Furore as 190-year-old monument is demolished
If a designated, but demolished national monument, Ilojo Bar (Olaiya House), at Tinubu Square, Lagos Island were under the protection of UNESCO, its destroyer would have been charged, perhaps, with cultural crime at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. Few weeks ago, a Lagos estate developer allegedly bulldozed the 190-years-old building to rubbles.
Fews days ago, the ICC jailed Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi 9 years for destroying a Malian cultural and religious site in Timbuktu. The trial. And conviction of Mr al-Mahdi, according to records, marked the first time that destruction of a cultural heritage site or monument was taken to the ICC.
Tragic, colossal loss, are perhaps most appropriate words to describe the demolition of Ilojo Bar, right in the heart of Lagos, the city that contributes over 25 percent to Nigeria’s non-oil revenue. And that the destruction of Ilojo Bar happened at a period when Nigeria was focusing tourism among its non-oil sectors showed the alleged estate developer’s gross ignorance on how architecture, particularly of heritage value attracts tourists.
An Afro-Brazilian remnant of Nigeria’s trajectory in Trans-Atlantic slave trade link to South America, the one-storey building of Gothic architecture, Ilojo Bar, which was on No 6 Alli St. and No. 2 Bamgbose St according to history came into existence in 1855 (circa). Clearly, a great tourism content in Lagos has been pulled down despite governments’ several efforts made to prevent the looming terror attack on a heritage value.
Provenance establishes that the house was sold by Fernandez family, in 1934, to Mr. Alfred Omolana Olaiya an Ilesha (in defunct Western Region) indigene. Given its heritage value, the then Antiquity office under colonial government, via Gazette 25 Vol 43 of April 6, 1955 listed the building among Nigeria’s national monuments. From the colonial period till the emergence of National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), post-independence, Ilojo Bar has been under the maintenance of Federal government. However, restoration of the building’s falling structures appeared to have been a challenge, as a result of what the NCMM said was paucity of fund.
Sadly – coincidentally too – the destroyer of Ilojo Bar chose the 15th anniversary of 9/11 terror attack on U.S and brought the 19th century Lagos edifice to rubbles on Sunday, September 11 2016. The destroyer, an unnamed Lagos based estate developer, allegedly, in connivance with some members of the Olaiya Family killed over 190 years heritage by imploring bulldozer to demolish the building.
While members of the Olaiya family were said to have been divided over the status of the house, a faction led by Mr. Awobiyide, denied involvement in the demolition. The other faction, whose leadership could not be reached, according to sources that preferred anonymity “favoured commercial value for the property.”
Irrespective of a non-UNESCO status of Ilojo Bar, the Director-General of NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman who led a team of government officials to the site described the action of the estate developer as a “dastardly act,” that should be prosecuted. Usman argued that by virtue of NCMM Act. Cap N19 Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2004,” the commission will “ensure that criminal action is brought on the culprits.” NCMM, he added, will “demand full compensation for the demolished monument.”
Ahead of the demolition, the building, clearly, needed an urgent attention in restoration. In 2011, Usman led a delegation to the inspection of the building, in company of architect-in-charge, Prof. John Godwin. Then he disclosed that the scope of the partnership in restoration was very broad such that success would be achieved in a short while. It was meant to be tripartite efforts involving Federal, Lagos State and private sector. The process of restoration, however appeared slow, perhaps for lack of funding and other logistics such as subsisting residential and commercial occupation of the building.
Should FG choose legal action against the developers or the factional side of the Olaiya family divide, the case could be a complex one. Compensation for the family when the building was gazette as a bational monument could be the real issue in a situation of legal battle for the soul of the space. Currently, there seems to be no evidence of compensation.
A Nigerian representative at UNESCO Prof Folarin Shyllon argued that when the house was declared a national monument, “government should have compensated the Olaiya family.” He, however, noted that not being compensated was not enough for the family or anyone to violate the laws.
And just in case FG fails to rebuild the house and rewrite the wrong, can any individual or groups take the case to ICC, given the Timbuktu precedence?
“They are two different situations,” Shyllon said. “Timbuktu happened as a result of civil unrest, but the Lagos situation is a commercial kind.”
Quite interesting, all of a sudden – after the Ilojo Bar was reduced to rubbles – it started receiving attention; floods of calls fro probity have been seen. But for decades, the house was not in the radar of non-governmental groups, except for mere status of being a national monument.
After the demolition, a call was made on Lagosians, particularly, the Afro-Brazilans by Lagos@50 Committee to prevent recurrence. The committee noted that Ilojo Bar was felled at a time “when at least two foreign governments had committed in assisting with the preservation of Brazilian structures in Lagos and had begun its work closely with Nigerian preservationists.”
The Lagos@50 committee, which called for stakeholders meeting scheduled to hold in October at Freedom Park disclosed the format of the meeting, basically as “an appeal,” to both Lagos and Federal governments “to adopt and effect a uniform policy for the Preservation of all national heritage sites and buildings even in the frenzy of development.”
Irrespective of which sides of the sentiment on heritage and commercial values of the Ilojo Bar anyone belongs, decency was clearly missing as the building stood before demolition. In a Lagos central business district that attracts visitors from across the country and the rest of the world, the failing structure was not sustainable. Quite unfortunate, the NCMM seemed not to be getting support from non-governmental groups, apart from the backing of Lagos State that had kept the house standing for that long.
Sharing the NCMM’s efforts in preventing the demolition, Usman recalled that the developers had made several attempts that was foiled by governments.
First attempt, he said was made in October 2015, which generated a meeting with the family members led by Daniel Adewale Olaiya in January 2016.
However, from July this year, desperation on the part of those who favoured commercial value increased rapidly.
Twice in July, the developer was alleged to have made a failed attempt, leading to another meeting. “Subsequently Tuesday August 16 2016 a stakeholders meeting was convened by the NCMM involving major stakeholders including members of the Olaiya family, management staff of National museum Lagos, representative of Lagos State Ministry of Tourism and the representatives of the Brazillian Consulate, Benedita Gouveia Simonetti and Adeniran Arimoro.”
Now that the damage has been done, the way forward, Usman assured – apart from prosecuting the developers – is the rebuilding of the structure. “We wish to assure all Nigerians that the Ilojo Bar will be restored as it is a fully documented National Monument with an up-to-date and comprehensive documentation of its architectural history and design details.”