By Moshood Adebayo
Centenary Hall in Abeokuta, Ogun State, is a major historical hall. It was built in 1930 to mark the 100th anniversary of the settlement of Egba in Abeokuta in 1830 from their homestead, called Egba Forest, now in present Oyo State.
The hall did not only serve as an avenue for interaction, socialisation, among the Egba, it also served as a town hall where important meetings took place among the four quarters of the Egba Nation.
Daily Sun gathered that it was spared by the ongoing infrastructural development of the state government because of its historical value to the Egba. Despite its age, the hall remains architectural an delight as it stands adjacent to the palace of Oba Okukenu, the first Alake of Egbaland, crowned on August 8, 1854.
The idea of the building was mooted by one of the past Alakes, Oba Ladapo Ademola II, just as documented evidence revealed that a meeting of the Egba Authority ratified the suggestion with its foundation stone later laid by the monarch.
It was also gathered that the hall occupying land area of 3,196.038 metres was designed by the late Mr. Kotey. Today, the monumental Centenary Hall has literarily become a shadow of itself in terms of patronage by individuals as well as attention from any tier of government.
Although it still stands as an architectural delight, it has lost considerable patronage from individuals and corporate bodies, except on rare occasions, where traditional and customary events were involved. In the past, there was hardly an event held in the town without the Centenary Hall, adorned with pictures of heroes of the town not being the venue.
Chief Omolaja Oyenekan, 83, relished the memories of the hall with nostalgia: “When it was built, it was not only one of its kind in Abeokuta, but in the entire old Western Region. It is a unique hall of fame for the Egba, which in the past served as venue for most town hall meetings and other receptions.”
However, he lamented that its fame had considerably gone down among the natives, who now prefer to hold meetings and events in rented halls.
A prominent Egba kingmaker, Chief Alani Suara Bankole, described the hall as a rallying point for all the Egba, which cannot be easily forgotten: “It is our own heritage, which can’t be forgotten despite its perceived negligence. It is our own hall of fame, which we hold in high esteem and will continue to be so.”
While linking low patronage of the Centenary Hall to the establishment of more social and event centres in Egbaland, Bankole said the hall is still dear to the Egba: “It is still our own hall of historical fame; which we treasure and can’t be forgotten. It is and will continue to remain a major uniting landmark for all Egba.
“Egba has a veritable traditional and cultural heritage, which is highly cherished among them and worthy of emulation by others, particularly among the Yoruba.”
The Towulade of Akinale, Oba Olufemi Ogunleye, lamented what he described as lack of maintenance culture among Nigerians: “Notwithstanding that more events halls have been established across Egbaland, the Centenary Hall should not be abandoned by its people and government for any reason. The hall needs not only patronage, but maintenance by both local and state governments, so as to continue to occupy its rightful position in the tourism list in the state.”
Are Baaroyin of Egbaland, Chief Lai Labode in an interview said although he could not say exactly the town where the Egba Forest is now located, he is sure that it is somewhere in the present Oyo State.
Labode though admitted that the hall had shrunk in term of capacity to host people, “but it is still an historic monument in which Egba people are proud of. No matter its short comings or defects, Centenary Hall remains a monumental structure which binds all Egba, who also treasure it and hold it in high esteem.”
He also disclosed that an extension of the hall, called ADU Hall (Abeokuta Descendant Union) Hall was in the past considered, “but unfortunately it did not function well.”
Centenary Hall may be popular among the natives, but not many of them, particularly the youths whose ages range between 18 and 40 know why it was built. Akintan Babalola, 35, a civil servant, was emphatic:
“I know where it is located in Abeokuta, but I don’t know who owns it; whether an individual, group or government. I may not know who owns it, but I’m always marvelled at its structure.”
Miss Adeola Bamgbola, 21, a student of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Ojere, Abeokuta, wants the Abeokuta South Local Government to organise periodic enlightenment programmes to create awareness among the people of the town: “I had thought the Centenary Hall was owned by someone who decided to shut it down as a result of a problem. I now know better, I suggest that awareness programmes be created on it.”
An official of the Ministry of Tourism, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said government is not leaving any stone unturned to ensure that places like Centenary Hall receive adequate attention:
“The administration of Governor Ibikunle Amosun is doing its best to ensure that landmarks like Centenary Hall receive adequate attention of government.”