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.
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.