The federal and Lagos State governments Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) officially ceding the ownership of the State House, Marina, also known as Nigeria’s first Presidential Lodge, to the latter, in fulfillment of President Muhammadu Buhari to entrust the historic building to the state.
The duo of the Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Tunji Bello, and Permanent Secretary in charge of the State House (Abuja), Mr. Jalal Arabi, signed the agreement at the State House, Marina.
The agreement was signed nine months after Buhari formally approved the release of the building to the state government.
Reacting, the state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, commended Buhari, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, for fast-tracking the process leading to the handover of the lodge.
After signing the MoU Thursday, Arabi said history was being rewritten with the handover of the State House, adding: “But we are not losing the fact that it is still with us.”
He said he received clear instructions from the president that the edifice should be officially transferred to the Lagos State government.
He said the federal government had handed over the State House to Lagos State government in the spirit of oneness, unity, posterity and interest of Nigerians and Nigeria.
He added that it was nothing special or extraordinary, noting, however, that the transfer was in the interest of one Nigeria.
“We believe it has gone to the right hands. Most of us have been involved in maintaining this place.
“We never wanted any distraction. There is difference between old age and statesmanship. I believe we are now in an era where we have a principal, who believes that your word should be your bond. I received instruction to kick start the process,” Arabi said.
After the signing, Bello said the official handover of the building “signposts an affirmation of the healthy inter-governmental relationship the exists between federal and Lagos State governments”.
He added that the historic building “represents one of the landmarks of the city of Lagos. So the successful handover is an eloquent testimony to the new dawn of politics and inclusiveness the All Progressives Congress (APC) has brought to the political landscape of Nigeria”.
He assured the federal government that the Ambode administration would put the pre-independence building to the best and most judicious use, while ensuring its transformation without compromising its structural integrity and preserving its architectural finesse and beauty.
Bello added that the state government would maintain the building to become a tourist attraction, which residents of Lagos and other Nigerians would not only be proud of but would compare to similar ones in other countries.
The State House, Marina was built in 1896 by the British colonial administration and went through a number of transformations; the version most recognised was built on time for Lord Fredrick Lugard to occupy as Governor-General in 1914.
It housed figures such as Sir Hugh Clifford, Sir Donald Cameron, Sir Bernard Bourdillon, Sir John Macpherson and the last Governors-General, Sir James Wilson Robertson, and – after independence – Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was kidnapped from the State House, Marina, and later killed during the January 15, 1966 coup.