During his visit to the demolition site of a 190-year-old national monument, the Director-General of Nigeria’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM), Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman, assured that the developer who allegedly destroyed the edifice will be prosecuted.
|D-G, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman (middle) during a visit to the site of demolished Iljo Bar at Tinubu Square, Lagos Island.|
Texts of Usman’s speech:
It has come to the notice of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments that the highly valued Ilojo Bar national monument has been willfully demolished by an unpatriotic developer on the eve of Eld-el-kabir holiday, September 11, 2016.
Ilojo Bar (formerly known as Casa De Fernendez or Angel House) was built approximately 190 years ago and in all these years stood as the best example of Brizillian style of architecture introduced by Africans who regained their freedom from their “Portuguese masters” in Brazil. Its historical, social and architectural values have been well acclaimed, thus prompting the Federal government of Nigeria to provide special protection status as a National Monument through Gazette 25 Vol. 43 of 5th April, 1956. Since then the NCMM has been maintaining, promoting and preserving the monument in collaboration with members of Olaiya family, Lagos state government and other interested stake holders both local and international.
The threats to this historic building has been unfolding for quiet sometime due to rising commercial interest in view of its strategic location. In October 2015, a member of the family wrote to the Commission informing that one of them is trying to engage a private developer to demolish the monument and clear the place for commercial development. In response to this, a meeting was called with the family members led by Daniel Adewale Olaiya on the 19th January 2016. The meeting discussed all the issues around the monument, including its legal status, how the structure is put to use and the grievances of the family members. It was finally agreed that the statuesquo of the monument should remain while they submit their complains through appropriate official channel but nothing was heard from them since then.
The recent threat to demolish the monument came on 2nd July 2016 when a developer in collusion with some members of the family mobilized a bulldozer and some armed men with the intent to demolish the structure. The National Commission for Museums and Monuments got information about the move and quickly mobilized the Lagos museum staff and in collaboration with Lagos state government officials accosted the group and frustrated the attempt. In the meantime the attention of law enforcement agencies was drawn.
On Saturday July 2016 the developer again mobilized to demolish the building an action which was again rebuffed this time through the intervention of Honourable Agboola Dabiri special adviser to the Lagos state governor on the Lagos Central Business District. Following his intervention a stakeholders meeting was summoned at Lagos State secretariat Alausa Ikeja where Honourable Dabiri undertook to do everything possible to avert the demolition of the monument.
Subsequently Tuesday August 16th 2016 a stakeholders meeting was convened by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments at National Museum Lagos involving major stake holders including members of the Olaiya family, management staff of National museum Lagos, representative of Lagos State Ministry of Tourism and the representatives the Brazillian Consulate, Benedita Gouveia Simonetti and Adeniran Arimoro. During the meeting, the stake holders agreed that all necessary steps must be taken to safeguard the monument from any threat including involving law enforcement agencies and placement of notice on the site notifying the public about the status of the building. The meeting also agreed to revive an earlier plan to organize a gala night to raise funds for the restoration of the monument.
To our greatest surprise however, on Saturday 27 August 2016 the same developer again mobilized his bulldozer and actually damaged the portion of the building. A petition was written and submitted to the Area Commander of the Nigerian Police (Lion building) requesting for the arrest and prosecution of the culprits but apparently the police did not find the matter serious enough to detain or prosecute them. Seeing the levity with which the Area Command handled the matter, another petition was written on 29th August, 2016 to the AIG zone 2 Onikan. Meanwhile on Thursday 1st September 2016, Honourable Dabiri was again approached and he gave an official letter to the Special adviser to the governor on Urban Development requesting the ministry to withdraw a letter of permit for demolition said to be given to the developer. Another letter was written to the Governor intimating His Excellency about the status of the monument and seeking his assistance to safeguard it.
However, despite all the efforts of highly responsible and patriotic individuals and government agencies, the developer on the eve of Eid-el kabir September 11th 2016 sneaked in his instrument of destruction and in one fell swoop and in the full glare of some bewildered members of the public willfully demolished the Ilojo Bar an outstanding historic and architectural monument that has adored the cultural landscape of Lagos Island for nearly two centuries.
|Ilojo Bar, Tinubu Square, Lagos Island, before its demolition|
This sad event is a critical turning point in the history of heritage management in Nigeria. The open and shocking way the action was carried out without any shame and embarrassment is a source of serious concern for the National Commission for Museums and Monuments as heritage managers and for all responsible Nigerians who love history and culture. The action is not only criminal but it has robbed us of an important heritage resource that helps defines us as a people and assist our understanding of our past and our projection of the future.
The demolition has destroyed a masterpiece of the only surviving Brazilian houses in Lagos with its attractive arches and fine iron works as statue described as being “Gothic in style and balustrade reminiscent of a Venetian palace”. It has done great injustice to the credit of African craftsmanship in architecture which has exerted great influence on Yoruba architecture that is today visible in all parts of Yoruba land.
Indeed the demolition has eliminated the tangible evidence of social and cultural impact of the transatlantic slave trade and it abolition. It has wiped away an outstanding source of memory and history of freed slaves and their roles and impact in the evolution and development of cosmopolitan urban Lagos. At the same time it has destroyed one of the outstanding symbolic evidence of cultural ties between Nigeria and Black diaspora in general and Brazil in particular.
This dastardly act has distorted the eminent position of Lagos in colonial history as centre where returnee slaves from Brazil built houses in similar manner of the new architectural fashion when Lagos was created as a colony thus impoverishing Lagos of its rich architectural urban history and undermining its acclaimed status as centre of excellence.
However, the NCMM will not rest on its oars until the perpetrators of this dastardly act are brought to book. In line with the powers and responsibilities conferred on it by NCMM Act, Cap N19, Laws of the federal republic of Nigeria 2004, the NCMM ensure that criminal action is brought on the culprits as well as demand full compensation for the demolished monument. It will be reconstructed and fully restored according to professional restoration standards. 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. Consequently, NCMM is poised to restore Ilojo Bar back to its original authentic form.
In the meantime, the site of the monument being an integral heritage space is being explored for a postmortem archaeological reconnaissance survey while heritage impact assessment of the demolition will be conducted.
We call on all well-meaning Nigerians to join the National Commission for Museums and Monument in saving, protecting and maintaining our national heritage resources.