How Nigeria turned Her Majesty’s prison into a place of pleasure



The British had quite the habit of exporting convicts to their colonies, sometimes to work in forced labour, sometimes for penal servitude made all the worse by its great distance from loved ones and familiarity. Indeed the word ‘exported’ was coined in this context by British officialdom to describe a convict who had been exiled, usually to the West Indies, or later to Australia. However the British rarely sent building supplies with the convicts and that is where we start today’s blog, in Nigeria.


The original building which dated from 1882, was constructed of largely flammable materials (timber and reeds) and was regularly attacked and set on fire by the locals. Incensed by this assault and seeking a more permanent solution to policing woes, the British colonial administrators turned to the humble British Brick. Bricks by their thousand were imported from the British Isles at tremendous expense (more than double the annual expenditure for education) in an effort to construct not only a lasting place of incarceration, but also a symbol of British power; a clear signal to those arsonists that the British were here to stay and were not leaving any time soon.


Broad Street Prison (Courtesy of Lagos City Photos)

Broad Street Prison (Courtesy of Lagos City Photos)


The prison housed inmates detained by the dreaded and hated colonial gendarmerie, the Hausa force, specifically recruited from Northern Nigeria to effect a disconnect and cultural discord with the native Southern Nigerians. The hangman in the Prison also had to be brought from the north of the country in order to (1) be able to effectively execute his duties and (2) one suspects add a layer of extra fear, the ‘other’ outsiders coming to kill on behalf of the British. Over the years Broad Street Prison housed some men who would become very famous in Nigeria’s independence struggle; the political activist Herbert Macaulay, Trade Unionist Pa Michael Imoudu and the politician Obafemi Awolowo.


After independence plans were set in motion to tear down the symbol of colonial oppression, but with the turbulent political climate they were forever stalling. Eventually locals were able to convert it into a garden and a recreational asset for the whole community in Lagos, in a fashion similar to the work of Caesar Manrique in Lanzarote.

About eamonntgardiner

I am a PhD Student at the National University of Ireland, Galway. I am conducting research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst British First World War veterans serving as Auxiliary Policemen in Ireland during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. I have previously conducted research into local Irish Volunteer/Old IRA units in Munster as well as British responses to popular insurgencies in areas they administered. I have previously published a book on the British Counterinsurgency responses to the IV/IRA conflict in Ireland, 1919-1921, entitled 'Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War: Counter Insurgency and Conflict.' I have also published papers on various aspects of that war and also on other insurgencies. I write a regular blog on those and other related matters, which can be read at My research interests include Feminism and De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism, Insurgency, Police and Military Histories, Institutional Histories. Subaltern Studies, International History of the 20th Century, Modern Irish History, Historiography, History of Conflict, Peace Keeping/Enforcement/Protectorates, Spheres of Influence, Hegemonic Theories, Old and New Terrorism.
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