ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

Jakande Unclothed

imageDriving by the Jákàńdè area of Lekki (5th roundabout) on Sunday, I noticed a few people with placards at the roundabout standing around with signs like “this is a peaceful protest, leave us alone here” or something to that effect. Behind them was a stretch of destruction that looked like a heavy storm had just passed through. (I’ve been to aftermaths of real life tornadoes, so I know). Behind them lay piles of debris as far as the eyes could see from the roundabout, made of brown roofing sheets and wood.


Before now, that area always looked a little too crowded, too dense, too unplanned to have been housing anything legitimately sanctioned by the state. But as we usually do to things that seemed out of place but seemed to satisfy those immediately concerned, we look away and assume that someone somewhere knows what they are doing. It seems, now, that the government has finally come to pay attention to the area. Now, after removing the shanty that had grown out of the space into a community of sex workers, touts, homeless vagrants, and other Lagosians of little means, what emerges is an open land seemingly ripe for some decent development.


This is probably the story of much of Lekki, anyway: a stretch of fresh land occupied by small communities of people now suddenly discovered by bigger powers with big equipment and big money ready to expand and develop the area for commercial purposes. The spot where the Jákàndè Circle Mall now stands used to be a shanty as well. Same with Márọ̀kọ́ at Sandfill which has now become a modern plaza with a big hotel. In all cases, after the owners of the land are compensated, a bigger human cost arises in the displacement of hundreds to whom these areas are all is left of home.

imageI wondered while driving through the beach road yesterday what the real cost would end up being. So far, we already have regular cases of carjacking and traffic robbery in early mornings and late evenings. There have also been kidnappings. According to the state government, these shanties are the real causes of such violence as they hide criminals who use them as springboards and hiding places. Demolishing their home and kicking them out would reduce violence and allow free passage of people. There is some allure in that thinking. Past upgrade of hitherto crime-ridden places in the state and the corresponding success in their removal of crime has shown the success of such an endeavour. Plenty spaces under abandoned bridges have been turned into public parks with lighting and security, making them easy to walk under at night without incident. But still, rendering homeless hundreds of residents at just 72 hours’ notice will no doubt have its own consequences. As I tried to read the despondence on the faces of all those I saw sitting around the open spaces, I wondered what those consequences would be in the long run.

imageBut in this case, unlike that of the demolition of the national monument at Lagos Island or other cases still under the outrage of surprised owners angry at the state’s seeming high-handed behaviour in destroying them, there seems to be an overwhelming public interest. But unless something of relevance is erected in this spot, all these gains will be lost soon enough. A sustained involvement in the redevelopment of the now levelled area would be a welcome event indeed.

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Across the West African Coast: Ghana

By Yẹmí Adésànyà

It was work that dragged me across the coast of West Africa in delightful week-long bouts of adventure, each country exhuming different parts of me long hidden beneath the lacquer of a time-guzzling occupation. Some ports were more enchanting than others, workload and available time was not equally indulging, and thus my impressions are naturally skewed in favour of cities where my schedule permitted extra-metier experiences.

ghana1My journey started with Ghana, a colonial sibling of beloved Nigeria. Accra felt just like home: a buzzing commercial centre, invoking the unfortunately familiar and tiring spirit of boisterous vehicular traffic congestion, co-witnessed by hardworking street hawkers. My hotel was only a stone throw from the office, in Ring Road; there was not much time to play, I therefore did not see much of Accra. Ring Road is largely a business district, but my daily commute offered a view of the residence of one of the top opposition politicians, with campaign banners and billboards clearly marking his territory. So one might say the area is partly residential too.

20160429_144618Any city that reminds me of Lagos meets with a kind of languid resignation and apathy, the kind in which I steeped for the duration of my visit.  I got a lousy shot of the state house (although my driver was not sure it was safe to take these photographs) and a stationary armored tank, but no other sense of adventure or curiosity was piqued in me. I made a mental note to opt for a hotel in a different part of town when next I visit, as I prefer relatively less densely populated spaces, with minimal noise.  I was later rewarded on one of these trips with two West African cities that felt like heaven to my Lagos-suffused soul.

20160429_164403An interest that seemed of inexplicable significance, to my lunch buddy anyway, was a matter of immense national pride which I had made a mental note of witnessing, and documenting my observation and verdict. Many Nigerians have taken part in at least one light-hearted debate on the staple continental dish – Jollof Rice – and I had too, before my trip to Accra. I thought the Nigerian Jollof was better, just because, of course, but I had no objective evidence in favour of my bias. I had ample experience with the Nigerian flavor, and wanted to taste the Ghanaian, to have some closure. Well, I achieved that.

20160425_080640During my week-long desk-bound sojourn in the city, I was condemned to a food-evader’s utopia of monotonous lunch at the Swiss School, chiefly because it was close to the office, plus time did not permit any exploration anyway. I ate Jollof Rice in Ghana, and it was flat, and unlike the pill Posner took in Ibiza, no high followed. It was the second most unjollofesque rice I have ever eaten. Almost completely tasteless, inadequately seasoned, and what it lacked in tomatoes and salt, it made up for in excess pepper. As if that was not enough disappointment, the Zobo drink I enjoyed with my first lunch had taken on a more pungent taste by day two. Zobo the popular drink made by boiling dried calyxes of the hibiscus plant floweris big in Ghana, I was told by my colleague. What he forgot to mention was that it is not always harmless. The variant I was served on the second day shocked my palate to astringent displeasure and reminded me of the need to pay a closer attention to food labels in the future. Spicy ginger does not belong in Zobo drink!

20160425_130806I left Accra with a memento from the Ghana Art Centre market; a Djembe drum, delightful to my little music maker, and a regular reminder that one can sometimes find pleasure in interruption.

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A Failure All Around

This is the concluding portion of a three-part report on the demolition of Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar. The preceding long form reports can be found here (1, and 2).


One wonders how monuments are made in other places. Are they merely declared into existence or is active work usually done to make sure that the structures fulfil the physical role into which they have been designated? In the United States, when a building or structure is declared a “National Historic Landmark”, it is handed over to the National Park Service who then maintains it from then on, in perpetuity. About half of the historic landmarks in the US are still privately owned while under maintenance by the Park Service. In the case of Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar, one more thing that has boggled the mind is how – in spite of how high the stakes were for its survival – no one deemed it fit to insure it against accidental or deliberate demolition. Notwithstanding what has now happened, one wonders how things would have been different if either the Federal Government (through NCMM), the state government (through relevant ministries), the Brazilian consulate which had put premium on it over the years, and private stakeholders (Legacy Group, family members), etc, had taken out a joint insurance policy over the building to the cost of its current market value pending the determination of its fate.


Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar in 1954. Source: family

Asked and Unanswered

Who applied for the demolition permit? Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé didn’t say. How much was paid for the demolition itself? He didn’t know either. But approval was received from LASPPA. Why was that decision taken to pull down the structure? I asked my host. “We had to,” he said. “As a free citizen of this country, we have the right to buy, sell, or hold onto our property however we want. And as you can see in the documents yourself, we had pretty much no choice. They want to paint us as criminals and it’s unfair. We were afraid that the threats that Fáshọlá’s letter implied will come to pass if we didn’t do anything. But we couldn’t do it without permission. We applied to the appropriate authority, and got permission to proceed.” And why were the contravention notices not shown to the NCMM for immediate action? “We showed them all of these letters,” he said. “You want to know why the NCMM didn’t confront the state about these? You’ll have to ask them.”

The NCMM had, it turned out, written to LABCA after all. In a letter dated June 7, 2013 (seen here) and signed by Mrs. E.O. Ekuke (Curator), the agency intimates the state about the status of the building as a monument. It also informs LABCA that “there is an on-going high powered collaborative effort to carry out a full restoration of the building by… Lagos State Government, the NCMM, the Ọláìyá family, the Brazilian Embassy, and the Legacy 95 Group (as restoration architects).” It further states that the status quo be maintained and that “the building should not be demolished nor its prominent features altered as a national monument.” Since LABCA isn’t talking, I have sent an email to the director of NCMM, Mr. Yusuf Abdallah Usman, whose recent statement “ordered” the restoration of the demolished building. Did LABCA respond to this letter from his office? He or his office has not responded. I also wanted to know how much the Commission had spent on that building since it was acquired* in 1956. The statement put out however presented an indirect indictment on several government agencies involved. It seemed, in short, like finger pointing in four pages.

While I talked with him on Sunday, Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé had started working with the family lawyer to put out a press release in order to counter the current negative narrative about his family. This has now been published in The Nation on September 28, 2016. He read a few lines to me in his house in which he defended the decision of the family and laid the blames squarely at the feet of all the government agencies concerned, particularly LABCA. And to prove the family’s long-term open line of communication with LABCA over the years, he also brought out two complimentary cards from officials of the Agency with whom he had been in contact on the matter over the years. “If they hadn’t talked to us, like they claim”, he said, “where did I get these from?” One was from an Engineer Kúnlé Làmídì (MNSE) and another from someone called “Bldr.” T.A. Adéoyè. (“Bldr” probably stands for “builder”). I asked Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé why he thinks the Agency had so far denied any knowledge of the demolition or of any permit asking the family to “remove” the building. “I don’t know,” he said. You will have to ask them that too. “I will,” I replied. “I’ve tried.”

The Other Descendants

On the afternoon of Monday, September 26, 2016, in the office of the curator at the National Museum, Oníkan, I met with Mr. Eric Adéremí Awóbuyìdé. He is the third son of Deborah Ọláyẹmí Awóbuyìde (nee Ọláìyá), who was one of the original twenty-one surviving children of the Patriarch Ọmọlọ́nà. Deborah, who grew up at Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar before leaving to marry into the Awóbuyìdé family, died in 1994, survived by seven children one of who was Eric. He was the third child. This makes him a cousin to Daniel Adébọ̀wálé and a nephew to Victor Abímbọ́lá. But they are not on speaking terms. Mr. Daniel, on Sunday, had said that Eric was the one who separated himself, along with his children, from the rest of the main family. To Eric, the Ọláìyá boys were the ones who had deliberately kept him out of the loop so they could benefit from the property alone. But he benefited himself too. He had an office in the property, which he was free to use as he saw fit. One of his daughters, according to Daniel Adébọ̀wálé, also operated a public toilet in the monument, which upset many members of the family.


Mr. Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé at the National Museum. Face and form disguised at his request.

Now at 73 years old, Eric Adérẹ̀mí stands at about five feet and nine inches, a sharp contrast to his Ìkòròdú cousin who stood at six-two. The mental acuity of both men struck me as being quite impressive in spite of health challenges they both faced in their advanced age. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé had acknowledged that symptoms of arthritis in his limbs kept him from going out much these days. His cousin, without having to say it, exhibited some form of hearing impairment that made me have to repeat questions a number of times before they were comprehended. We were meeting for the first time, yet they had both spoken to me like a long lost friend, openly and without preconditions.

Eric had an earnest tone of voice that suggested that he also wanted his side of the story widely told. He has some free time now, he said, having retired in 2004 as a Principal Registrar of the Lagos State High Court. His son, Ọláṣùpọ̀, who operated a lottery centre in the building before it was demolished, had spoken to me for my last report, and facilitated this connection. “My father knows everything,” he had said. “Ask him.” In Eric’s hand was a leather folder containing sheaves of documents he had brought for my sake. “This” referring to the folder, “is my office now,” he said, “Since they demolished the office I had at Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, I have had to carry this with me.”

Audible in the earnest firmness of his voice was a huge sense of loss at the fate of his grandfather’s house and their childhood home. He had created an office for himself in the building specifically to be able to keep an eye on the property. This, he said, had been helpful a number of times when the demolition would have taken place except for his timely intervention by confronting the invading developers and sometimes calling the police. He it was who first alerted the National Commission on Museums and Monuments of the existence of an existential threat to their grandfather’s property by some invading developers who he suspected had taken their orders from other members of his family too ashamed of their role to show their face at the demolition site. Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé had acknowledged that on Sunday as well, disapprovingly. Eric’s role was also referenced in the statement by Yusuf Abdallah Usman, the Director General of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, dated September 11, 2016.

Approvals and Reversals

As we spoke, Eric brought out a series of documents each looking almost as new as when they were printed. Some of them I had seen before at his cousin’s Ìkòròdú home, like the contravention notices and the Demolition Permit approval. Some I was seeing for the first time, like the reversal of the demolition permit issued earlier in the year. This I had not prepared for. There was a reversal of the Demolition Permit!? Yes! The letter, dated July 19, 2016 and signed by one “Tpl.” Badéjọ H.O., expressed “regret” for having approved the earlier permit that gave a go-ahead to the demolition request by the family. It acknowledged that the building was indeed a federally designated monument and blamed the confusion that caused the initial permit to be issued on not being informed by whoever had applied for the demolition permit that the building was indeed a monument. All emphasis mine!

A second letter came on August 30th, 2016, this time from the governor’s office, signed by Agboolá Dábírí (the Special Adviser on Central Business Districts) and Fọ́lọ́runshọ́ Fọlárìn-Coker (Commissioner for Tourism, Arts & Culture). The letter, originally addressed to the Special Adviser, Urban Development, Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, requested that the Demolition Permit already in circulation, in the hands of the elders of the Ọláìyá family, be withdrawn. It also requested that “a public announcement” be made by the ministry “to the effect that the property is a national monument and is to be preserved as such.”

A third and most earnestly written letter was addressed to the newly-elected governor of the state, Mr. Akínwùnmí Ambọ̀dé. Signed by the same two state officials already mentioned above, and also dated August 30th, 2016, it detailed the status of the structure as a national monument, alerted him to the presence of a wrongly-given Demolition Permit already in circulation, and of the existence of “a portion of the Ọláìyá family… intent on redeveloping the property for commercial reasons”. The letter implored the governor to “consider the purchase of the property from the Ọláìyá family for overriding public interest”, immediately revoke the outstanding permit for demolition, and begin “maintenance works “to restore the property for conservation purposes.”

Eric, on getting the letters became slightly less worried, but not any less wary. Whoever would apply for a demolition permit under the name of his dead grandfather was up to no good, he thought. So he made copies of the new letters and the demolition permit reversal order, enlarged them, and pasted them all around the property to deter all intruders. To forestall a surprise attack, he also started arriving at his office at five-thirty in the morning and leaving as late as possible after surveying the area for signs of any demolition equipment. Nevertheless, during the last year, there were at least three near successful attempts to tear down the building. One of them occurred under the protection of military men of the Nigerian Armed Forces (photos below) and ended with one of the arches of the structure broken by the caterpillar’s hydraulic extractor arm. The attack was, still, successfully stalled by the help of the resident crowd and the Nigerian Police Area A Command Center at Lion Building nearby. But Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé’s worry doubled. The distance to the police station on a day of clear traffic is about six minutes. But on most days when the Island was busy and full, it could take twenty minutes or more. Plenty could go wrong in that time. Still, he hoped that the new governor would heed the call of the letter, and relieve him of his worries. That never happened.

One of the earlier attempts at demolishing the building was captured by a passerby. The soldiers seen here had come to protect those intending to demolish the building. They were repelled in the end by a crowd of concerned residents led by Eric Awóbuyìdé and eventually the Nigerian Police. Photo source: Eric Awóbuyìdé.

One of the earlier attempts at demolishing the building was captured by a passerby. The soldiers seen here had come to protect those intending to demolish the building. They were repelled in the end by a crowd of concerned residents led by Eric Awóbuyìdé and eventually the Nigerian Police. Photo source: Eric Awóbuyìdé.

The conversation, over an hour long, went into many tangents many for which I already had corroboration. When we were done, I asked him what he would want now, going forward. What would he want to happen? He looked wistful. “I’m Awóbuyìdé”, he said. “The male children of Ọláìyá and their sons have decided how they want the family to be run, and it is unfortunate. I’ve told Victor Ọláìyá to back off. He is a trumpeter. What does a trumpeter know about law and real estate?” He seemed really peeved by what he thought was a betrayal by his famous uncle. “When my grandfather looks back at us, he would see that I tried my best to protect his property! I can’t say the same for his children,” he said, and continued: “What I would hope for is that whoever did this should be shamed and prosecuted. The governor is culpable. We have to prosecute him too. I blame him for everything. He knows something. He could have stopped this if he wanted to. He wanted this to happen. Please print this on the front pages, with a good picture of my grandfather’s house. I want Buhari to see it. I want the whole world to read about it.”

Another photo from the earlier invasion feauting the same caterpiller and armed soldiers. Source: Eric Awóbuyìdé

Another photo from the earlier demolition attempt featuring the same caterpillar that eventually pulled it down. On this day, Eric said, a part of the building was damaged before the invasion was rebuffed. Source: Eric Awóbuyìdé

He continued, “I would also wish that nobody else be allowed to build anything else on that spot. Turning it into a public recreation park would be more acceptable to me than a stupid plaza,” he concluded.

The Last Days of Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar

When the building, once known as Casa do Fernandez, was bought in 1933 by Alfred Ọmọlọ́nà Ọláìyá, it cost £2500. By 1956 when, as Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, it was “acquired”* by the Colonial Government as a national monument, it must have cost perhaps double that value. Three and a half weeks ago, while it still stood in its home spot, anything from 50 million (£122,695) to 200 million naira (£490,780) would have been needed just to restore the structure back to a decent habitable state, which is close enough to the current value of the piece of land of that size alone in Lagos Island.


Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar, left, in its heyday. Source: Asiri Magazine

At some point in the past when the conversations among the stakeholders (State Government, NCMM, Brazilian Embassy, Legacy Group, and the Ọláìyá Family) went well, a sum of thirty million naira (£73,346) of the targeted fundraising was proposed as payment to the Oláìyá family as a token for their gifting of the structure to a national/artistic/cultural purpose. That money was never raised, of course. The gala planned to facilitate the it never took place. Perhaps because of the transition from one state administration to another, perhaps because of a lack of interest in the value of history, perhaps because of a terrible misunderstanding between agents of government, perhaps because of an administration’s interest in the cosmetics of new real estate projects than the value of old ones, or perhaps because of an incompetence or malice that reaches to the high levels of our government, the story ends in a tragedy.

In real figures, a structure as this which marked the history of more than just an extended family of a rich businessman, but that of a city and a country, is invaluable. It had more than money could buy. By the end of Sunday, September 11th, 2016, a permanent scar was created, not just on the soil, but on the soul of a country, leaving a putrid trail of shame in the hands of more than just a handful of people and government agencies. An officer of the National Museum, on being alerted that the demolition was about to start that Sunday morning, began calling the police officers who had, on other occasions, come promptly and stopped the intruders before damage was done. On this day however they had other things to do unless material incentive was provided. “We asked them to come and at least stop the intruders first, and ask for money later, but we were not successful”, he told me, choosing to remain anonymous. “It was too late… and we don’t have the power to forcefully summon the police to our use – as much as that would have helped.”

A diesel-operated CAT 320 caterpillar with a hydraulic extractor arm had arrived at Number 2, Bámgbóṣe Street since the day dawned. That morning, as daylight began, while Lagos Island stayed calm, enjoying a well-deserved holiday, the menacing machine roared to life.


* It turns out that Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar may not have been properly acquired as a monument either. According to Mr. Daniel Adérẹ̀mi Ọláìyá, the structure was “acquired” in mouth only, with no material compensation to the occupants nor a mutual agreement on resettlement options. This, he said, nullified such an acquisition by the British Colonial Administration, and subsequent civilian and military administrators of the country who had laid claim to the structure over the years.

When I inquired about this from the Legacy Group, who has now started an online petition to have the building built back to exact dimensions (they have the drawings, after all), the response was “Yes… [the family] should have been compensated outright, or with a share of profits made from the proposed tourism function of the building.” It would be helpful to get clarification from officials of the National Commission on Museums and Monuments about just what responsibility that agency had and how it fulfilled it over the years, to Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, its owners, the state government on whose land the property stood, and to the country at large.

Officials from LABCA or LASPPPA never did respond to any of my requests.

Update: (October 4, 2016) In a call to me on October 4, the officials who I’d spoken with on my visit to the organisation complained that I’d painted them in my writing as being “uncooperative” when, according to them, they had been sufficiently helpful by telling me to “hold on” while the issue was “being investigated”. I responded, as I do now, that public interest wasn’t been served by their obvious stonewalling. I do not hold them, these public relations officials, responsible for anything here other than failing to connect me with their bosses and failing to have official on-the-record responses. They were quite friendly and helpful otherwise, and I thank them for talking to me. But the record showed that their bosses who were clearly aware of the role of their agencies in the matter chose silence and obfuscation when a public statement would have helped. 

Update: (October 19, 2016) The Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr Fọ́lọ́runshọ́ Fọlárin-Coker has been removed from office. As at this moment, I don’t know if it has anything to do with the demolition of Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar, but I’ll be checking.



By Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé Ọláìyá:



By Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé:




I’m grateful to Ìbíwùnmí Ọláìyá and Ọláṣùpọ̀ Awóbuyìdé for facilitating the interview with their uncle and father respectively; to Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé Ọláìyá and Mr. Eric Adérẹ̀mí Awóbuyìdé for entrusting me with their stories; to Abby Ògúnsànyà for connecting me to Ìbíwùnmí; to Jahman Aníkúlápó and Yẹmí Adésànyà for editing suggestions; to the Ọlọ́ládé Bámidélé and Àlàbí Williams/Abraham Ogbodo of Premium Times and The Guardian respectively for the syndication opportunity; to Oluwalóní for support and patience; and finally to all anonymous sources quoted on this report.

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A Tragedy of Confusing Interests

Alternative Title: “How the Lagos State Government Got Ìlọ́jọ̀ Bar Demolished”

A continuing report into the unfortunate demolition of a national monument* as published in the Guardian newspaper of October 2, 2016. The first part can be found here


All the previous reporting I have done on the unfortunate demolition of Ilọ́jọ̀ 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 could happen in a state with laws (and two separate ministries) specifically created to prevent such eventuality. I got some answers now 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, (and in the Guardian/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 been rejected mid-ring or ignored. 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 Ọláìyá 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 Ọláìyá Family


I spent two hours on Sunday, September 25, in Ìkòròdú, Lagos, where Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé Ọláìyá, a representative head of the Ọláìyá 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. Ọláìyá, currently 74 years old, retired from the Egbin Power Plant as the Assistant Chief Technical Officer.** His father, Daniel Adégbìtẹ́ Ọláìyá was the eldest son of Alfred Ọmọ́lọ́nà Ọláìyá, 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 Ijẹ̀shà Iṣu in Ekìtì State. Since then, responsibility for the building had fallen on Daniel Adégbìtẹ́, being the first son, in trust for the twenty other living children of the patriarch. He, it was, who named it “Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar” around 1936, after Ìlọ́jọ̀ village in Ìjẹ̀ṣa-Iṣu Èkìtì where his father was born and buried.

Daniel Adégbìtẹ́ 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 Ọláìyá patriarch (Ọmọlọ́nà). Mr. Daniel gave their names as Victor Abímbọ́lá (born 1930), Comfort Táíwò, Celina Idòwú and Mabel Modúpẹ́. Of these four, only Victor Abímbọ́lá, the famous highlife musician also known as Victor Ọláìyá, 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 Ọláìya being the oldest direct male descendant, and his nephew – my host on that Sunday morning – Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé, the son of the patriarch’s first born son.

The Brazilian and State Interest

During the course of a conversation, Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé 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. Babátúndé Fáshọlá on June 3, 2009 (12). 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. Ajọ̀sẹ̀, a special adviser to the governor.

Curiously omitted, Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé observed, 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 Ọmọlọ́nà Ọláìyá 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 Ọmọ́lọ́nà Ọláìyá…”

Years of Negotiations

From 2010, representatives of the family began to meet with the state government of Babátúndé Fáshọlá at regular intervals, along with officials of the National Commission on Museums and Monuments (NCMM). Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé, 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 Adébọ̀wálé, it seemed that the meeting was also set up to come up with an acceptable number in monetary compensation for the family of Ọmọlọ́nà Ọláìyá 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 (1, 2, 3) was written from the office of the Director General of the NCMM to the Governor of Lagos, Mr. Babátúndé Fáshọlá. 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 Ọláìyá 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 Ọláìyá House, called Ìlọ́jọ̀ 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. Ṣọlá Akíntúnde, 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, Ṣọlá said, had actually been instrumental to the listing of Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar in 1956 as a monument by the colonial government. (He can be seen talking about the changes in Lagos architecture in this video by the Associated Press).

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 [Ìlọ́jọ̀ 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, Ṣọlá 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.

One of the last seen pictures of the building. Source @kelechinaba on Twitter

One of the last seen pictures of the building. Source @kelechinaba on Twitter

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 Ìkọ̀tún 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. Olúshọlá Adeìgbé, 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 (photo) 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 Ọláìyá 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 was signed by Engineer Adékúnlé 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 (see photo here), 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. Akíntúndé 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.”


One of the numerous “contravention notices” received by the family.

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. Ọlánrewájú Fálọlá, 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.

Torn between a mandate by the federal government through the NCMM who called several meetings to warn the family against doing anything to the building (either to fix or to demolish), the state government’s directive to tear it down or face an eventual demolition the cost of which the family would bear, and an interminable wait for restoration help that never came, the Ọláìyá family decided to apply for a demolition permit to pull the building down themselves. Mr. Daniel Adébọ̀wálé tells me that he was not part of this decision. Having seen the inside of a prison cell between 1988 and 1990 for having participated in an industrial strike against a military government, he said he was wary of any skirmish with law enforcement. So, he had his name removed from all legal documents and decisions relating to the building.

But someone in the family applied for the permit anyway, though not in the name of any living person. Approval was granted from the office of the Lagos State Physical Planning agency in a letter dated April 29, 2016 (Ref. No. LASPPPA/2015/DPD/029), addressed to the deceased owner of the house, Mr. Alfred Ọmọ́lọ́nà Ọláìyá.


* 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 (hopefully) concluding part of this report. Who applied for the demolition permit? Who approved it at LABCA/LASPPPA? Why was due process not taken in this special case to ensure a different outcome? I also talk to another member of the Ọláìyá family who tried all he could to prevent the demolition, and failed.

**Update 10/02: An earlier version of this piece referred to Mr. Adébọ̀wálé’s last position as a “technical hand”. This has been changed. He retired as the “Assistant Chief Technical Officer”.

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Demolishing History


I spent a few hours on Thursday talking to officials of LASPPPA and LASBCA, two ministries in the Lagos State government in charge of managing and supervising the building or demolition of buildings/structures across Lagos State. The day before that, I spent some time again at the Ground Zero on Lagos Island where the Ọláìya Family House (Ilọ́jọ̀ Bar/Casa di Fernandez) used to be. The green sign erected on Sunday by the State Government warning off intruders had been taken off the property, stolen overnight by unknown persons. All that is left on the property now are crumbs of stone and dirt. Other than that, the space remained as it was on Sunday. Busier, this time, as traders set up their wares and went by their day.

Photo taken today at the demolition site. The signboard by the state government is gone, stolen overnight.

Photo taken today at the demolition site. The signboard by the state government is gone, stolen overnight.

Normalising An Absence

I walked around, speaking with a few of the shop owners. A few observed me with suspicion for a while. They must have become used to the renewed attention that their locale now receives from all and sundry. Before Sunday, September 11th, all they had were tourists and foreigners curiously interested in an ancient structure. They were not always sure of why the building got that much attention. After all, it was crumbling at all sides, and was always in danger of falling into pieces by itself. A resident observer told me last Sunday that he had always assumed that the building actually belonged to foreigners still, considering how many times he’d seen white people surveying or taking pictures of it.

Many of the current neigbours around on this day seemed already resigned to the inevitable, already moved on with the knowledge that what was done was irreversible, no matter what they said or did. The puff-puff seller seemed disinterested in the topic altogether when I approached him. The building once stood there, and now it’s no more. That is all there is to it and there’s nothing more to talk about. Like his other colleagues, he was not present when the demolition took place. He came back after the holidays to find a different landscape, and has since reconciled to that reality. “It was an old building anyway,” another volunteered. “We have been waiting all these years for the Federal Government who promised to repair it. They didn’t come. Better to pull it down now than have it collapse by itself eventually.” Doesn’t he think it would have been better repaired than demolished? “I think they will build a new one,” he said, speaking as if intuitively aware of some secret plan.

I asked around if anyone knows the identity of the developers behind the demolition. No one did. “They don’t come here anymore. Since the State Government placed that green sign that the property is off-limits, we have not seen them.” I asked what had become of the signpost which was there as early as Sunday. “It was there as late as yesterday night, actually.” A man said. “We came here this morning and couldn’t find it anymore. But we know that nobody can do anything here unless the State knows about it.” Do you know what they plan to build on the grounds? “A shopping center, maybe? I think the family decided that they could make more money with a business structure than an old building which paid no one.” A sign that was photographed a few days after the building was demolished pointed to this theory that the demolition was ordered by the Ọláìyá Family itself, in contravention of the federal mandate on monuments.

The shops that used to be within the building are now desks and umbrellas.

The shops that used to be within the building are now desks and umbrellas.

What They Lost

To the part of the building that used to face Tinúbú Square is now a wall of bodies, sitting, squatting, setting up wares and conducting marketplace banter and business. There, huddled around a table, I found some men whose properties were destroyed with the demolition. Their subdued anger and resignation was evident as was their resilience and stoicism. Some talked freely while some stopped themselves mid-sentences as if unsure of the usefulness of an opinion, as if too sufficiently pained by a bullying they’re incapable of rebuffing. All of them had known of a controversy surrounding the building. They had known that some people wanted the building pulled down, but they hadn’t really expected it. They sure didn’t know that while they packed their properties to travel home for the holidays, a caterpillar was being rented to begin work breaking down their shops shortly after breakfast on Sunday.

One man, Igbo, who chose not to disclose his name, said he had left a small desktop computer in his shop when he left for the holidays. Along with his shop, it was gone when he returned. What he lost was more than a hundred thousand naira. “What will my talking do?” he asked when I asked how he felt. “Would they give me the money back?” For him, the legacy of the building wasn’t as much concern as a blatant destruction of his means of livelihood. “We were all here on Friday, unaware that they had planned this evil deed all along and were just waiting for us to leave.” Why did he think the police wasn’t alerted when the demolition started so the culprits could be stopped? “I don’t know. Perhaps the government people had all travelled. But the developers were here all day and they didn’t care for our properties.”


The demolished building is barely visible now behind the umbrellas

Another trader, Mr. Ọláṣùpọ̀ Awobuyìdé, who operated a lottery shop in the building seemed the most upset. He also seemed the most stoic, for a man who had lost not just property but a family treasure. His grandmother was part of the Ọláìyá family, and he had great memories of living and interacting with the house. While we spoke, a woman came by who seemed to recognise him than he did her. In a minute, she identified herself as a distant family member, asking for other relatives by name. She said she had come when she heard of the demolition. She had memories of having lived in the house many decades ago and was sad to see the property go. After she left, I asked Mr. Awóbuyìdé who she was. “One of our old relatives,” he said. “from London.”

Ọláṣùpọ̀ was in Sango Ọ̀tà, about 80km northwest of Lagos, over the Eid weekend when he received a call from a relative. Their family house was now being demolished. Did he know about this? He had known of some controversy surrounding the building. But after many months and years of rumours and false starts, he had grown skeptical of reports that the demolition would actually take place. And even though he had taken care to move many of his important properties off the premises, just to be safe, he had not imagined that this weekend would be it. Too far away to be of any help, both of them resigned, over the phone, to mourning what could not be salvaged. In his own shop, he claimed, were properties in excess of one hundred and fifty thousand naira. How does he feel about it? “God knows best”.

What Does The State Know?

LASPPPA is the Lagos State Physical Planning Permit Authority whose job, under the section 109 of the Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development law 2010, involves giving approval for any “development, any alteration, amendment, addition, repair and/or renovation to an existing building.” LABCA is the Lagos State Building Control Agency whose job is “to ensure that basic minimum standards are maintained in building construction and renovation in order to ensure that existing buildings are safe, healthy, accessible and habitable…” Both agencies work together and are solely responsible for anything relating to permits to build or demolish buildings in the state, and the standard of such a building or demolition project.

Men of the Lagos State Building Control Agency demolishing an illegal fencing on Sunday, September 18.

Men of the Lagos State Building Control Agency demolishing an illegal fencing on Sunday, September 18.

It was why the responsibility fell on these ministries to come, on Sunday, September 18th, to pull down the “illegal” fencing around the demolition site. If anyone in the state had got an official permit to pull down Ilọjọ Bar, such a permit would have had to have come from the LASPPPA. Such a demolition would also have had to have been supervised by LABCA. This, according to the officials of the ministry didn’t happen, so we have to – for now – take their word for it. The demolition took place on a Sunday before a major public holiday when most public officials had left town. But how could anyone have pulled down a public building – a national monument at that – without anyone knowing or alerting the authorities while it was in progress? It’s even harder to take the word of the government for it when, just a few days before this demolition news surfaced, the state had pulled down another building, also without sufficient notice (though the government claims otherwise), and upending the lives of traders who never saw it coming.

My trip to the office at GRA Ikẹja was in order to ask a few questions along these lines  and clarify a few things concerning this yet unexplained demolition. The officials there talked to me kindly but cautiously, refusing to be quoted on the record, and refusing to be recorded because they haven’t been authorized to speak officially on the matter. They were also unable to answer many of the questions I had, though they encouraged me to ask them anyway, which I did. Their answers were noncommittal and not very useful.

My intention of going there was actually to speak directly to the general managers, Mr. Ọládọ̀tun Lásojú and Mr. Rẹ̀mí Oni-Orísan of the LABCA and LASPPPA respectively. I made this clear in my request to the officer who took my phone call, and I had got confirmation that this would happen. But on getting there, I was told that both of the men I hoped to see were at meetings at Alaùsá and couldn’t attend to me in person. The PRO of both ministries however promised to get answers for me if I would sent the questions via email. I have now done so and will update this piece as soon as I hear back.

What Happened to History?

When Ilọjọ Bar was built in Lagos Island in 1855, there was no “Nigeria”. That would come fifty-nine years later. Slave trade had only been abolished in the British Empire just 48 years earlier with the Slave Trade Act of 1807, though it still thrived in the southern United States. Abraham Lincoln, the eventual abolitionist, was a politician and lawyer from Illinois just recently disappointed by a recent loss in a Senate race of the previous year. The building had stood in that spot overlooking Tinúbú Square, witnessing the passage of time, and wearing the history of a people and a place like a prized ornament. It is gone now, replaced by stones and dust, and the anguish of a dejected, disappointed people. Gone with it is a visual representation of a whole lot of history that will never come back.


When, in April 2015, ISIS destroyed monuments of over 2000 years old in Hatra, the world was sufficiently outraged at the callous lack of concern for what were simply a physical bearers of years of human accomplishment. In art and craft, in architecture and in writing and in music, we document the progress of humanity. By preserving them for the next generation, we tell them that we value their right to know where their ancestors have been, and hope that it serves as a guide to what we expect of them in the future. In March 2016, a similar case of a deliberate attack happened in Timbuktu, another historical site, spurring a war crimes trial. The response to these show the value placed by the world on the sustenance of stories through historical monuments. Here in Nigeria, the opposite seems to be the case. The current recession has even led some to consider selling national assets to raise funds.

The attack on Lagos Island is unfolding as a terrorist act. Not in the commonly accepted sense of the word, with a foreign religion as motivation, but not any less malicious either. The symbolism isn’t lost that the demolition took place on 9/11, a day now globally recognised for its significance in the fight against global terrorism after two buildings were destroyed in New York in an attack against a country and a culture. The reason for this current demolition might eventually show a more benign provenance – a minor family disagreement that ballooned into national and international significance. But the meticulous planning that went into its clandestine realisation shows something more than a harmless mistake. If the state knew about it and is refusing to acknowledge it, this makes it an even worse transgression, elevating a mere incompetence to a the level of a felony or at best an abuse of public trust.

What exactly is going on in Lagos? On Saturday, September 24, news broke that the J.K. Randle Memorial Hall, Onikan, which is also a historical building on the Island, has been pulled down. In a phone call with Bashorun J.K Randle, the head of the family, the demolition came as a surprise and without the assent of the family. Who has the answers? Does the governor? Do the commissioners?  Will they address these matters in a timely manner? More disturbingly, are there more buildings to go by the way of demolition soon? Which are they? Have the owners been consulted and have all proper processes been observed? Can the public know and have appropriate debates over it? Can the Governor of Lagos  say, uniquivocally, that he is not trying to demolish all historical structures for short term commercial purposes?

Life Calmly Goes On

Business on Lagos Island goes on now as it always does, daily, marking time with the bustle of legs, voices, and hopes. But at Tinúbú Square, a notable absence marks an empty tooth, like Wọlé Ṣóyínká describes it, in the otherwise welcoming smile of an old, colourful, but still dignified city. Unless, of course, there is a deliberate decision in government to render the state free of any physical record of its past, in pursuit of some cheap materialistic or cosmetic ambitions.


This piece was published in syndication on The Guardian and Premium Times on September 25, 2016. My earlier report on the demolition can be found here and here. The continuing part of this reporting is titled “A Tragedy of Confusing Interests“.

All photos are property of KTravula.com

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