The restoration of Jaekel House

The restoration of Jaekel House

Nigeria’s tourism
sector is working hard to make the country a destination for travellers
worldwide. However, a large number of its historical sites and
monuments remain in a deplorable state. To set a trend in a positive
direction, LEGACY (a historical and environmental interest group), has
unveiled its latest restored building, Jaekel House. Part of the
country’s build heritage, the Jaekel House presentation also included a
Mini Museum and the Nigeria in Transition Photographic Exhibition, all
of which opened to the general public on May 13, 2010 at the Railway
Compound in Ebute-Metta, Lagos.

Guests at the event
included the Lagos State Commissioner for Tourism and
Inter-Governmental Affairs, Tokunbo Afikuyomi; the British High
Commissioner to Nigeria, Bob Dewar; and the former managing director of
the Nigerian Railways, Greg Ilukwe, amongst others.

With soft Nigerian
oldies music playing at the background, the railway compound’s tranquil
and serene environment offered guests an opportunity to exchange
pleasantries. On the lawn outside the building everyone could view
exhibited sample railway tracks and maintenance trolley on display.

In his opening
remarks, Afikuyomi pledged the state government’s support and
determination to make Lagos a tourist destination. “Lagos state is
poised to preserve and restore historical buildings and sites. We have
sponsored a bill to the state House of Assembly to that effect. It has
gone through the second and third reading and will soon be signed into
law.” The commissioner also pledged a million naira to the Jaekel House
restoration project, on behalf of his ministry.

For guests who were
taken on a tour of the mini museum and exhibition by Professor of
Architecture, John Godwin, it was a nostalgic experience as they saw
glimpses of the ‘good old days’ of the Railway Corporation (as it was
then called) in archive images displayed.

As they walked down
the large verandas of the restored building viewing the artefacts, many
where held spellbound and could not help but express disappointment at
the level of decay in the railway system today. Many also praised the
efforts of LEGACY in embarking upon the restoration exercise.

A little history

Godwin shared the
story behind Jaekel house with those present. The building, formerly
known as Quarter 17, was renamed in memory of the former chief
superintendent of Railways, Patrick Jaekel, who came to Nigeria in 1938
and served in the country for 27 years.

Upon retirement,
Jaekel wrote the definitive history of the railways and is also
credited with having been a co-driver of the diesel locomotive on which
the Queen of England and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh travelled to
Ibadan in 1956. Professor Godwin said, “Jaekel was the Number Two in
the hierarchy of the colonial era; and when the governor general went
on holiday, he took over. He was that important.”

Godwin also added
that the late Jaekel, who died on March 28, 2002, was more Nigerian
than most Nigerians. On his insistence, Jaekel was buried at his
Woodhall Spa Lincolnshire home wearing a Nigerian national attire with
a Nigerian flag placed on the casket. Godwin, who taught Architecture
at the University of Lagos for 12 years and has been living in Nigeria
since 1954, was able to provide impressive testimony to a bygone era at
LEGACY’s presentation of the restored building. He informed that the
railway system in Nigeria began in Lagos before moving Abeokuta, Ibadan
and further to the North.

Why Jaekel House?

LEGACY President
Desmond Majekodunmi, said the decision to restore Jaekel House was due
to the desire to set an example about the need to embrace restoration
in the country. Historical artefacts and buildings of historical
significance should be restored to their original glary, he insisted,
indicating Jaekel House project is in a bid to show people that it can
be done. “Jaekel is a very good representation of the old structures
that existed and this building is over a hundred years old. As
environmentalists, we appreciate that this building is very
environmentally friendly, the carbon footprints of a building like this
with huge verandas and large overhangs which cools the building
naturally is far less than these other buildings which require mass air
conditioning,” he said

Majekodunmi added
that Jaekel House is not the only building being restored. “We are
working on other buildings and we are happy to say that the Lagos state
government has been in support and has passed an edict which is going
to blanket preservation over old buildings in the state,” he said.
Citing money as the biggest challenge while executing the project,
Majekodunmi said LEGACY was faced with THE task of subtle fund raising.

Saving the day

With the assistance
of British Gas (BG), the Jaekel building was restored as near as
possible to its original 1900 state. LEGACY was registered as a charity
in 1995 and some of its past projects include the restoration of
Lumpkin House, Abiku Oke Street, Lagos Island. The organization also
undertakes recording, researching as well as publishing a map of
Nigeria showing all historic sites, establishment of a database for
photographic archive, to mention a few activities.

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