The Old Secretariat Building
Lagos, Nigeria

One of the early examples of Nigerian colonial public buildings still stands tall on 14 Marina Street, Lagos, South-West Nigeria. The Lagos Old Secretariat, more than a century old, sits on a site of approximately two acres. It was built to house the British colonial administration of the then Southern Protectorate of Nigeria. The Old Secretariat, once called the Central Secretary’s Office, was designed and constructed by the Public Works Department (PWD), which was responsible for many of the colonial administrative buildings in the country.

The location of the old national secretariat in Marina, Lagos was significant as it was formerly the administrative seat of Lagos colony and subsequently, the capital of the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria (1906). Tthe Lagos Marina is also the site to other similarly imposing historic administrative buildings. The Government House and Government Printing Press are some of the old colonial structures that still stand on Lagos Island today. At the site’s gate, one is immediately struck by the imposing ambiance of order and authority the building exudes, features that are synonymous with its typology. The concepts of symmetry and repetition speak loudly to the observer through slender columns, large windows, and dominant arches.  

The building is laid out around a central rectilinear courtyard and defined by a symmestrical U-shaped plan. A circular garden sits at the center of the courtyard together with two single floored blocks beside it. There are three defined points of entry into the building. Each entry is at the center of the sides of the U-shaped layout. The main entrance sits imposingly at the center of the whole structure, directly opposite the site entry. It is strongly differentiated by twin towers which are absent on the other entrances. At the ground floor level of the entry is a large central semi-circular arch, flanked by arched openings on its sides. The entryway is completed by similar arches on the opposite side as one walks into the building. Throughout the building, such arches are present at various entry points. Four embedded Doric columns sit on the entry wall. These Doric columns are repeated and aligned on the wall of the floor above, with shutter windows between the columns. Similarly, they sit on a rectangular base like the columns of the ground floor. The pediment is defined by wooden cornices and marked by perforated moulding along the edges of the plain tympanum.

The towers are distinctly separated into three parts by cornices. Just above the tower base is the signature arch opening. Quoins grace the edges of the towers from the base to where it abuts at the base of the pediment. Right above this is the part of the tower that houses the circular clock recesses, centered on all four sides of the tower. A pair of composite Corinth columns on rectangular bases are also found on the four edges. A dome sits at the top of each tower and covers the watch station.

A wide hallway stretches along the front and rear of the 3000 square meter building. On each floor, it is supported by arcades composed of Doric columns placed at intervals of about 3.6m. These intervals are continued in the interior spaces with similar columns between them. The verandas are complete with a series of vertical balustrades placed between these columns. The most significant building materials are wood and brick. The bricks were sourced overseas and bear the armorial bearings (‘broad arrow’) stamp of the Quartermaster General of Britain that appeared on all British government property. The building is a typical example of the British colonial architectural style in Nigeria. It is one that was conceived to fit the warm and humid climate of Lagos. The long-spanning pitch roof with sharp eaves above large veranda spaces shades the occupants and living spaces from sun and heavy rainfall. The shutter windows and air vents on its roof facilitate better air movement and ventilation throughout the building. 

The Old Secretariat building still remains a notable built structure in Nigeria’s architectural history. It was lauded at its time for its architecture and role in portraying the power of imperial Britain. Margery Perham, a renowned British historian of colonial Africa praised the building as ‘the most handsome building of its kind I have yet seen in British Africa.’ It functioned as an administrative building long after Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule in 1960. It became the headquarters of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Justice. When the Nigerian capital was moved to Abuja in 1991, it was made a zonal office for the Federal Ministry of Justice. Today, it also houses the National Secretariat for the Nigerian Council of Retired Federal Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS).

The Old Secretariat was declared a national monument by the National Commission of Museum and Monuments since 1982. Iin spite of its evident public appreciation and continued use, the building tells a tale of neglect and poor maintenance. Unfortunately, no deliberate action for restoration is in view.

by Adefolatomiwa Toye, 11 November, 2020

Edited by Jola Idowu

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[3] S Salami, I. O. The Architecture of the Public Works Department (PWD) in Nigeria During the Early to Mid-Twentieth Century. University of Liverpool, 2016.

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[12] Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Republic of Nigeria. “The Ministry Zonal Offices.” Federal Ministry of Justice, Accessed 10 November 2020.

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14 Marina Rd, Lagos, Nigeria
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The Old Secretariat Building, Lagos Marina
Lagos Colonial Secretariat
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