Several lawyers and activists have reacted to the demand by the Lagos State House of Assembly for streets, buildings, monuments and other public properties named after colonial masters to be renamed.
The lawyers and activists, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, differed in their opinions to the move by the Lagos lawmakers.
The lawmakers in a unanimous vote on Tuesday adopted a motion calling on Babajide Sanwo-Olu to direct the Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture to liaise with the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice to look at the Listed Sites (Prevention) Law, 2015, with a view to removing all vestiges of slave trade and colonialism.
Olukoya Ogungbeje, a Lagos-based lawyer, said the move is laudable and a step in the right direction, adding that Nigerians should begin to recognise and celebrate their heroes.
“We cannot have monuments, streets, and public properties named after colonial masters who are not our own indigenous heroes. We can count the move as an act of patriotism on the part of the Lagos state House of Assembly. ”
Mr Ogungbeje said changing of the names will help in preserving Nigeria’s indigenous archives, history, cultures and values. He added that the change of names will help to immortalize heroes, nationalists and forefathers such as Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Gani Fawehinmi, Nnamdi Azikwe, Herbert Macaulay, and others.
He said he is not sure there is any legal backing in place to change monuments and public properties named after colonial masters.
Ebun Adegboruwa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the country cannot run away from its background by renaming streets, buildings and monuments named after colonial masters. He regarded the motion as “emotional” and lacks constitutional backing.
“There is no way we can erase the fact that we were colonized by the British, so, I think the attempt by the Lagos state House of Assembly is unduly being emotional. Our records are replete with the history of our colonialists.
“I do not agree with them that there is a need to change monuments that were named after them. Those monuments represented the activities of those individuals.
Mr Adegboruwa cited Bourdilion Road at Ikoyi, Lagos, a street named after Bernard Buordilion because he pioneered a conference that led to the independence of Nigeria. He added that Macpherson held a constitutional conference, which is why we have Macpherson Street.
“They are names that have significance. I do not agree that Nigeria should go away from those monuments, our children and generation should have a sense of history.”
Mr Adegboruwa said that under the Constitution, street naming is not a matter for the House of Assembly, but a matter under the local government. In this regard, he said, the House is acting outside of its powers under the Constitution.
“Under our Constitution, the House of Assembly has no power to meddle in street naming and naming of monuments. it is strictly a matter under the local government, they should not usurp the authority of the local government.”
Abdul Mahmud, another lawyer, said looking at what is happening around the world, specifically with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, the motion is a good one.
“People around the world are conscious of their history, not only conscious, they are ashamed of their history. We see countries like Belgium where statutes and historical monuments are being pulled down by humans. we have also seen the same happening across the towns and cities of America.”
“It is a good thing that members of the Lagos state House of Assembly have found it necessary to look at our history and see if those individuals like Madam Tinubus of our world, whose names have been given to streets can be changed,” he said.
Mr Mahmud also said there is no law backing changing of names of monuments in Lagos state or is there any national law on the naming of monuments and streets and it is worrisome.
“People just wake up and name streets the way they like,” he said.
“It is the responsibility of local government authorities to name streets, that is a constitutional provision in the concurrent list, but we also need local legislation that can guide institutions or state that can guide how to name and rename streets,” he said.
Alex Omotehinse, the Lagos State Chairperson of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), said removing the names of colonial masters and replacing with indigenous leaders is a good idea but that the state has more pressing issues beyond renaming streets and monumental properties.
“There are several challenges facing Lagosians, renaming or not renaming are minor things. To some of us, this topic does not hold water.”
He said the state is facing challenges such as privatisation of water, health care challenges and other subject matters that affect the lives of Lagosians and not about renaming monuments.
He urged Lagos State House of Assembly to raise agendas that will benefit the lives of Lagosians.
Olanrewaju Suraju, the Chairperson of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, told PREMIUM TIMES that the subject matter would have been a celebrated motion for Lagosians and Nigerians at large, but it could be a self-serving motion.
“It is really hypocritical when the House of Assembly members would not patronise locally assembled vehicles but go for foreign vehicles,” he said.
“It is a shame that the furniture they use are imported rather than patronise local makers, and even shameful that they would not patronise local institutions for capacity building programmes but rather ferry their colleagues abroad for training.
“They are talking about renaming, you would ask how does that impact the ordinary people of the country. All you would end up seeing is the renaming of streets after politicians and themselves, and not even politicians that have made any significant impact.”
Mr Suraju said the motion is merely self-serving, shameful, and nothing to celebrate and there is no basis encouraging or supporting it.
“It is not what is driven by the people, you have not seen people expressing any form of sentiments against it, and it is not something that is impacting the lives of the people. people will like to see them display that measure of discipline in all other areas than just mere renaming of streets,” he said.
Achike Chude, the vice-chairman of Joint Action Front, said at the surface level, the motion is good, adding that there are many Nigerians who have discharged themselves in a way that protected the interest of the people and their names should be remembered and immortalized.
“Any colonial name that is connected to the oppression of the people should be removed,” Mr Chude said.
“In moving their names, they must make sure the history is protected. The story of Nigeria is also the story of Colonialism, we cannot remove the present from the past. Colonialism was a historical fact that we cannot run away from,” he said.
He said the renaming must be done in a way that protects the history and esteem of the indigenous people that have performed excellently.
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