Badagry is a town known for its rich transatlantic slave history. It was in this city that Nigeria witnessed the cruelest form of human abuse. It is also in Badagry that Christianity, Western Education and mechanized agriculture founded its way to Nigeria. Some of the early missionaries contributions to civilization is still preserved in Badagry till date. A typical example is the first storey building in Nigeria. Overlooking the Marina waterfront, Rev. Henry Townsend laid the foundation of the first-ever storey building in Nigeria in 1842 but the building was finally completed in 1845 by Rev. C.A Gollmer.
Although the building has been repainted over time, its interior still preserve some of the artifacts of history. The building materials used in constructing the house itself such as corrugated iron sheets and the nails used in the roofing of the building can be found in the labourer’s room. The doors and hinges are still the same and appear to have stood the test of time more than what is obtainable in the market today. The first teacher in Nigeria, Mr. Claudius Phillips also lived in this house for 23 years.
Mr Philips established the first primary school in Nigeria, St. Thomas Primary School with 40 men who spent 12 years in primary school before they graduated. A quick calculation reveals that education in Nigeria is almost 160 years old. Another occupant of this historic building is the first Bishop in Nigeria, Bishop Ajayi Crowther who wrote the first Yoruba Bible in Nigeria. One can find the first English Bible belonging to Townsend when he was invited by his friend Birch Freeman, alongside the Yoruba version translated by Bishop Ajayi Crowther in this room.
Hung on the wall of this room are portraits of Rev. Townsend and also that of Bishop Crowther with his grandson Herbert Macaulay. From this room, one can see the house of Lord Fredrick Luggard, the then governor of the colony and protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Gollmer’s room houses the first bench used by the missionary. There is also the Bible room where the missionaries stored their Bibles; the safe room which house the first safe used by the missionary in 1856. It was here that they kept their money and other valuable items. Also in this safe are the earliest form of currency used by the missionaries and slave masters such as the cowries, penny, shillings and kobo.
Another heritage preservation in the building is a well, which was dug in 1842. This source of water has never been polluted and served as drinking water in the community. Till date, the water of this well remains clean and is believed to have magical powers of healing. When Birch Freeman arrived in Badagry on September 24, 1842, he preached his first gospel under the notable Agia Tree. Under this umbrella tree, though no longer in existence, the first sermon in Nigeria was preached and the tree also served as the centre of Christmas celebration for the early Christians.
The Birch Freeman High School in Surulere was named after this missionary and is an alma mater of the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. Rev. Townsend, apart from introducing the first English Bible used in Nigeria, also published the first indigenous newspaper in Nigeria called Iwe Irohin in 1859 in Abeokuta.
Other heritage sites in Badagry include the heritage museum which was formerly the District Officer’s office till 2011, the Brazilian Baracoon, where the slaves are kept before being transferred to the slave port popularly known as ‘The Point of No Return’. The Slave port retells the harrowing experience of our forefathers who were subjected to despicable and inhumane treatment. Chained on hands and feet, these slaves embarked on an endurance trek to an unknown destination. They are ferried across the lagoon to the winding path that leads to the Atlantic. Already, the European merchants have their ships ready to convey the slaves to an unknown land.
Rocks were marked on both sides of the path to prevent them from escaping into the surrounding forest. Thus they formed a straight file in the middle. Surrounded by so much greenery, they tread on, sometimes chanting songs of freedom, while others wore a forlorn look, and some a mask of death. Their tormentors cared less as they pushed them on with whips and sticks, their minds set on delivering the “goods” and getting paid. Those who couldn’t withstand the suffering died on the way. Till date, their graves are visible on the path. To seal the fate of the slaves, the masters made them drank from the Slave Spirits Attenuation Well. History has it that the water from this well erased the memory of their homeland and made them less aggressive and submissive to their supremacists as they sailed into the new world.
Families were separated and many did not make it back to their homeland but assumed another personality at their new destinations. At the Atlantic shore, the middlemen separated the male from the female and boarded them on a canoe to the ship after much bargaining. With the agonising echoes of slave trade in Badagry, Badagry should seemingly be less appealing. Far from it. Take away the footprints of the slavery and enjoy the serenity of the ancient town. Surrounded by the peninsula, Badagry is the perfect getaway from the din of the city. The waterfront has become a popular sight for tourists to enjoy. The long stretch of trees along the shoreline looks like a shield against the heinous act committed there over 400 years ago. With abundance water, tourists are tempted to take a boat cruise and revel in the wonderful works of nature.
Few kilometres ahead is the Suntan Beach. With coconut trees, horse rides, barbecues and music, it is the perfect place to chill out at the weekend. For those who can’t make it to the beach, the marina is the perfect place for a picnic on Sunday afternoons. A popular hangout in Badagry is the Hi-lander O2. The owner Olaide Osoba entertains his guests with tasty seafood delicacies and drinks while they enjoy the sea breeze. Situated close to the marina waterfront, Osoba planted trees in this setting with a chained monkey jumping from one tree to another. The idea of his setting was to give the guest that intimate foreplay with nature. From this spot, one can see the linking bridge from Badagry to Seme. The waterfront is a breathtaking scenery. Also on display is the monstrous fishes caught in the sea.
However, Osoba feared that one day, Badagry’s beauty will be lost. Citing the current reclamation of Bar Beach by the Lagos state government, Osoba expressed fear that the same fate will be meted out to the Marina in the recent future. He pleads that the environment should be left in its natural state and that man-made interference will only take the beauty away. For now, the lagoon alone attracts tourists who are never tired of hearing the transatlantic slave trade over and over again.
Badagry town in brief
1The popular transatlantic slave trade took place in Badagry over 400 years ago.
2The early missionaries resided in Badagry.
3It is also in Badagry that Christianity, Western Education and mechanised agriculture founded its way to Nigeria.
4The first storey building is sited in Badagry.
5Some of the slave trade landmarks in Badagry include “The Slave Port”, the Brazilian Baracoon, and the Heritage Museum
6It is surrounded by the Peninsula.