurred in this continent. I shall not labor the point but it would be unrealistic not to draw attention first to the awe-inspiring task confronting us at the very start of our nationhood. When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence, it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to our place on the world stage. Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost. We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an independent state, we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fall for want of determination. And we come to this task better-equipped than many. For this, I pay tribute to the manner in which successive British governments have gradually transferred the burden of responsibility to our shoulders. The assistance and unfailing encouragement which we received from each Secretary of State for the Colonies and their intense personal interest in our development has immeasurably lightened that burden.
All our friends in the Colonial Office must today be proud of their handiwork and in the knowledge that they have helped to lay the foundations of a lasting friendship between our two nations. I have indeed every confidence that, based on the happy experience of a successful partnership, our future relations with the United Kingdom will be more cordial than ever, bound together, as we shall be in the Commonwealth, by a common allegiance to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, whom today we proudly acclaim as Queen of Nigeria and Head of the Commonwealth. Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerians, whose selfless labors have contributed to our Independence. Some have not lived to see the fulfillment of their hopes – on them be peace – but nevertheless they are remembered here, and the names of buildings and streets and roads and bridges throughout the country recall to our minds their achievements, some of them on a national scale. Others confined, perhaps, to a small area in one Division, are more humble but of equal value in the sum-total.
Today, we have with us representatives of those who have made Nigeria: Representatives of the Regional Governments, of former Central Governments, of the Missionary Societies, and of the Banking and Commercial enterprises, and members, both past and present, of the Public Service. We welcome you, and we rejoice that you have been able to come and share in our celebrations. We wish that it could have been possible for all of those whom you represent to be here today. Many, I know, will be disappointed to be absent, but if they are listening to me now, I say to them: ‘Thank you on behalf of my countrymen. Thank you for your devoted service which helped to build up Nigeria into a nation. Today, we are reaping the harvest which you sowed, and the quality of the harvest is equaled only by our gratitude to you. May God bless you all. This is an occasion when our hearts are filled with conflicting emotions: we are, indeed, proud to have achieved our independence, and proud that our efforts should have contributed to this happy event. But do not mistake our pride for arrogance.
It is tempered by feelings of sincere gratitude to all who have shored in the task of developing Nigeria politically, socially and economically. We are grateful to the British officers whom we have known, first as masters, and then as leaders, and finally as partners, but always as friends. And there have been countless missionaries who have labored unceasingly in the cause of education and to whom we owe many of our medical services.
We are grateful also to those who have brought modern methods of banking and of commerce, and new industries. I wish to pay tribute to all of these people and to declare our everlasting admiration of their devotion to duty. And finally, I must express our gratitude to Her Royal Highness, the Princess Alexandra for personally bringing to us these symbols of our freedom and especially for delivering the gracious message from Her Majesty, The Queen. And so, with the words ‘God Save Our Queen’, I open a new chapter in the history of Nigeria and of the Commonwealth, and indeed, of the world.’ Source
Address – Tafawa Balewa Square, bounded by Awolowo road and Catholic Mission Street, Onikan, Lagos Island. Lagos. *Limited parking is available as there are some offices in the annex