By Henry Akubuiro
Unburden yourself to nature, the lore and history of Yorubaland. If you find yourself in Lagos, that’s what you get by visiting the newly commissioned John Randle Centre for Yoruba Culture and History, Onikan, Lagos.
Located in a recreational triangle comprising the Muson Centre, Lagos City Mall, National Museum, Onikan Stadium, Lagos Island Club, and Yoruba Club, the J. Randle Centre stands out as an architectural masterpiece —an edifice celebrating Yoruba cultural heritage.
Different from a museum, the centre promises a flexible space for learning programmes, art installations, and live music events.
“The John Randle Centre is the first of many initiatives aimed at the preservation of the heritage of the Yoruba through the celebration and preservation of history and culture, the regeneration of decades old public green space, public recreation facilities, and the restoration of civic pride. Onikan will be the catalyst for a vibrant and tourist friendly quarter in the heart of Lagos Island,” said the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
At a brief commissioning ceremony performed on Tuesday, January 24, 2023, by President Mohammadu Buhari, attended by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu; his Deputy, Femi Hamzaat; Minister of Information and Culture, Chief Lai Mohammed; Minister of Sports, Akin Dare; the Oni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi; the Eleru of Lagos, Oloye Abiola Dosunmu; Lagos State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Pharm Uzamat Yusuf; members of the diplomatic corps, among others, the president declared the centre open and was conducted around the complex to see things for himself.
In 2018, the J Randle Centre began to get a makeover, courtesy of the Lagos State Government, with new features added to it. On completion, the centre has transformed into a state-of-the-art cultural and recreational showpiece. The swimming pool within the complex has an inviting ambience.
Other features include an outdoor theatre, bleacher stand, lawn area, public square, concession block, undercroft entry and a beautiful promenade.
Inside the complex tells the Yoruba story in colours and sounds. History beckons you as you step into the second floor of the centre with the Yoruba concept of creation. Avatars that define the Yoruba worldview are showcased in sculptures. Traditional fabrics, royal ensembles and palace, a weaving loom, paintings, iconic photos, a court for moonlight tales, a folksy, 3D screen depicting the place of Yoruba art and culture in the future, among others, form part of the cultural attractions of the centre.
Mr Damilare Ojewole, the site architect, who explained the components of the facility to guests and journalists, said the centre would educate visitors on the creation of Yoruba empire through ‘Ile-Ori’, ‘Ori-Olokun’, ‘Esu’, among others.
He noted: “In this place, you will learn about happenings in the Yoruba empire in the olden days and now, and the customs and practices.
“We have exhibitions on how naming ceremonies were conducted in the olden days, and divinations, it reveals the various masquerades in Yoruba land. We have a contemporary art section, fashion, and more.
“At another session, we have a gadget for visitors to check the meaning of their names and we have a good ambience for tales by moonlight.
“The permanent exhibition here celebrates the language, rituals, festivals, deities and ancestry of the Yoruba people at this time, and will ensure that the legacy of Yoruba culture and history is kept alive in Lagos,” he said.
The history of the John Randle Centre began in 1928 when Dr. John Randle, a prominent Lagosian, built a public swimming pool in King George V Park, later known as the Love Garden, a flourishing recreational area.
It was an effort informed by the refusal of the British Colonial office to build a pool for Lagosians to learn how to swim. He was to hand over the facilities to the Lagos Town Council with a maintenance purse to ensure its upkeep.
Years later, Chief John Koshoni Randle, an avid sportsman and the son of Dr Randle, died while leading a national sports delegation to international games. Thus, a group of friends rallied to set up a trust to build a hall in memory of Chief Randle.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, on the direction of Hon. Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, donated a piece of land at Onikan to build a memorial hall, under the care of a new set of trustees —Chief (Arc) Femi Majekodunmi, Chief Femi Adeniyi Williams, and Bashorun JK Randle — as a performance venue for cultural plays by renowned artists, including Prof. JP Clark, and artists in residence.
The Lagos State Government believes that the refurbishment of the swimming pool and erection of a new centre to replace the demolished memorial hall would inject life into the once thriving recreational area in the heart of Lagos Island.