The Fernandez house in Lagos: Relic of an Afro-Brazilian past

The Fernandez house is Located at No 6, Tinubu Square in the heart of Lagos Island, where Nigeria’s central business district is located, and surrounded by picturesque edifices; the Fernandez house is hard to miss. The ancient Brazilian architecture building is a legacy of the thousands of freed slaves who returned to Nigeria in the 19th century.

Nigerian author Marjorie Moji Dolapo Alonge in his book ‘Afro-Brazilian Architecture in Lagos State: A Case for Conservation gives us a better introduction and insight into the Fernandez house in lagos.

Afro-brazilian history

“The Fernandez House was built in 1846 to serve both as a residence and as a punishment house for slaves. The original owner was a slave merchant called Fernandez who was of Afro-Brazilian descent.

His father was of Portuguese-Brazilian descent and a slave merchant himself. His mother was African.  The house was (and still is) a two story building with a roof terrace. There was a backyard that was used for storing slaves to be sold and sometimes they were also locked up in cells and beaten as punishment.

When slave traders were encouraged to leave Lagos shortly after the British declared it their colony (in 1861), the Fernandez family left and possibly went to Badagry or another West African country to continue with their trade.  

  –Afro-Brazilian Architecture in Lagos State: A Case for Conservation- Marjorie Moji Dolapo Alonge (1994).

Fernandez House, Afro-brazilian history
Mr Olaiya, grand son of Alfred Omolona Olaiya

The Olaiyas: A trail of inheritance

Upon Fernandez’s departure, the house was auctioned for sale, a local, Andrew Thomas bought the fernandez house and subsequently resold it to Alfred Omolona Olaiya who was a god-son to Fernandez.

Pictured above is Mr Olaiya, grand son of Alfred Omolona Olaiya and current occupant of the Fernandez house. He recounts the history of the house, the Fernandez family and his frustration with the Nigerian Government over the state of the building.

“My grandfather, Pa Alfred Olaiya bought it from the Portuguese and American Slave Traders. This house was built for all the slaves they had captured in the inner land, in the inner part of Nigeria. The Lagoon was very close to this house before they built all these bridges and buildings. When they carry the slaves down here, they transport them through their boats to the Lagoon side where they would board the boat that would carry them to Sugar Cane Island in America. Same thing happened in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Most of the Nigerians at that time were in the slave trade business so when they bring in the people from other lands as slaves, they would sell them to Europeans and they would take them overseas to America or France to work for them”

Afro-Brazilian heritage

“This building has been here for over 250 years back. If you see the structure, you would see the Portuguese structure and style of building. If you look at the top, you would see an angel at the top because they were Catholics. Where you are seated now is the living room of the head of the Slave traders. They had other rooms for their officers. But where the shops are downstairs was where the slaves were held. After they have been collected from the people who bring them in, they are packed in the small rooms and arrangements are made to move them to Sugar Cane Island in America”

Great grand son of Pa Olaiya
Great grand son of Pa Olaiya

“After the abolition of Slave Trade in 1779, the business died off. This building became useless to them and they had to go back to their country. The building was given out to one of the lawyers at that time, Irving and Bonner. They were the Europeans who were in Nigeria at that time. They made a publication for the sale of this very building. My grandfather read it and applied for it. The auctioneers were given the building. My father won the auction and became the buyer. That was how the house became the property of Late Pa. Alfred Olaiya. He is a native of Ekiti state in south west Nigeria but he was stationed in Calabar where he was a business man”

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At the crossroads of inheritance

The National Museum has failed completely for not attending to the maintenance of this house he says. I believe that the Federal Government would do something. Not only do people come here from Lagos, they come from Brazil, South Africa, Britain, and America to know more about the building.

There was a time when Ex-Governor Fashola came around to see the building and we saw scaffoldings put up on the structure, what happened?

Yes! It was for decoration. They put up the scaffolding and later on they came and took it down. Nothing was done. If you go to them at the National Museum, they would say that they are making arrangement. I have held so many meetings with the National Museum here and in their office about the maintenance of the house.

If you notice, the building is very strong. What is wrong is only the plastering. The plaster which they used in the old days is over 200 years, it would get weak unless they renovate it. They came a few years back under the guise of fixing the house but instead they removed the original wooden floor and replaced it with cheap planks. This table here in the parlour has been here since the house was built. It is the table that the colonial men used.

Fernandez house

As the owners of the house, have you been allowed to do any renovations on the house?

They would not allow us to do any work. That is what we are now fighting for. This property has a file with them (National Museum). Since 1956, the Federal Government has established this place as a National Monument. Even the chains use to put down the slaves were gotten from this building. The doors here have been here since the house was built. All we have been able to do is the painting of the walls.

The plan for the house is available. The blue print of the house is available at the Land Registry at Alausa at Ikeja.

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Rooms where slaves were stored now converted to rented shops
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Front view of the Fernandez house

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Is the house haunted by the ghosts of dead slaves?

(laughs) They are gone and they are dead.