The Rise and Fall of Festac Town-Part 1

By Adeola Aderounmu.

This year 2007 marks the 30th Anniversary of Festac Town as a residential area. Festac is still one of the largest residential estates south of Saharan Africa. When I started living in Festac Town in 1977 with the rest of my family, I was only 5 years old. Leaving number 26 Oni Street in Obele area of Surulere Mainland behind and arriving in Festac, in my eyes, was like finally reaching paradise.

My earliest memory of Festac was that my father left us behind in Surulere to prepare a wonderful place of abode for us. But I have no qualms that my infanthood was formed in Surulere. I remembered so vividly that song with which we entered Festac but maybe not in the correct words:

International year of the child, International year of the child, A year of joy, a year of faith, A year of education, Festac 77, Festac 77

The Festac Houses were thrown open the same year that Nigeria hosted the second World Black Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos from January 15 to February 12, 1977. The Festival of Arts and Culture (hence the name FESTAC) placed Nigeria on the spot on the world stage at that time and the FESTAC houses readily provided accommodation to visitors from all over the world.

That glorious event brought more fame to this ever wealthy nation. It was interesting to see that many buildings and houses were not even completed at the time that the Festival was taking place. A lot of blocks of flats towards the West end of 5th Avenue were uncompleted (we called them uncompleted houses in the beginning and as kids, we went jumping from the 1st and 2nd floors of these uncompleted buildings down onto the heap of sand below).

The situation was the same for many blocks of flats and duplex apartments on 7th Avenue and 23 Road. Many people on 1st and 3rd Avenues concluded that the Oyinbo men built their own houses and flats while they left the remaining for the Nigerian builders. In their eyes, those on us at the east end of 23 Road and others at the tail end of 7th Avenue are living in the inferior parts of Festac Town (it was an inexpensive joke anyway). 

Festac Town houses were constructed to accommodate all classes of people in the Nigerian society-low, medium and high income earners. With as low as N1, N2 or N3 naira, depending on their income, people ballot for flats and houses and they got allocations on a mortgage basis. In Festac Town of the late 70s and early 80s, life was indeed very good.

Our existence was village-like (the addresses actually read Festac village at the onset) because at that time, there were a lot of friendly interactions that promoted community-type of existence. Our parents held regular meetings as new residents of a paradise village.

The population was so moderate you could tell the names of the visitors and friends that came to your house. My father could almost recite all the names and addresses of the people at each meeting. To this day, he still knows especially if those people are still living in Festac Town and they have not sold their flats or houses!

As children, we longed for the regular summer holidays when we played football. The playgrounds were many and they come in various shapes and sizes. I knew virtually all the football clubs and which communities they represented. Father Coaster was from 23 Road where I live, Net Bombers was from 401 Road and the Strikers came from the 7th Avenue. Festac Town eventually gave its fair share of players to the football world including footballers in the National team and other famous teams around the world: The Olisehs, The Ipayes, The Ekehs, Victor Agali, and Bimbo Fatokun just to mention a few. When we are not on holiday, we went to school near our homes. In the beginning the public schools (popular called Jakande schools) were named like this: school 1, school 2 up to school 12.

Eventually the schools took up definite names like Central Primary School, or 5th Avenue Primary School. There was a school on 7th Avenue close to where palm wine tappers carry out their noble jobs. That school till today is famously called Elemu primary school. The Palm tress are long gone anyway, having been replaced by houses! School time was fun especially the breaks when I went looking for butterflies and grasshoppers to catch. Sometimes we played in the sand with seeds of a special fruit called Agbalumo seeds-we called them stations.

Though Football always brought the entire people in Festac Town together, it was not the only thing that counted for us as kids in those days. We also took time out into the forest that surrounded Festac. There is a famous place along 4th Avenue called Canal. What looks like a small river flows through this area and there we went to learn how to swim-many of us could still not swim anyway.

Canal was forbidden for us but we went anyhow and many of us received beatings of our lives doing that. Our parents genuinely feared that we could drown.  Sometimes, heavy rainfall resulted to water being collected in some shallow valleys on this 4th Avenue and that was safe for us to swim in or we simply caught frog-fishes (Opolo-fish) and took them home as temporary pets. Even real fishes died when we took them home. We didn’t understand then that we could have moved them from salt water to fresh water.

As I grew up, I love Festac. I love school and I enjoyed the warm company of my friends and other people. It was while growing up in Festac that I didn’t see anything wrong with little boys playing or mingling with girls of the same age group. Before I was 10 years old, I didn’t see anything wrong with my participation in games like suwe and ten-ten.? I went on to do suwe when I was well into my teens.

That ideal communal beginning in Festac Town helped us as children to make friends across ethnic alliances. It promoted team work and gave us proper childhood. For real, we all spoke a common language, that is Pidgin English and almost everyone spoke Yoruba. It was later that I learnt about tribes and that the other kids spoke other languages to their parents at home.

Those whose efforts gave birth to this kind of housing project deserved the best commendations. The contributions of some people should be appreciated, for example, people like Fortune Ebie-the first Manager of the Festac Houses, the then Head of State Yakubu Gowon and the thoughtful Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson-the governor who gave out the expanse of land on which these magnificent structures were constructed. They had a dream which came true in the early settlers of Festac Town.

Festac was growing, more people were moving in and life was still worth living. The supermarkets were splendid. The kiosks were minimal in number and strategically placed. The nearby Agboju night market was clean, full of regular things to buy and sell. Electricity was okay and the giant stationary generators were fully installed.

The government managed transportation system was perfect with the famous Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) red buses taking workers to their jobs in the morning and bringing them safely into Festac in the evening. I remember bus number 000 goes to Oyingbo. One woman called Mama Ibeji of blessed memory in our block was working with LSTC. Oh! How she loved that conductor job, she felt dignified. It was worth it in that fine uniform and the courtesy accorded to her daily in the neighbourhood and on the bus.  

It was when I got into the University of Lagos  in 1990/91 (to receive my first education outside Festac Town) that I realized that Festac Town houses and their residents enjoyed high rating among other places and people in Lagos. However, at that time, I didn’t know how to rebuff the image of Festac that is stuck or painted in the cerebral of these raters who don’t live in Festac. From sometime after the mid 80s to this day, Festac continues to tumble and transform endlessly into an arena that resembles more of a jungle than a town. How did we get to this point?

(to be continued)-Read the part 2!

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30 thoughts on “The Rise and Fall of Festac Town-Part 1

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Nigeria: The rise and fall of Festac Town

  2. Pingback: Nigeria, FESTAC Town: 30 Years Later - AfricanLoft

  3. Pingback: Global Voices amin’ ny teny malagasy » Blog Archive » Nizeria : Famirapiratana sy fihemoran’ny Festac Town

  4. .. I created this group.. but i want to tell u .. u cmpletely moved me off the ground.. ur story is simply amazing.. i see a lot of me in u..i was in 721, i know elemu school..close to clarinda and classy looks (with one barber called ernest) etc and all i can say is carry on the good works… u are the best in writing… u are appreciated.

    • The fall of Festac Town started from the day Shehu Sahgari removed Fortune Ibie and appointed Dosumu as Manager of Festac Town/FHA

  5. I love the write-up reminded me of my early days in Festac Town. I started out in pako school now called central primary school; and i proceeded to school x now called 512 Road primary school; although did my secondary schooling in Agboju Secondary School, Agboju. Will tell u more later. Take care. My regards to Andrew Ajai we both attended the same primary and secondary school.

  6. The little song u remember singing above was the song to commemorate the 1979 international year of children or something simmilar. The Festac song went something like:
    ‘Festac 77, 77 is here, repeat…….

    • You’re quite right, Femi. That was the IYC (International Year of the Child) song, and I think the final line went something like this – “1979 we hail thee, 1979 we hail thee!”

  7. IT,S ONE OF THOSE THINGS THAT HAPPENS IN NIGERIA, WE ARE VERY GOOD IN DESTROYING AND NOT FIXING. NIGERIANS SHOULD BE THAUGHT RIGHT FROM THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS AND PARENTS THAT RESPECT MEANS A LOT IN LIFE, THANKS

  8. OMG! You grew up in festac indeed, i was searching for my primary school, Progress Primary School, popularly called ‘Elemu’ primary school and i got here…memories, i now live abroad. I tell people that the festac i grew up in , was not different from what i see today abroad, we enjoyed growing up, in very decent environment, the situation of things in festac today is not different from the problems facing Nigeria, We lack adequate planning and maintenance culture, Thanks for bringing back good memories, God bless you.

    • Yea,you are right.I attended Progress Primary School in 1989.Gone are thee days,even when I left Festac for Kano State in Kawaji area,things were okay,not only in Festac but some part of Nigeria.
      Now everything is in shamble.Corruption everywhere.

  9. ive always loved festac and im looking foward to the rebirth of africas greatest estate if ur with me then lets join hands watchout for change in the positive with our new local govt chairman Ayo Adewale and our new initiatives . and remember i said it first featsc is comming back bigger blacker better

  10. AM very happy with what the new local govt chairmaiaAYO ADEWALE is in festac town since he came in.continue ur good works only GOD will reward U………..AYO KU ISE………….ONE LOVE

  11. Please, does anyone know a primary school in Festac- Green and Yellow colors; it was close to or opposite St. Jude’s.
    If you know the name, please say. Thanks!

  12. THIS IS INDEED A GREAT WRITE UP THAT SENDS ME BACK MEMORY LANES TO THE WONDERFULL ESTATE THAT I GREW UP IN.I WENT TO THE 7TH AVENUE SCHOOL FIVE,AND PARTICIPATED IN SOME OF THE WELL ORGANISED FOOTBALL TORNAMENTS THOSE DAYS.AYO,THE CURRENT CHAIRMAN IS MY CHILDHOOD FRIEND.HE’S DOING A GREAT JOB WITH REVIVING THE GLORY DAYS OF THIS TOWN,BUT THE REALITY IS THAT THOSE DAYS WILL NEVER COME BACK AS A LOT OF THE INFASTRUCTURES HAS BEEN DEALT A PERMANENT BLOW.WHENEVER MY OLD FRIENDS AND I CATCH UP,WE ALWAYS DISCUSS HOW MUCH FUN IT WAS GROWING UP THERE.EVERYONE STILL AGREES THAT IF GIVEN ANOTHER CHANCE TO GROW UP,WE SHALL ALWAYS CHOOSE FESTAC…….

  13. well, l want to agree with all the comments others have made and will still make, are just only being concern with the 419? what about the maintaince of the houses and roads in Festac that have finished and nothing is been done.the thing is that Festac is not what was meant to be.

  14. Me’ ? u just remind me of those good ol days i mean i love d hood, d people, d setting..actually it’s a perfect place.I’m just shot of words

  15. I WAS BORN AND BREED IN FESTAC.AND I WOULD MARRY IN FESTAC.GIVE BIRTH TO MY CHILDREN IN FTOWN. SO FESTAC TILL I DIE

  16. As artist,we should not forget the purpose of which festac who built,we should always carry the spirit of Arts and Culture.

  17. This article reminds me of the good old days… My primary school LORAL, my secondary school Festac Grammar school. Seriously, the Festac blood runs in me any given time.

  18. Hmmmmm……I was born in Festac,had my primary n secondary school there n after university got a job DAT transferred me to cover Festac….#myfestacmyblood.

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