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Tafawa Balewa Square: Formerly Race Course

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By Abraham Adekunle

Built over a defunct race track in 1972, it houses symbols from national emblem.

The Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) is a 14.5-hectare (35.8-acre) ceremonial ground, which was originally called “Race Course” in Lagos Island, Lagos. Lagos Race Course (which is now TBS) was a sports field that hosted horse racing but included a section for football and grounds to play cricket. Oba Dosunmu at that time provided the land to the colonial authorities in 1859. The colonial administration thereafter built up the surrounding areas and was used for these sports.

Later, the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon demolished the course in order to make way for TBS. In its prime days, the course hosted the Empire Day parades. (The Empire Day, which is now known as Commonwealth Day, is the annual celebration of the Commonwealth of Nations since 1977 often held on the second Monday in March. It is marked by an Anglican service, normally attended by the monarch as Head of the Commonwealth along with the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Commonwealth High Commissioners.)

It is a historic landmark for Nigeria’s independence.

It was in 1960 that the course was redeveloped to celebrate Nigeria’s independence and the lowering of the union jack. The monument is named after Nigeria’s first prime minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The square is situated in Lagos City center. It is surrounded by impressive buildings and memorial sites. Due to its significance, it is in constant use for a variety of celebrations and official functions. TBS hosted some events for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (known as FESTAC) which was held in Lagos in 1977.

Regardless of one’s time of visit, there is usually some sort of activity going on. It is a great place to experience the cultures of Nigeria. Tafawa Balewa Square was where Nigeria celebrated October 1st. It was there that Prime Minister Balewa announced the country’s independence in his speech, which was held at the square on that day. Tafawa Balewa was an eloquent speaker. This is why he was being referred to as “the Golden Voice of Africa.”

The monument has distinct features to welcome its visitors.

The entrance to the square has gigantic sculptures of four white horses hovering above the gate and seven red eagles, which are symbols from the Nigerian emblem that signifies strength and dignity respectively. This is similar to the Nigerian Coat of Arms, which is a collection of symbols that showcase what Nigeria stands for. The Coat of Arms consists of different elements such as two white horses, an eagle, a Y symbol in the middle, black soil and yellow and green flowers, as well as the motto. All these symbolize something distinct.

TBS also houses other monuments. One of such in the square is the Remembrance Arcade. It is a cenotaph site used to commemorate Nigerian soldiers who died in World War I, World War II, and the Nigerian Civil War. The Armed Forces Remembrance celebrations are performed yearly at this site. At the entrance of this site, there is a statue of an unknown soldier with a gun and who is facing the entrance. The green space at the location is laid out with grasses, pavements and the cenotaph.

It is one of the notable buildings on the islands in Lagos.

There is also the 26-story Independence House which was built in 1963 and which was for a long time the tallest building in Nigeria. It is located west of Tafawa Balewa Square at Onikan Lagos. TBS is also home to the multipurpose Onikan Stadium and the Nigerian National Assembly building. One will also find just a short walk away the National Museum that features the Benin City brasses, traditional ivory carvings, royal crowns and the famous Nok Terracottas.


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