Friday 2 September 2011

The Olaiya Family House

Brazilian heritage challenge for Nigeria
 By Tajudeen Sowole
 Tuesday, 12 April 2011 00:00 
Restoring the aesthetics of a decaying heritage, particularly of a national monument status in the heart of central business district of Lagos Island is a difficult task, which the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), must overcome to sustain the long history of cultural values between Nigeria and Brazil.
Ilojo Bar or Casa do Fernandez house
THE ongoing process towards restoration and preservation is coming few months after a major cross-cultural photography exhibition on the heritage link of the two countries held in the city. Among the works on display during the private viewing of that show at Terra Kulture, Victoria Islamd, Lagos were photographs of different families, which are supposedly of Yoruba descendants and former slave returnees, living in Lagos Island. These include families linked to the slave trade, five hundred years ago; adherents of Ifa divinity in Bahia, Brazil; old houses of Portuguese architecture in Lagos and Brazil were some of the exhibits.  One of the relics of that heritage is the house of which cultural identity and aesthetics are being restored by the NCMM. Historically, it’s known as Ilojo Bar or Casa do Fernandez house. Despite its state of dilapidation among the odd mix of buildings around the Tinubu Square, the house, which is on No 6 Alli St. and No. 2 Bamgbose St. is, indeed, a symbol of cross continent cultural heritage. Estimated at over 100 years old, and one of several of such buildings, which are still standing in Lagos Island and Mainland, it represents over 300 years of history between Nigeria and Brazil. The house is owned by Olaiya family, a non-descendants of the Brazilian slave returnees.     
   NCMM stated that the government, in 1956, listed the house as a National Monument. However, between that period and now, the state of disrepair has been given stakeholders in the culture and tourism sectors much concerned. In fact, the Olaiya family – though elated by the gesture of the government – were worried by what has been described as a state of abandonment ever since the building was named a national monument. Veteran Highlife musician and one of the heads of the family, Victor Olaiya had repeatedly called on the government to stand up to its responsibility on preservation of this heritage.  With the attempt at restoration, these worries could turn to respite if the efforts of the NCMM and its expected private partners yield the desired results. The Director-General of NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, who led the delegation to the inspection of the building, in company of the architect in charge, Prof. John Godwin disclosed that the scope of the partnership in restoration was very broad such that success would be achieved in a short while.
  He noted that an understanding between the owners of the house and government was the first and most important aspect of any heritage site. “Once the government recognized a site as national monument and the owners accepted, the foundation has been laid for every other thing to follow.” Even though he noted that the process of restoration and preservation would have been faster if the house were not occupied, the NCMM and its partners, he assured, would go ahead. He explained that the partnership involved the Lagos State Government and the private sector.  
Architect John Godwin (left), Director-Genearl, NCMM, and  officials of the commiosn
  At the site, scaffoldings were mounted around the building as Godwin, a culture enthusiast and renowned architect took the NCMM team round through the details of the challenges ahead. Shortly after, Godwin, who stated that he has been seeing the building since 50 years ago assured that restorations would not change the original features such as the designs and peculiar columns to retain the Portuguese identity. As an expatriate who has spent a greater part of his career in Lagos, Godwin noted that the city had always played an important role in the tourism sector, not just in Nigeria, but across West Africa. “In the 1950s, it was a common belief that Lagos will be the Venice of West Africa.” That projection, he assured, “is still a vision” possible if such heritage buildings as the Ilojo Bar and others with similar values are preserved.  On government attention, Godwin argued that neglect of a heritage is a disadvantage to education because “we got to strike a balance.”   Sources said the house was “most likely” to have been built in the year 1855 by one Fernandez family, who were among the freed slaves, from Brazil. The building was one of the first modern style houses built in Lagos with great Brazilian architectural designs. The Fernandez family sold the house in 1934 to Mr. Alfred Omolana Olaiya an Ilesha indigene.    
   And sources had it that exclusive residential settlements – with distinct architecture – such as the Brazilian quarters in Lagos Island, parts of Ebute-meta and Yaba emerged from the efforts in the management of the conflict and reintegration exercise.     Recently, the NCMM has taken steps, either listing monuments or embarked on restoring others across the country. One of such, for example, took place few weeks ago, in Amichi, a community in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State, where the commission was on a visit to the Reconciliation building as efforts towards naming the house a national monuments. In January 13, 1970, Chief Benjamin Atuchukwu (now late) surrendered his house to be used for the peace accord meeting, which brought the Nigeria civil war to an end.   
   Also, in Kano, an exhibition organized by the commission late last month was aimed at restoring the Kano City Wall, which was built over 900 years ago.


  1. Oloye Adeddiran Olaiya18 April 2012 at 12:07

    Oshe Tajudeen, on an informative and factual account of 'Olojo', Tinubu Square which was one of the properties bequeathed to the family by my grandfather, the late Alfred Omolona Olaiya. My late father Baba Gabriel Adediran Olaiya was one of his sons and an elder brother of Dr. Victor Olaiya. As a child during the Biafran War I visited 'Tinubu' often as many close relations displaced by the War also took refuge there, and I also have stayed there as an adult. I am happy that the property which has been the cause of some argument and conflict amongst members of the Ilojo clan throughout the years, is finally being restored to something of its former glory. Mo bo !

  2. Odabo o ... oshe o Ile Olojo ... sunre o...