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A tragedy of confusing interests

By Kola Tubosun   |   02 October 2016   |   3:26 am
 (Ilojo bar) before demolition PHOTO: TOM SAATER

(Ilojo bar) before demolition PHOTO: TOM SAATER

All the previous reporting I have done on the unfortunate demolition of Ilojo Bar have focused on the question of how the demolition of a building of such significance, also under the ostensible* protection of the Federal government, being a national monument, could happen in a state with laws (and two separate ministries) specifically created to prevent such eventuality. I have now got some answers that point to what I had always suspected: the Lagos State government knew that the building was going to be demolished. What I had not prepared for was that the government had actually ordered for that demolition to happen. It is a sad long story of a web of relationships, family intrigue, governmental incompetence, misunderstandings, unforced errors, and even malice.

No Show Agencies
My trip to the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LABCA) and the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority (LASPPPA) had yielded little fruit as I reported in my syndicated piece published here, in the Guardian, and on Premium Times, on Sunday, September 25, 2016. I did not get sufficient cooperation from the officials. What I wasn’t sure of was whether it was a result of the usual press wariness by Nigerian government officials conditioned from years of misreporting or a result of some deliberate scheme to avoid actually having to answer probing questions. I had, as instructed, sent my questions to the General Managers of the two agencies, but still haven’t heard back. My phone calls to the PRO have either being rejected mid-ring. When I got through to him, he only promised to call me back in a couple of hours. He never did.

I had ten questions for the general managers, focusing on when the state first knew of the controversy surrounding the building, when they first heard of the demolition, why no one was able to stop the demolition as it was happening, the identity of the developers in charge of the demolition, what protective measures were put in place to safeguard the monument*, whether the Federal Government ever asked for any such protection or whether it was necessary, where the developers got their permit to pull down the building, whether the state had arrested (or was planning to arrest) anyone related to the demolition, whether the governor was aware of the current situation concerning the building, and what was the next step as far as the state is concerned.

If they hadn’t replied because there was concern that the official response would put them in a position to contradict the statement given on the site of the demolition on Sunday, September 18, that the state had no knowledge of the planned demolition, and the informal denials I got on Thursday, September 22, that the state hadn’t given any permission to anyone to demolish the building, it was probably a calculated, but ultimately futile move. A number of letters have now surfaced showing regular threats by the state government to demolish this building if the owners (the Olaiya family) refused to do so by themselves because, according to the state, the building was faulty and unsafe. Until now, the government had not publicly acknowledged this fact.

Meeting the Olaiya Family
I spent two hours on Sunday, September 25, in Ikorodu, Lagos, where Mr. Daniel Adebowale Olaiya, a representative head of the Olaiya family resides. The meeting was at his request. He had followed the news closely and, disappointed at the spread of untruths about the circumstances surrounding the demolition, wanted to set the record straight himself about his grandfather’s house. Mr. Olaiya, currently 74 years old, is retired from the Egbin Power Plant as a technical hand. His father, Daniel Adegbite Olaiya, was the eldest son of Alfred Omolona Olaiya, the patriarch who had bought the building then called Casa do Fernandez in March 9, 1933. Alfred died about a year afterwards, intestate, and was buried on July 9, 1934 in his hometown in Ijesha Isu in Ekìtì State. Since then, responsibility for the building had fallen on Daniel Adegbite, being the first son, in trust for the twenty other living children of the patriarch. He, it was, who named it “Ilojo Bar” around 1936, after Ilojo village in Ijesha-Isu Ekiti.

Daniel Adegbite himself, born 1904, died in 1968. Many of his other twenty siblings died at different times too, leaving descendants in different parts of Lagos, around Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. As of today, there are just four living children of the Olaiya patriarch (Omolona). Mr. Daniel gave their names as Victor Abimbola (born 1930), Comfort Taiwo, Celina Idowu and Mabel Modupe. Of these four, only Victor Abimbola, the famous highlife musician also known as Victor Olaiya, lives in Nigeria. The other three live in London, but come home occasionally. The responsibility for caring for the building and maintaining it in a way beneficial to all the twenty-one direct descendants of the patriarch (and their own descendants) had fallen on a small group of men and women in the nuclear and extended family, but notably Victor Olaiya being the oldest direct male descendant, and his nephew – my host on that Sunday morning – Mr. Daniel Adebowale, the son of the patriarch’s first born son.

Daniel Adebowale

Daniel Adebowale

The Brazilian and State Interest
During the course of a conversation, Mr. Daniel Adebowale provided me with a throve of materials, documents, dates, and photographs relating to the building, his family, his relatives, and his own life from his growing up in Lagos. One of them, attached, shows one of the first correspondences from the Lagos State government of Mr. Babatunde Fashola on June 3, 2009. In it, the state intimates the family with ongoing conversations with the Brazilian government to renovate the property and facilitate “the upgrading and upliftment of the Brazilian Quarters in order to establish the Brazilian monument and Cultural Center.” To this end, the state sought the assent of the family to begin negotiations with the Brazilian government to use the building “for tourism and monumental purposes.” The letter was signed by A.S. Ajose, a special adviser to the governor.

Curiously omitted, according to Mr. Daniel Adebowale, was any mention of compensation, except for a promise to “honour the demand of the family by allowing for the recognition of the late Alfred Omolona Olaiya by commemorating a section of the building” in his memory after the completion of the renovation. Present in the letter, however, was a direct threat to the family about what would become of the house and the land on which it is built if the building “were allowed to collapse” by itself due to negligence or, as indirectly implied, a refusal to accede to the state government’s request to collaborate with the Brazilian Government: the property would “fall under the acquisition order of the Lagos State government… and will not… give recognition due to the late Alfred Omolona Olaiya…”

Years of Negotiations
From 2010, representatives of the family began to meet with the state government of Babatunde Fashola at regular intervals, along with officials of the National Commission on Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Mr. Daniel Adebowale, nominated by his uncle Victor, represented the family. The purpose of the meeting was ostensibly to raise funds to restore the building and turn it into a proper monument. But, from the conversation I had with Mr. Daniel Adebowale, it seemed that the meeting was also set up to come up with an acceptable number in monetary compensation for the family of Omolona Olaiya for the complete take-over of their patriarch’s property for this “cultural and monumental” purposes in order to sufficiently pacify all the relevant sections of the family. “Because we are a large family…” he said, “If somebody does anything, we must do it in such a way that it benefits the twenty-one (original children) and their descendants.”

On September 20, 2013, a letter was written from the office of the Director General of the NCMM to the Governor of Lagos, Mr. Babatunde Fashola. In it, the organisation described its three year-old efforts in coordinating “a strong stakeholder committee comprising of the Commission, Lagos State Government, Brazilian Embassy and Olaiya family.” The aim of the committee, it continued, was “to organise fundraising activities and exhibition on the history of Lagos from colonial period to date.” Part of these funds “will be used for the restoration of the 150 year-old Olaiya House, called Ilojo Bar National Monument…” It called for raising two hundred million naira for this purpose. “When fully renovated,” the letter read, “this building could be the centre of Nigerian and Brazilian cooperation and a landmark for the revitalisation of Lagos/Brazilian culture.”

The letter proposed, in conclusion, that the state governor chooses a tentative date for the launching of fund-raising activities, like a gala night, to be held at the National Museum in Lagos with invited guests, business and political leaders in attendance. The NCMM committed to providing not just the venue but also “funds for the exhibition, invitation cards, and brochures.” The letter got no response from the state, and time wore on. By the end of 2013, the meetings stopped totally.

The Legacy Group
In 1995, an organisation was formed with “the objective of gathering together committed men and women, Nigerians and non-Nigerians, united for the common cause of promoting and preserving the character and appearance of historic monuments and the environment and cultural entities in all parts of Nigeria.” Registered as a “historical and environmental interest group” according to its website, the organisation had spent time, money, and manpower identifying and curating relevant historical landmarks in Nigeria for protection. Its current vice president, Mr. Sola Akintunde, told me that the organisation was founded by a Professor John Godwin, a notable British architect who had moved with his family from the UK to live in Nigeria. The professor, Sola said, had actually been instrumental to the listing of Ilojo Bar in 1956 as a monument by the colonial government. He had also been actively involved in restoring some other old buildings to livable standard. Notable among them is the old railway compound in Ebute Metta which is the organisation’s headquarters.

The reputation of the organisation perhaps contributed to its being tapped in 2011, by the National Commission on Museums and Monuments (NCMM) “to do a full restoration report on the structural state of [Ilojo Bar]. This commissioning, fully paid for by the NCMM, was to include “a set of comprehensive measured drawings”, structural assessment, and a number of other tests to gauge how much funding would be needed to get the building back into a decent shape. Legacy completed its work and submitted it to the Commission. The Brazilian Consulate, Sola said, was also involved in this process, playing “supporting roles”. Though he couldn’t say the exact figures in financial commitment made either by the Brazilian government or by NCMM itself, he was positive that both made significant financial investment.

The Founding and Travails of LABCA
The Lagos State Building Control Agency was formed under the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law of 2010. Its functions, according to its official pamphlet given to me by the PRO of the ministry, include building control in all its ramifications, approval to commence construction after obtaining development permit, inspection and certification of various stages of building construction, verification of general contractor’s all risk and building insurance policy, issuance of certificate of completion of building construction and fitness for habitation, public health control in buildings, and (emphasis mine) identification and removal of distressed and non-conforming buildings. It began work fully on August 12, 2012 according to the state website.

When a massive portion of the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN), a church located at Ikotun area of Lagos, collapsed on September 12, 2014, killing over a hundred people, it was the LABCA officials that took over the premises in order to investigate. When another building under construction in Lekki area of Lagos collapsed in March 2016, killing at least 30 people, it was the erstwhile General Manager of LABCA, Mr. Olushola Adeigbe, that was fired for incompetence and a restructuring of the agency recommended immediately. So, the agency, on paper, was responsible for locating defective structures in the state, and recommending them for demolition or repair. They did their job meticulously (until when they didn’t), sending letters to landlords and property owners, marking defective buildings with red signs, and providing approvals and supervision for demolition wherever necessary.

On Demolition Course
On July 2, 2015, the agency sent a letter addressed to “The Owner of the Property at No. 2, Bamgbose Street, Lagos Island, Lagos.” It was not the first of such letters received by the Olaiya family as the first paragraph confirms: “I referred (sic) to all the enforcement notices (Quit and Seal-up) served on your property between 23rd March – 22nd April 2015, which you have responded to by carryout (sic) Non Destructive Integrity Test on your property the result of which you have made available to the agency.” The letter continues that as a result of the test showing “cracks”, “poor visual observation” and “distressed look, it is “recommended that the building is not fit for habitation” and that the owner be informed to “remove the distressed structure” failure to do which “shall be regarded as negligence on your part” resulting in the “property (being) forfeited to the State Government.” The letter, photographed below, was signed by Engineer Adekunle H. Lamidi. DH, Lagos Island.

One of the earlier letters referenced, written on May 28, 2013, was a demolition notice, observing that the family had not complied with earlier letters sent on May 24th of the same year. “Notice is hereby given” it read, emphasis mine, “that if the said contravention is not removed within two days from the date of this Notice, the said contravention/unauthorised shall be demolished and the cost of such demolition recovered from you.” Another one, sent on June 4, 2013 threatened demolition with the same consequence of loss of indemnity if not complied with, but gave seven days’ notice. The most recent one, also from LABCA, was sent on 23rd March, 2015 giving a two-day notice for which to “bring all documents in support of your case, including your Building Development Permit to the undersigned within 24 hours of the service of this notice” failure to do which must mandate the owner “to restore the land to its original state by removing the said contravention.”

Until one hears from the general managers of the two relevant ministries in Lagos State, particularly LABCA, we would never know the purpose of these “contravention notices” and the threat to pull the building down or face fines or forced demolition. Whose idea was it to send them out, and why, especially when the family was still, at some time shortly before then, still in communication with the state government over a cordial collaboration opportunity with the Brazilian government? Why, when a building had been declared a national monument, would a state ministry issue an instruction, order, or permit to pull it down? Why, were these contravention notices sent to the family and not to the NCMM? Did the NCMM know about these letters, and what did they do about them? When I asked a representative of Legacy Group about this during the week, he was shocked that such threatening communication even existed. “If that was done,” Mr. Akintunde said, “it’s a shame.” The governor owes “a written apology to Lagosians, more importantly, those of Brazilian descent.” He should also “support…the full restoration of the structure.” However, he continued, the developer should [also] “be charged for his crime and he can defend himself with documented proof of these orders/threats to clear his name.”

It is hard now to know for a fact what the thinking of the family was at that stage of deliberation. What Mr. Daniel said to me, however, and what the family’s lawyer, Mr. Olanrewaju Falola, has now confirmed in a latest press release published in the Nation on September 28, 2016, was that they took the notices seriously enough to begin to worry about an eventuality in which they lose their inheritance to an overbearing government and also lose money in the process.

* A crucial point about the process of acquisition of this building, or of buildings in general for cultural and conservative purposes, and the role of the NCMM in this instance, will be explored in the final part of this trilogy on the tragedy at Ilojo Bar. In that final part, to be published tomorrow, the reader will also discover how this demolition unfolded, the trials and errors, and the roles of government officials who failed in their primary duty to protect the structure and their responsibility to history. I also talk to another member of the Olaiya family who tried all he could to prevent the demolition, and failed.

A more interactive content, more photos of letters, and sound clips from my interview with Mr. Daniel Adebowale Olaiya can be found on, along with the first part of this report titled “Demolishing History”.

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