Today, Cocoa House Ibadan is 50 years old
When Cappa and D’Alberto, a European construction giant, turned the sod on the soil of what is known today as the Central Business District (CBD) of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital in 1961, only a few elite in the government knew that a skyscraper that would become a source of pride for the Yoruba was to be born.
Standing strong and towering above every other building around, and in the entire city, Cocoa House is one building that continues to mould business, commerce and tourism in the city and the state.
Without oil money or federal allocation of any sort, the 25-storey superstructure was among the heavy projects undertaken and completed from cocoa proceeds by the defunct Western Region of Nigeria. Others, which were constructed to prepare the region for modern socio-economic activities and bring Western civilisation to the Yoruba nation, include the Western Nigerian Television (WNTV) and the Liberty Stadium (now Obafemi Awolowo Stadium). With the projects, the government, led by the late chiefs Obafemi Awolowo and Ladoke Akintola, became the most outstanding in the history of Nigeria.
Subsequent administrations have not only been unable to surpass their feats, they have been unable to meet the standards laid by the performance of the two late leaders.
Today, the current owners, Odu’a Investments Company Limited, can roll out drums to celebrate the success of its founding fathers over Cocoa House as it continues to render relevant contributions to the growth of business, commerce and tourism, 50 years after.
Cocoa House, an imposing building, stands on a total land area of over 1.7 hectares in a fenced enclosure tagged “Cocoa House Complex.” It perches at the heart of the Central Business District (CBD) and surrounded by regional headquarters and branches of banks, multi-nationals and major business organisations.
The 25-storey building is made up of a ground floor, 23 floors, a pent house and basement with two functioning lifts serving the floors.
Two years ago, the pent house was converted to a museum christened “Odu’a Historical Museum and Hall of Fame.” It was inaugurated by the Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka.
The complex also comprises three-storey annexes named “Kokodome Restaurant” used for office and commercial purposes. It has two floor annexes with a functional swimming pool supported with relaxation bays and other amenities.
Cocoa House was inaugurated on July 30, 1965 by the then Premier of Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who was the Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yoruba land.
The monument is described by municipal numbering as Number 1, Bank Road within the CBD. It stands at a vantage position on the major J-Allen Junction where Obafemi Awolowo Road, Oba Adebimpe Road and Iyaganku/Abeokuta Road converge.
Prominent landmark within the highbrow neighbourhood which features the highest prime properties include the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) building, First Bank Regional Headquarters, Skye Bank, United Bank for Africa (UBA), Zenith Bank and local construction giant, Kopek Construction Limited.
The regional headquarters of the Nigerian Postal Service sits opposite the building while the regional headquarters of the Federal Radio Corporation is adjacent to it. Behind it is the Ibadan Business School of the Lead City University while the popular Aje House and Broking House are within the 500 meter radius.
Currently, Cocoa House is 100 per cent owned and managed by Odu’a Investments Coy Limited. The company, which later metamorphosed into a conglomerate playing in several sectors of the economy, was fully incorporated in July, 1976 to take over the business interest of the former Western Region of Nigeria, comprising Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti states. It commenced business on October 1, 1976.
The company has its group headquarters on floors 20-23 with her historical museum and Hall of Fame sited at the pent house.
Like any important project, Cocoa House went through its own bad time when it was engulfed by fire on January 9, 1985, 20 years after it heralded a new vista in business and commerce in the South West Region.
But three years after the setback, renovation work begun. The exercise was completed in 1992. The restoration and modification exercise was undertaken by Cappa and D’Alberto PLC as the main contractor, Adebayo and Adebayo as the architects, Adeleye and Partners Interlink Consult as civil/structural engineers, Kabeaco Associates as mechanical engineers and Molecular Consultants and Associates as electrical engineers.
Immediately after its completion in 1965, Cocoa House attracted thousands of tourists who stood bewildered at the sight of the imposing building. It was the first of its kind in Nigeria.
Farmers, whose sweat indirectly produced funds for the building, trooped to Dugbe in large number to catch a glimpse of the new magic building tagged: Ile Awon Agbe (farmers’ building).
After visiting the sky scrapper, it was common for the visiting farmers to describe it as ‘awo si fila’ (a house that makes cap to fall off while attempting to see its full length).
Cocoa House was then the tallest building in tropical Africa. Hence, it has been a major source of pride for the Yoruba.
It was built from proceeds from commodities chief of which was cocoa. Hence, it was renamed Cocoa House. Other commodities include rubber and timber. They are all farm produce which were the sources of wealth of the Western State Government. Agriculture was the mainstay of government’s economy.
Wearing chocolate colour which communicates cocoa, the source of its finance, Cocoa House has since maintained an impressive presence in the district, still affirming the leadership ingenuity of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his team.
From the 25-storey building, an aerial view of the city reveals a sprawling Ibadan with its seven historic rocky hills that once tucked the town. They were later swallowed in view by rapid expansion of the city in the 20th Century. Ibadan is the largest city south of Sahara.
Historically, the city was the place where the armies of Ibadan unified to defeat the Fulani Caliphate in 1840 when they attempted to expand further into the southern region of modern-day Nigeria.
But the January 9, 1985 inferno forced business organisations that occupied it to relocate. The fire incident dealt a heavy blow on its beauty, importance and splendour, just as it also battered its economic strength. It brought tears to the eyes of many Yoruba, thinking that a major achievement of the Awolowo leadership and a major pride of the region had been destroyed. It lay in ruins for seven years before it was rehabilitated for use in August, 1992.
The rehabilitation notwithstanding, businesses refused to return fully to the building due to poor performance of facilities such as lift, water and electricity supply.
The latest renovation was undertaken by the business arm of the Western State Government, Odu’a Investments Company Limited, which was also occupying floors 20, 21 and 22 as at the time of the fire incident.
The conglomerate put the building back in shape in 2010. The company joined other tenants by occupying the topmost flours of the building to demonstrate confidence in the new facilities and attract more clients.
The new facilities, among others, include installation of two new KONE lifts to complement the existing ones, installation of a new 800 KVA electricity generating set to serve as an alternative power supply, uninterrupted water supply scheme with installed capacity of 200,000 litres, construction of new sewage treatment plant, expanded car park space and seven-days-a-week security surveillance.
The renovation and occupation by both owners and tenants have kept the building in good shape and functional for business activities.
Occupants of the building include African Independent Television (AIT), mobile phone retailers, travel agents, public relation firms, educational consultancy firms and other business concerns.
Cocoa House also retains its attraction for tourism in the city with its aesthetic splendour and central location.
Its fortune recently soared by the conversion of the former Odu’a Group headquarters and the former Sketch premises to a massive modern shopping mall named Heritage/Cocoa Mall. They are both located beside Cocoa House in the complex. The anchor tenant in the N3 billion malls, Shoprite, is the next door neighbour to Cocoa House.
The location of the malls has increased human traffic around Cocoa House to add to its prominence.
The current Group Managing Director (GMD) of the conglomerate, Mr Adewale Raji, described the monument as the symbol of pride for the Yoruba nation; being the first skyscraper in Nigeria.
He, however, posited that Cocoa House should have been replicated in other states in the region as a way of building on the efforts of the founding fathers.
On how better the building can be in the nearest future, Raji said: “I believe we need to enhance the value to be the first choice in Ibadan for office accommodation, business, leisure and entertainment. We, as an organisation, are committed to achieving it by collaborating with the Oyo State Government to lift up the CBD for business and entertainment.”
On the goal and efforts of the conglomerate to reposition the entire business, Raji said: “Odu’a Group is poised for a better future to transform over the next five years to a successful business conglomerate that every Yoruba son and daughter will be proud of, based on its mantra of growth, profitability and sustainability.”
The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission currently occupies the 10th floor of the building.
Reminiscing on the historical monument, the Director-General of the commission, Mr Dipo Famakinwa, said: ”The story around Cocoa House in those days was very fascinating, and of course, must be to a young person who grew up to be proud of his heritage, especially through the stories that he was told by older people.
“The sight of Cocoa House then, one of the very few high-rise buildings in Nigeria, sitting majestically in Dugbe, was something to behold. And in school, one of the popular questions then was always for us to mention the first high-rise in West Africa, and the answer of course was Cocoa House. My perception of Cocoa House then was a building that manifested the industry, the resourcefulness and the possibility of a future that should be bright.”
Famakinwa expressed satisfaction with the growth and management of the building over the years in spite of the travails it went through, and which consumed many public utilities that came after it.
“It is a sort of testimony. That it is standing in spite of the travails of the past is a feat. It could have been sold cheaply, it could have failed to rise from the fire that consumed it at some point and it could have fallen completely decrepit. But today, it is not.
“That it is today housing the office of DAWN Commission, the body managing the integration of the states of Western Nigeria makes me proud indeed. And every time we host meetings and events involving officials of the region, I like to remind them of the fact that Cocoa House is home. As a matter of fact, the building works – the elevators, the water system, the power system and the entire basic infrastructure for convenience and comfort still work and that is heart-warming.” he said.
Aside foreseeing a situation where the most important corporate institutions in the region have their offices in the building in the nearest future, Famakinwa insisted: “Cocoa House must continue to inspire great possibilities and reinforce the essence of our collective industry and enterprise beyond even Nigeria.”
But he believes that the Cocoa House idea with its economic importance should be replicated across the region to galvanise its socio-economic potential.
His words: “The fact that we have failed to replicate many of such in the region is a sign that there is still so much more to be done across the states of Southwest Nigeria. We must not only have Cocoa House, but in the future, we must have structures and monuments that continue to show that we can do better than we are currently doing. We must not just have a Cocoa House, but Cotton House in Ogun, Aqua-Marine House in Lagos, Innovations House in Osun, Energy House in Ondo, Agbeloba House in Ekiti – all of them signposting that we are a proud people of purpose.
“Cocoa House challenges us all. It continues to remind us that we have lagged behind the successes of our forebears and it tells us that come what may, we must not lose sight of the great work that is ahead of us all. I and the organisation that I lead, DAWN Commission, are indeed proud that today we are beneficiary of the vision that the building represents, and we have an opportunity to leave our own footprints in the sands of time.”
This story was originally published by The Nation Newspapers, I culled it from there