The Federal Government says it will deal decisively with collaborators in the demolition of a 190-year old “Olaiya House” declared a national monument in 1956.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said this on Sunday when he inspected the site of the demolished building at Nos. 6 and 2, Alli and Bamgbose streets, CMS, Lagos Island, respectively.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the minister was accompanied on the inspection by the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, and Director General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Yusuf Abdallah.
The building, according to the minister, was built by one of the returned slaves who came back from Brazil.
“This building in particular was unique because it chronicled the historical, cultural and social relationship between us and Brazil.
“It is like a living monument of our slave trade past. It was a monument that exhibited the Brazilian architecture at that time which is rare to come by anywhere in the world.
“As far back as 1956, the Federal Government acquired this property as a national monument and it was gazetted.
“The idea was that the building was so unique and the government would not want the family to change or rebuild it because it is history itself.”
He recalled that when government declared the building as national monument, arrangement was made with the family on how to maintain the place and there were several meetings held between the two parties.
The minister noted that there is no reason, except greed, why the building should be demolished by any developer.
“We cannot equate money with our past, history and legacy because a people without history will perish very fast.
“This building is a remembrance of what our ancestors went through in slavery and how they triumphed, came back and they showed that they were well to do.
“It is worth billions of dollars because it symbolised our past.
“We have the responsibility to preserve our past and culture so that our children unborn will come here and see what they are like.
“We all go to London and Paris to see their monuments. If those people had destroyed their own culture, architecture and heritage, what then will we be going there to see?” Mr. Mohammed asked.
He continued: “No amount of skyscrapers can replace this history and an important monument that has been demolished, and I want to assure you that nobody can profit from his or her crime.
“I want to assure that we are going to pursue whoever had destroyed this place.
“It may take time but the hand of the law is long but the wheel of justice grinds towards it but surely we will get them”.
The minister debunked the claim that the structure was weak, adding that the government would take over the defence of the civil suit filed by the developer.
He emphasised that: “You cannot go to court now and say that because the structure has been destroyed, the land should go back to the owner.
“We are ready to meet them in court and one thing I can assure you is that nobody can benefit from his own crime.
“We want to assure you that we will challenge them in court and we are going to get our reliefs.”
He added that when the civil case was over, the government will rebuild the structure.
“We have the picture, we will rebuild it and restore this building to its former glory,” he said.
Mr. Owoseni said when the building was demolished, he immediately ordered the Area Commander to look for the developer but they said he was very sick and he was admitted in the hospital.
“When something is gazetted, the gazette becomes an Act and whosoever does a thing contrary to the gazette and its content, it becomes an offence,” he said.
The commissioner of police asked that the site be sealed up with gate to prevent illegal trading on the plot.
On the issue of the Angel on top of the demolished building allegedly stolen by the family, the police boss advised the national museum to write a petition.
He said the Police cannot take action because the case is already in court.
The Angel was said to be an antiquity and by the provision of the law, only the National Museum has the statutory powers to deal with antiquity.
Earlier, Eric Awobuyide, a member of the Olaiya family who briefed the minister on the demolition, said the building had attracted many tourists from many parts of the world.
“Recently the Brazilian authority came and they held a dinner in respect of this. Prof. Wole Soyinka and other prominent people attended the dinner,” he said.
He said some members of the family who lease out the building to developer had made several attempts to demolish the building but he resisted.
He added that on the fateful day the building was brought down, he was not around.