Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa, is popular for the seven hills among which it is “flung and scattered,” in the words of J.P Clark, the late poet and playwright. Of these seven hills, the most important is Mapo Hill, traditionally known as Oke Mapo. Hidden in its vast belly is the Mapo Hall, a colonial-style city hall.
Mapo Hall derived its name from the Yoruba description of the build of its pillars, Opo, during the colonial era. Mapo Hall is famous for its seven columns, probably representing the seven hills on which the ancient city is built.
In June 1925, Captain W.A. Ross, the colonial resident of Ibadan Province, laid the stone of the hall. Four years later, in 1929, with local tax defaulters and other enslaved people providing free manual labour, the building was completed by Robert Taffy Jones—a Welsh structural and road engineer notable for his work on Bowers Tower and Manor House in Iseyin, Oyo State—under the supervision of Captain W.A Ross. It was commissioned by Sir Graeme Thompson during the reign of Oba Shiyanbola Ladugbolu, the then Alaafin of Oyo, and Chief Oyewole, the Baale of Ibadan.
Built on 5,969 acres of land and based on St Georges’ Hall in Liverpool, Mapo Hall cost about £24,000. The Native Authority, which consists of the present-day Oyo State and three towns—Ikirun, Gbongan, and Ode-Omu—that are now in Osun State, bore the financial responsibility.
Mapo Hall could be seen from the other six hills which dot the city like its rusted roofs. Over the years, it has played host to major political and social events, shaping the cultural direction of Nigeria. The sixth annual convention of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was held here on 5 May 1955.
In May 1967, the Western Leaders of Thought met at Mapo Hall, and it was here that Chief Obafemi Awolowo outlined his thoughts on the Biafran War. While campaigning for the 1983 elections, Chief Awolowo also held a campaign rally there, where he made the famous quote: “Kaka ki Kiniun se akapo Ekun, kaluku a ya se ode ti e l’ototo ni”; the lion would rather hunt separately rather than be the bag bearer for the tiger—affirming that Yoruba people would not play second fiddle within the Nigerian setup.
Until the Agbekoya Revolt of 1968-69, when farmers protested the heavy tax imposed on them by authorities, Mapo Hall served as the jail or custody for tax defaulters.
After years of being ignored and left to rot, in 2006, Mapo Hall was renovated by Alao Akala, the then governor of Oyo State. On 6 September 2007, the refurbished hall was commissioned by President Olusegun Obasanjo, amidst controversy.
Mapo Hall stands as more than a cultural relic; it is one of the famous tourist sites Ibadan has to offer. It hosts a mini-museum. It has also become one of the biggest destinations for weddings and entertainment shows in the city.