By: Oredola Ibrahim and Habeeb Kolade
This is one of a four-part series where we have profiled a number of structures in Ibadan that has suffered from neglect, mismanagement or underutilization. All these structures, if harnessed properly can improve the internally generated revenue of the state government. But beyond revenue, this series shows how poor maintenance culture has ridden the state and largely the country of its much desired progress.
[Investigation]–Ibadan, as a city attracts all sort of insults in conversations around social circles in Nigeria. Prominent amongst these is that of decay, rot and dirtiness of the ancient city. While one might be reluctant to assert the truthfulness of this opinion of Ibadan, the infrastructure culture of the 41-year old state leaves a lot to be desired.
Agbowo Shopping Complex is the perfect example of how not to run a mall by anybody, not even by a ‘penniless’ government currently administered by Senator Isiaka Ajimobi. The complex, situated in Ibadan North Local Government of Oyo State, easily passes for an old building, past its best years and in desperate need of attention if it will ever live to its full promise.
At its prime, Agbowo Shopping Complex supported 3,000 individuals who not only depended on it for the provision of their daily bread but for those who were in their employments as well. The building was one of the strategic economic strongholds of the city. The sheer proximity of the complex to the University of Ibadan suddenly magnifies its significance and the potential of business activities.
Constructed by the Bola Ige administration in 1983, Agbowo Shopping Complex was designed to house 104 shops, a Theatre; two Department Stores; a Night Club; more than 20 large Office Units; an ample parking space, and a conducive environment that foster economic activities.
Instead of accelerating economic development in the state, the whole complex has fallen to the cancerous culture of poor maintenance that has become characteristic of public properties. The magnificence of the structure has gradually worn thin with the passing years. It now wears a coat of fumes and relentless weeds have overtaken it. It is a beauty breaking apart.
The complex is almost overtaken with weeds. The walls have been coated with dirt of fumes emanating from the generators scattered across the buildings housing the 104 units of shops. The ceilings are broken off in what you can only described as a “mysterious” circumstance, it is as if the destruction is coordinated and deliberate. The flowerbeds have degenerated into refuse dumps. Illegal constructions and demolitions. The original colours on the walls now struggle helplessly in the new colour of decay and rot that have invaded every part of the complex. From hosting Rhema Chapel to becoming a makeshift lavatory, the theatre has been anything but a theatre. The building housing the big offices just stands there like a haunted tower, covered with the forsaken memories of dated signage and struggling shrubs. The two department stores are clearly abandoned. And the Night Club has no doubt given up to the club of silence and the place that once boasted of a Spider Café bubbling with life now has its surroundings overgrown with bushes and spider webs cocoon the nightclub, named Spider Café.
Just before the complex reached its threshold of decadence, it has bubbled with life and energy. Many students could get valued books at cheap rates. It hosted several fashion designers who breathe life into trendy outfits. Agbowo Shopping Complex was also a hub of training activities that ranged from computer classes, academic trainings as well as business programmes. The theatre and the nightclub lit the evenings with a transcending pizzazz.
How then has its glory fallen?
We spoke to Yemi, one of the business owners in the complex. Yemi has been running a business in the complex for more than 10 years. He recounts, “You won’t believe if I tell you that this place used to be one of the hotspots in Ibadan. This place used to be alive. I sell electronics here and then it was a big business. Customers were always at my shop demanding for one product or the other. I had sales girls and boys that helped me out. If you are finding a particular item and you could not get it anywhere else, you are sure to get it in my shop here. Nevertheless, it is so unfortunate, all that has changed now. See my shop, I manage it now myself and see, I don’t even have stocks again, fewer customers come around now and I just open to keep myself alive and surviving”.
Agbowo’s descent began around eight years ago just before Senator Ajimobi was elected governor of the state. Tomilola, an alumnus at the University of Ibadan reminisced about the Café, “I could remember during my undergraduate days in the University of Ibadan. I used to go to Spider Café to sing and dance. Many people used to be there then, guys, ladies, couples on Friday nights coming to enjoy themselves and relieve the stress of the week. It was an awesome experience for me. I was a student of Theatre Arts in the University of Ibadan, then. I go the club to entertain people, meet people and network.”
Since 1983 when the complex was first completed, there has been no major renovations to keep up the maintenance of the complex and blend it with modern developments. The current state of the building is an accumulation of negligence, mismanagement and lack of insight of not fewer than 13 state administrations.
The current government has also continued to drag its feet in implementing its famed plans of the complex. The state’s handling of the complex has largely been epileptic.
The decay that befell the magnificent structure is a result of mismanagement. The Oyo State Housing Corporation is responsible for the maintenance, supervision and management of the complex. The housing corporation has evolved over time. It was an offshoot of Western Nigeria Housing Corporation established during the Administration of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (by Law No.12) in 1958. The Corporation later became known as Property Development Corporation of Oyo State (PDCOS), Property and Town Development Corporation of Oyo State (PTDCOS) in 1977, sequel to the merger of the defunct Ajoda New Town Development Corporation (ANTDC) and Property Development Corporation of Oyo State. It finally settling down for its current name and structure, Oyo State Housing Corporation on August 27, 2001.
Yet, while it continued to take many forms, its performance as a parastatal has been largely underwhelming. The Agbowo Shopping Complex is a sad testament of this. Business owners had complained of security challenges, epileptic power supply, and poor hygiene and so on, but the corporation paid little attention to the complex asides collecting rent.
The corporation made no known move to save the complex which generated about 20 million naira yearly even at its dire state.
The complex’s state ensured that many of the businesses that take up shop there closed down in a few months or years. Tenants had to renovate their individual spaces to guard against attacks by evening thieves. The absence of a reasonable cleaning program meant the complex not only reeked of abandon, but of filth as well.
In 2012, Senator Ajimobi’s government announced its intention to rehabilitate the complex, and then sent businesses packing in preparation. Yet, several months after, nothing concrete happened. The rehabilitation started and ended with the announcement.
The government had gone back on its agreement after it revealed that the amount required to renovate the structure was too cumbersome and the complex’ revenue did not give any motivation. According to the state, renovating the complex would cost 209 million naira but the yearly revenue of the complex was a meagre 20 million Naira.
Unlike the visionary governor, Bola Ige who placed more importance on the potential of such economic hub, Ajimobi’s government instead trained its eyes on the current state of the complex and decided it was not economically viable to venture into such renovation, especially with the government’s purse.
Ajimobi would later relay that his government would seek private investment that can lead the renovation and develop it into an excellent economic hub that would include a complex of luxury apartments, firefighting service, and exotic shopping centres.
The government did nothing after the 2012 announcement. Some of the business owners had even returned to the complex to continue their business activities since they had nowhere else to go and because according to them the government has not shown its readiness to begin renovation on the complex. Some of the business owners also accused the government of wanting to pull a fast one on them by displacing them and giving the place over to wives of politicians in the state.
But the question begging for answer is that why will the state government wait for more than three years before it starts renovation works on the complex. But on a closer look, the answer is not far-fetched, the governor was simply trying to secure his 2015 ambition and as soon as that was sealed, he returned the following year to continue its chase and lock game.
Alas, after securing his re-election, the complex was returned to the hands of neglect in which it had found home. Ironically, the tenants had sponsored a congratulatory message on the local radio, Splash FM 105.5 to spur the governor to restore power supply to the shopping complex as power supply had been cut off from the complex at the expiration of the quit notice served in 2012.
Instead, they were met instead by forceful ejections and a disturbing silence about the complex’s future. The state government, through the Oyo state housing corporation said its action was to enable it commence the renovation of the complex. Most of the tenants doubted this as the same had been said for several years by the same government. Despite putting up barricades and installing security operatives, no major construction work had begun 5 years since its 2012 announcement.
Since the government issued its first quit notice in 2012, it has stopped collecting rents from tenants of the complex. Nonetheless, some of the tenants continued to use the facility for their business activities and have done so free of charge. Security officials at the complex have become the new landlords and taken over fare collection for people who use the complex. Tenants also pay Tenant Association Fee in addition to that. Musa, who runs a Suya Business at the complex last year revealed that he paid the security officials 5,000 naira and also paid another 5,000 naira as Tenant Association fee to use the place. Several illegal payments like these have gone on at the complex since the quit notice issued by the government in 2012.
In October 13, 2016, Ajimobi government announced the signing of an eight billion naira MOU with a consortium of investors under the name, Agbowo Mall Infrastructure Development Company Limited, “for the remodelling, redeveloping and rehabilitation of Agbowo shopping complex”. The representative of the investors, Mr Tunde Shonekan added that the rehabilitation of the entire complex would take about thirty months before completion. He was quoted to have said, “Our aim is to redevelop the complex that was built in 1984 to a modern one. Despite the economic challenges in the country, we are confident that we will transform the complex. We are investing N8billion in order to give it a befitting outlook and we want all the stakeholders of this project to cooperate with us”.
The investment deal has however drawn questions about whether the government had placed the required urgency for rehabilitating the structure. The state governor had mentioned that it was in talks with private investors in his 2012 speech after which the government declined developing the building due to irreconcilable differences in the revenue and costs of keeping the structure up.
Why had the government waited for so long?
And we must recall that the State Housing Corporation had earlier furnished the government with a proposal for the renovation of the complex at a cost of N209 million which the government found not “agreeable” but the same government went ahead to sign an MOU of N8 billion with a consortium of private investors to give the complex a “befitting outlook”. What has changed? What are the terms for this ‘new’ contract?
On October 21, 2016, occupants received a two-month ultimatum to leave the complex following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Agbowo Mall Infrastructure Development Company Limited for the commencement of rehabilitation.
Scores of the tenants responded with a protest and sieged the government secretariat a few miles away, carrying placards demanding justice and pleading for mercy at the same time. The tenants complained that six weeks after the closure of the building, nothing had happened. They feared that the 2016 announcement would turn out just like the 2012’s. If it did, they do not want to be left rueing their decisions to leave when they could make some more money to fend for their financial obligations.
Our visit to Agbowo Shopping complex in May 2017 only confirmed the concerns of the business owners. Seven months after the MOU was signed, no construction or any efforts at such were visible in the complex. With only 23 months left to the end of Ajimobi’s administration, how much can we hold him to the promise of a 30-month renovation project?
During our visitation, we met Daddy Tola who owned one of the biggest bookshops in the complex. He appeared quite helpless and frustrated as he struggled to open the door of his shop. He did not mind answering a few questions from us about the state of the complex. He said:
“Ever since Ajimobi started his problem, no sales again. When the economy was good, the government did nothing, is it now that the economy has collapsed that the government wants to renovate here? If you know you do not have the means to renovate it, then why are you disturbing people? Look at my shop, it used to be filled but now look how scanty it has become, I had to pack everything out. Even, personally, I am not well; my personal health is in danger because of all these problems. One become hypertensive because you always have to be on alert whether the government is coming again to disturb you. You run about, trying to save yourself on one hand and your business on the other hand. You see I have been conducting business here for more than 15 years. My father owns this place initially before he died and I took over.”
“The complex is in such a bad state because there is no management. See, the people in government don’t have the interest to renovate this building, all they want is to do is to embezzle funds.
“There is a management in theory and that is the Housing Corporation of Oyo state. But in practical sense of it, there is no management because the corporation has done nothing to save the face of this place,” he added.
About whether the government was actually generating money from the complex, he replied, “Of course, the government was generating money from this place before. When Ajimobi came in as Governor, he scattered everything, he stopped every one of us from paying and ordered us to leave. At the end of the day, that really birthed many problems for many of the traders here. See, as I am talking to you here, I am not myself, over this complex issue; so many lives have been lost out of panic and unnecessary stress. People have been here building business for decades and you suddenly come one day and ordered them to leave. That is unfair. See, I lost my father on this issue. We already know for certain, the economy was bad, low sales is there and to cap it all, the government came with its bad decision of sending everybody away, how many things will you be thinking at the same time. The whole stress and anxiety that government-backed security forces are coming to send people out contributed greatly to my father’s death.
“You see, whether you like it or not, the Governor knows he will not reap from this project that is the exact reason he’s been very lackadaisical about it. That is why he does not care. We are all human beings, he knew his tenure is already over and whatever sacrifice he will be making he will not get to benefit, that is why he has decided to abandon this complex.”
“The complex was built during an executive administration of the state and whether you like it or not, this complex is a legacy, a worthy one that has been badly managed. Now, let’s be sincere to ourselves, can you mention any worthy, relevant project the governor has done since he became a Governor? What worthy legacies has his six-year rule brought to the state? To me, he has scored very terribly on that.”
As we were about leaving, he called us back and took us inside the shop as if he wanted to make a big revelation. He started, “I know the complex is in a very bad state but the rot is largely on the exterior part and that is because of the poor management. Come inside, look at inside this shop very well, is there anything that needs to do with renovation? Of course, no. So, the problem is with the exterior part of the buildings”.
We met another trader and asked him how long he had been in the complex and the state of business. He replied,
“I have been here for seven years. Selling computers and solar devices. Actually we started with the computers initially, it was later we added the solar stuffs.”
“With the current economy, sales have been very terrible and we are really not finding it funny,” he lamented.
We asked him whether the decision of the government to renovate the complex has in anyway affected them, he replied, “It has really affected us. It affected us greatly, now our goods are very scanty because customers are no longer coming around.”
About whether the move is sincere, he opined, “Well, to me, I don’t think the state government is sincere at all in its move. The state government is not sincere. Even if the government wants to renovate this place as the governor and his officials have promised then they should have started a very long time ago. For the past five years, they have been singing they want to renovate, they want to renovate but nothing has been done, they are killing the business for us!
We also noticed that the barricade constructed at all the entrances have been removed. We asked him how that happened. “Well, as regards the deconstruction of the barricade, we should really thank the Agbowo Shopping Complex Tenants Association; they took a lot of steps in that regard”.
For the umpteenth time, barricades have gone up again at the Agbowo Shopping Complex. Blue corrugated sheets now line the complex’s fences. Nine months after the government’s announcement in October, hammers and nails are leading the charge of a purported rehabilitation of the complex.
And just in front of the complex is a small board with the picture of the Number one citizen in the state smiling under a bold caption: FOUNDER OF THE MODERN OYO STATE celebrating six years of “Koseleri” (it has not happened before). But it is largely unclear to know what the Governor is exactly celebrating, six years of administration? Or six years of achievements?
Indeed, there are many questions for th e Ajimobi’s administration, but for Agbowo Shopping Complex, the question is one, when? Ajimobi has just barely 23 months to the end of his administration as Governor. This is a renovation that was designed to last through 30 months and not less than 7 months have been expended in doing nothing. Will this be the beginning of Agbowo’s return to its position as a stronghold of economic activity in Ibadan, or is this yet another rendition of a hackneyed political display?
Only Time Will Tell.
Below are pictures taken from the complex. All pictures were taken by Rufai Sodiq.