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Nigeria: John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History- Returning Lagos Culture to Its Former Splendour

Lagos State is one of the 36 states in Nigeria. As the smallest state in the nation, Lagos is yet the most populated and a significant financial hub. Lagos, the sixth-largest city in the world by population, is well-known for its nightlife, tourism activities, and beach resorts. The State government has refurbished the John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History at Onikan part of the city. This will contribute to the realization of the government’s plan to develop Lagos as a tourist destination. It follows the State Government’s 20-year Arts and Tourism Master Plan, where estimated population of over 20 million people dwells.

Globally, tourism increases income, helps to spread culture, and creates employment opportunities. The Nigerian challenge of tourism is not the absence of tourist locations or captivating culture, it is rather a case of poor infrastructure, insecurity, inadequate funding, corruption and the lack of implementation amongst other vices. However, tourism in Nigeria is traced to 1472 when the first Portuguese merchants visited Lagos on a mercantile mission (trade mission) metamorphosed to what is now known as World Tourism Organization (WTO). Following independence in 1960, organised tourism started with the establishment of Nigeria Tourist Association (1962). During the military era (1966–1999) and the early democratic dispensation (1990–2005), tourism devel- opment was uncontrolled and yielded low gains. Tourist receipts in 2020 plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the $1.47 billion billion (2019), only $321.00 million billion remained. This is a 78 percent decrease in Nigeria (World Data, 2023). Tourism figures represented a 140.2 percent rise relative to 2016 in 2017. And there was a 130,3 percent rise from 2015 to 2016. Statistics have deteriorated two years earlier. But now more tourists visit the nation for business and recreation, and investors see the improved promise of the area. In 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the tourism sector accounted for three hundred and four percent of Nigeria’s GDP, with 20% of the country’s job development. It is now a reasonable opportunity for African tourism firms to invest in Africa (World Tourism Forum, 2023).

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s cultural heritage is woven from threads of history and diversity, legend and conquest. Tourists visiting the country will gain insights to a glorious past as well as a promising future, set amid the natural beauty of this diverse country. From rain forests in the south, broad savanna woodlands in the center to a semi-desert region in the north, Nigeria offers a remarkable range of physical beauty in her land and hospitality of her people, ready to be enjoyed by the tourist fortunate enough to choose this land of ancient empires as their travel destination (Nigeria High Commission UK). Although, much emphasis has been placed on agriculture being the “messianic industry”, the tourism industry, if revamped has the potential to attract substantial foreign exchange earnings. However, recent reform efforts by the government in tourism seem to reflect old thinking even in new times.

In the midst of all Nigerian cities, only Lagos follows the familiar pattern of the new African cities which have developed at ports, mining and trading centres and administrative headquarters. As the former national capital, chief port, and principal railhead of Nigeria, Lagos is not a traditional city, although historical references to the village from which it grew go back to the early days of exploration. Historical account of Lagos indicates that the city was originally inhabited by the Awori subgroup of the Yoruba people in the 15th century, who called it “Oko”. Under the leadership of the Oloye Olofin, the Awori moved to an island now called Iddo and then to the larger Lagos Island. In the 16th century, the Awori settlement was conquered by the Benin Empire and the island became a Benin war-camp called “Eko” under Oba Orhogba, the Oba of Benin at the time. Eko is still the native name for Lagos. While, the Lagos Island speech community is a largely indigenous Yoruba community situated in the heart of Lagos city, Nigeria.

Yoruba people are a large ethnic-linguistic group or ethnic nation in Africa, and the majority of them speak the Yoruba language. Yoruba tribe is hands down the most interesting and deep tribe/culture in the entire West African region. Distinctive cultural norms prevail in Yoruba land and among the Yoruba people. The Yoruba has traditionally been among the most skilled and productive craftsmen of Africa. They worked at such trades as blacksmithing, weaving, leather working, glass making, and ivory and wood carving.

Moreover, according to the State’s official website, Lagos State is essentially a Yoruba environment inhabited by its sub-nationality of Aworis and Ogus in Ikeja and Badagry Divisions respectively, with the Ogus being found mainly in Badagry and the Awori forming the indigenous population of Lagos where there are, nevertheless, other pioneer immigrant settlers – Edos, Saros, Brazilians, Kannike/Tapa, etc collectively called Lagosians but more appropriately referred to as the Ekos. For Ikorodu and Epe Divisions, the local populations are mainly the Remos and Ijebus with pockets of Eko-Awori settlers along the entire State coastland and riverine areas. However, despite its Yoruba indigeneity, the State is a global socio-cultural melting pot attracting Nigerians, Africans and foreigners alike. The situation is attributable to its sound economic base, strategic maritime location and socio-political importance which induced a high rate of migration to the State.

The city of Lagos has a whole lot of tourist attractions such as beaches, resorts, museums, art centres, markets, malls and festivals you get to enjoy. There’s an abundance of historical and cultural landmarks as well. For instance, John K. Randle Center, abridged J.K Randle Center, an edifice celebrating Yoruba cultural heritage, is a recently renovated development in Lagos Island as part of plans to transform Marina and the Onikan region of Lagos Island into a hub for tourism and recreational activity. Though, Lagos Island speech community is a largely indigenous Yoruba community situated in the heart of Lagos city, Nigeria. John K. Randle Center, located in a recreational triangle comprising the Muson Centre, Lagos City Mall, National Museum, Onikan Stadium, Lagos Island Club, and Yoruba Club.

The John Randle Centre’s history dates back to 1928, when prominent Lagosian Dr. John Randle constructed a public swimming pool in King George V Park, which later became a thriving recreation area known as the Love Garden. The effort was prompted by the failure of the British Colonial office to provide adequate funding for the construction of a pool for Lagosians to learn how to swim. He was to give the Lagos Town Council the facilities along with a maintenance fund to make sure they were maintained.

Later, while leading a national sports delegation to an international competition, Chief John Koshoni Randle, a devoted sportsman and the son of Dr. Randle, passed away. In order to construct a hall in Chief Randle’s honour, a group of friends banded together to establish a trust. On the recommendation of the Hon. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the Federal Government of Nigeria donated land near Onikan for the construction of a memorial hall and was executed by Hon. Musa Yar Adua, the Minister of Lagos Affairs. This hall will serve as a venue for cultural plays by renowned performers like Prof. JP Clark and artists in residence. It will be overseen by a new board of trustees, Chief (Arc) Femi Majekodunmi, Chief Femi Adeniyi Williams, and Bashorun JK Randle.

The John K. (JK) Randle Arcade, however, has been transformed by the Lagos State Government into the JK Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, a recreation and tourism facility. The centre, which was demolished in Q3 2016, will be renovated, along with the creation of museums, cultural theatres, and history centres, according to a statement from the Lagos State Government. Together with previously mentioned elements like the swimming pool and sports facilities, the centre also has a Pavilion for stage performances, an Exhibition Centre, a Library, a Multi-Purpose Hall, Learning Spaces, Restaurant and Lounges, and Private Offices. This centre has in it’s capacity, according to report, a centrepiece community building with a 1,000 sq.m exhibition gallery, telling the story of Yoruba history and culture through a journey from its origins, till present day, and to the future. Meanwhile, with this urban regeneration project, the historic centre, state of the art pool and landscaping masterpiece will act as a catalyst for regeneration of the area and nostalgic return of this public recreation space in the heart of Lagos island, the government noted.

The project was officially launched on January 24, 2023, by His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. The John Randle Centre’s architecture is described as drawing inspiration from traditional Yoruba craftsmanship and architecture, using visual metaphors to express the language and culture’s deep artistic and philosophical roots from traditional Yoruba architecture and craftsmanship, using visual metaphors to reflect the strong artistic and philosophical origins of the language and culture. The building form responds to its context in the shape of a fractal, rises from the earth and leans forward as a nod to Itesiwaju, reflecting the progressive nature of the Yorubas. The buildings are finished in a dyed Tyrolean, evocative of the mud aesthetic of old Yoruba architecture. A metallic screen across the face of the curved façade represents a weave, a time-honoured skill found in everyday Yoruba life. A green roof ties the building to the landscape, helps to reduce the building’s thermal load and provides additional interactive outdoor space.

The Yoruba civilisation, which has produced some of the world’s greatest religious, intellectual, musical, and creative traditions, is one of the great cultures, claims the centre. Furthermore, “the aim in the John Randle is to shine a light (Tan) on to these traditions. Yoruba tradition does not stand still. The Yoruba word for tradition, Aṣa, suggests a process of refining, discriminating and innovating. Yoruba tradition continuously evolves and informs the present and the future. The verb Pa means to create, to bring things together. To tell a story (Pa Itan) is to enter into those traditions. The John Randle Centre joins the traditions of the past with the present and looks to the future.” The revitalization of the centre will boost tourism in the state, and the Lagos state government has been having discussions with both national and local figures in the arts and culture to help the centre fulfil its purpose.

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