A retired principal and currently Administrator of the Women Memorial Centre, Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State, Mrs Edith Ettete, whose centre shares the same neighbourhood with the Amalgamation House where the first Governor-Genera l of Nigeria, Sir Frederick Lugard, signed the treaty that amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates of Nigeria, in this interview with PATRICK ODEY, laments the dilapidation of the historic monument
What is the significance of the women war centre, which shares same neighbourhood with the Amalgamation House?
The Women Memorial Hall is a building that was put up by Senator Helen Esuene to imortalise those women that were killed in the Aba Women riot of 1929. Also our aim is to make the place an international centre for research into women activities. We have a gallery there that tells the history of Ikot Abasi with some pictures and sculptures.
How did you feel about the neglect of the Amalgamation House, where the treaty for Nigeria’s amalgamation was drafted?
I very feel bad, extremely dissatisfied. We feel that we have been neglected. It’s like the goose that lays the golden egg. Politically, we are not relevant when it come to national politics. We are not relevant in Ikot Abasi, we produced a minister here but his tenure was so brief. So, it’s disappointing that nothing is being done to preserve the Amalgamation House and we are not happy about it.
Have there been efforts on the part of federal and state governments to preserve the monument for future generations?
Recently, I received some people here and they asked this same question and I said my fear was that things we were talking about would soon fade away. Some of the items and materials for instance, the slave trade route, but for the intervention of a House of Representatives member in the 7th Assembly the “Bridge of No Return” would have gone into oblivion. He came here and renovated the place. The building was so dilapidated that it was better to pull it down so that people would not be injured when it collapses. What I am saying is that some of the historical things, if something is not done about them urgently they will just disappear . If you go there, you will see the chains that were used during the slave trade. They can disappear. And to answer your question directly nothing is being done to preserve them.
Has there been any individual effort to preserve the Amalgamation House?
Senator Helen Esuene, could only do pictures. The Amalgamation House is badly dilapidated now. We have a picture of it inside the Memorial Hall gallery and that might be the only thing. If you enter there, you will see the communication gadgets that Lord Lugard used. That is something that should be preserved for history and posterity. When the house falls or eventually collapses, those things will not be there again. Photographs that are there if they are exposed to weather conditions, the way they are being exposed, they will not be there again. They are being exposed to weather conditions and even human beings.
How best can those materials and items in the Amalgamation House be preserved?
Our people have not yet come to a point that they can appreciate tourism as a money spinner. They are not investing in tourism. Private investors are not looking at tourism. I think government at this point should look into it and protect the Amalgamation House from weather. Like the other sites— the “Bridge of No Return”thank God that something is being done to preserve it. But some items like the communication gadgets in the Amalgamation House should be brought together either in a room or museum and preserve them. So government should as a matter of urgency pick up these materials and preserve them because they are fast deteriorating. These things can generate money for the government. The Nelson Mandela House in South Africa is a tourist centre; tourists go there and pay money.
The Amalgamation House is in a badly dilapidated state. What are other valuable things inside that can be preserved for history?
I have mentioned the communication gadgets that Lord Lugard used. For instance, for the amalgamation to take place, there must have been an announcement and the announcement went out through the gadgets. Whether it is the microphone or the speakers and others ancient things that we don’t even know their names; they are all there. The chairman of the local government, who was there in 2015, really did something. He brought the photographs of Lord Lugard and his wife and some write-ups that are there. These things should be removed and kept where they are safe because leaving them there, I think in the next two years, there will not be there again.
How secured is the place?
There is no security there. One lady is living behind the Amalgamation House. She cannot secure anything there because she is living there on her private capacity as a person. She is not a staff member of the local government. Maybe she there because of lack of accommodation. So, there is insecurity there and the things there are not saved. That is why I said government needs to secure the materials and the items inside there by removing them from there and putting them somewhere. In fact, when some tourists came they did not even advise removing them. They suggested that a structure or a superstructure should be provided to cover the Amalgamation House and stop the deterioration.
What is the historical significance of the Amalgamation House in the political evolution of Nigeria?
Political evolution of Nigeria began in 1914, when Sir Lord Frederick Lugard brought together the Northern protectorate, the Southern protectorate and the colony of Lagos. He brought them all together and that is what is referred to as the Amalgamation. He brought Nigeria into what we now have as a nation. Earlier before then, the northern protectorate was on its own, the southern on its own and the colony of Lagos was administered separately. He brought these together to what we now know as Nigeria. Historically, the treaty for the amalgamation was signed in Ikot Abasi. It may interest us to know that Lord Lugard was not permanently residing in Ikot Abasi. In fact, when he was posted here, the name was not Nigeria then. He was posted to different protectorates and colonies as Governor-General. The aim was go and amalgamate; bring them together in one unit as a country. He did that and in the course of working towards the actualisation of that goal, he used to stay in Ikot Abasi. Ikot Abasi, historically, was the gateway to the outside World. It has a natural habour. In fact, mails from foreign offices came in through Ikot Abasi, the boats and the ships brought in good and took away our own goods and many European companies too. It’s on record that about 35 European companies came in through Ikot Abasi. Lord Lugard spent time here and he worked here and at the end, the amalgamation treaty was drafted at the Amalgamation house and Nigeria was born here in Ikot Abasi.
Is the poor state of the Amalgamation House not an indication that the unity of Nigeria is shaky?
It is symbolic. That the Amalgamation House is dilapidating can be interpreted that this country is disintegrating. The house in which we were brought together as a nation is no longer there; so the unity of Nigeria is shaky- dilapidating like the place where it was formalised.
Is it not an indication that most Nigerians are no more happy with the Amalgamation?
It’s also an indication. The Amalgamation meant something good for Nigerians and I think most Nigerians would have cried out against allowing the house to dilapidate. So, it’s like people feel let the house go, erase the memory from the minds of people because the people themselves are not happy with the Amalgamation. The people of Ikot Abasi Local Government Area where the treaty was formalised, especially are not happy. Because some people think we know something about the Amalgamation makes us not happy at all. So, the house dilapidating is symbolic that it’s not all well with the Amalgamation; it did not achieve the desire effect which is to bring people together, have a large and populous country, where people act together in unison, but it is not so today. ,,
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