Lab Project

Lagos Legacy

Negotiating City Spaces
Olamide Udoma-ejorh

In a Lagos market, the journey truly begins once you spot what you came for. Captivated by a bright yellow and blue fabric with psychedelic patterns, you walk towards the stall. The shopkeeper notices you and breaks the spell with her words. She shouts at you, trying to entice you further by telling you where her fabrics are from and how genuine they are. It is weird, because although you are still across the road, you hear her speaking just to you. You block out the horns, the shouting, spitting, drilling, you block out Lagos and you continue to your destination; an Ankara stall with a little woman making gestures at you. She meets you as you step up on to the pavement and before you say anything, she shouts at her ‘sister’ to take down the exact fabric you have been eyeing. You say “How much?” and the game kicks off. She replies with the same question while adding some niceties: “My beautiful sister, how much?” You are not sure where to go from here, so you look for help in the faces of the ladies and men selling wares nearby, but all you meet are blank stares. No one to help. Since she didn’t want to start the negotiations, you decide to throw a number out, with a little bit of cheek. This little lady wearing a dark blue head wrap is not impressed at the low price you quote, although she laughs and throws her head back, but her eyes say it all. This is going to be a long back-and-forth to ensure that either she makes a profit or you get a bargain. This way of negotiating in a market is how the worth of heritage buildings, spaces, or artifacts in Lagos are similarly negotiated. These negotiations take place between landowners, property developers, the Lagos State Government, communities, artists, historians, and, rarely, the residents or users of a space. These negotiations are not hinged around the value or worth of a heritage building but instead how much profit one can receive. This can clearly be seen in the example of Ilojo Bar. Ilojo Bar was a Brazilian-style historic building located near Tinubu Square in Lagos Island, Lagos State, Nigeria. It was originally built as a bar and restaurant in 1855 by the Fernandez family, who employed returning ex-slaves who had mastered the art of building while in South America. Ilojo Bar was subsequently sold to Alfred Omolana Oláìyá of the Oláìyá family in 1933 and was declared a national monument in 1956 by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments. After many years of neglect, the building was torn down on Sunday, September 11, 2016. Leading up to the demolition, it was understood that the building had been declared structurally unfit for habitation by the state government, who had given the Oláìyá family an ultimatum to either pull down the building or else the state government would. The family, who felt threatened, took the matter into their own hands and applied for a permit to have the building demolished. Even though the information that had been unearthed about Ilojo Bar is still under investigation, there was a clear tussle that took place between the state and the family. The value of the building was constantly being negotiated. By asking for it to be demolished, the state government declared the value of this monumental building of Nigerian-Brazilian heritage to be close to nothing. Even within the family, some members wanted to sell it to a developer, while others were pushing for the building to become a museum. Such negotiations do not take place quickly, they take years of back and forth, usually leading to neglect or demolition. There are so many similarly contested spaces for which the value of Nigerian and specifically Lagosian heritage is constantly being negotiated. Before the final death of these spaces, you can find them untouched for many years. Spaces whose use has changed, without changing their form, but rather due to a change in occupancy. Ghostly spaces that sit beautiful and tranquil. In-between spaces that encompass the history and lives lived there. These spaces allow for imagination and at times leave us feeling like time has stopped. There is value in these almost-dead spaces. But in our daily lives, as Lagosians, do we truly see these spaces for what they are and the potential they hold? The urban development message that the state government pushes on both the local and international media is an aspiration towards being a modern city, a megacity, a shiny and glossy city where there are no flaws or blemishes. However, this city has no soul, no diversity, no culture, and no heritage. This is not the right approach for a multicultural city, where culture is very important. A light needs to go on to change the way Lagosians (on all levels of society) value our heritage. Whether we decide to focus on restoration and renovation, like with Legacy 1995, the Nigerian historical and environmental interest group, or appreciate the terrain vague, a switch must be flipped for the spaces that hold our history to be negotiated in a way that benefits not just one party but all parties and the city as a whole.