By Jeremiah Oke
In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, a multi-million naira shopping complex in the heart of the city, which was some years ago the place to be for consumers, is now begging for attention. Agbowo Shopping Complex was at a time the biggest shopping mall in Oyo State, equipped with a central air conditioner and had a cinema house attached to it. It is strategically located a few metres from the Bodija International Market and is directly opposite the University of Ibadan. The two landmarks of the market and university meant that thousands of both consumers in Bodija and the university complex had the Agbowo Shopping Complex at their neighbourhood to patronise for their needs and fun, which included movies. The shopping complex had over 100 shops, and a functional fire fighting office that served not only it but the entire Agbowo community and the environs.
A property developer, Architect Sunday Ifewale, recalled that the shopping complex, at the height of its glory, generated over 5,000 direct jobs.
Ifewale was optimistic that even as decayed as the complex presently is, it is capable of generating over N1 billion if rehabilitated and properly managed, and the open space around is well-utilised. Constructed in 1983 by the Bola Ige administration of the old Oyo State, the main Agbowo Shopping building had a massive arts and film theatre hall, two department stores, a night club, more than 20 large office complex units, an ample vehicle parking space and a conducive environment that fostered economic activities.
Sadly, the building constructed on more than 30 plots of land, has experienced monumental rot over the years, with shrubs now occupying a greater part of the complex. The complex has not only become a hideout for hoodlums, beggars and mentally deranged individuals have also found a home there. Ifewale lamented that a monument that should have continued to drive multi-million naira economic activities in the Agbowo community is now in shambles.
Residents of the community and students of the university who our correspondent spoke with on the situation blamed successive administrations in the state for neglect of the edifice for more than 20 years. Investigation by our correspondent revealed that more than three people had been killed in the complex since the state government allegedly abandoned it.
Our correspondent, who went round the complex, reported that the structure is not only collapsing, it stinks. Hoodlums are occupying of some strategic offices in the building. In an effort to rehabilitate the structure, the immediate former governor of the state, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a consortium of investors, the Agbowo Mall Infrastructure Development Company Limited, for the “remodelling, redeveloping and rehabilitation of Agbowo Shopping Complex” at a cost of N8 billion. That effort did not go beyond the document on which the memorandum was signed.
Also, shortly after his inauguration last year, the incumbent governor, Engineer Oluseyi Makinde, promised to take a definite decision on the issue before his administration marked its 100 days in office. Makinde, who made the remarks while hosting the Council members and Management team of the University of Ibadan in his office, described the Agbowo Shopping complex in its present situation as a “security threat” to the university and residents of Agbowo and promised to make a definite pronouncement on it. That promise is also yet to receive attention. One of the tenants in the complex, who wouldn’t disclose his name, blamed the sorry state of the edifice on the state government, saying, “We don’t want the government to shut down the complex. Unfortunately, as it is now, it is a useful tool for kidnappers and robbers. “The complex has been destroyed for more than 20 years. In 2012, the then government, through the state Housing Corporation, removed electricity in the complex, and withdrew the security men, cleaners, gardeners and other service hands. After that, many people who could afford to get shops in other commercial centres in the city left the complex, while some of us have remained. “We heard that Gov Ajimobi queried the sum of N2bn the Housing Corporation proposed for the renovation of the complex and did not approve it because he was not convinced. He said the Corporation could not give account of the money it had generated since 1983 when the complex was constructed. “I started my business here with over N5 million in 2012, but today, I cannot boast of N1m as we speak. The former Security Adviser to Gov Ajimobi, Mr Bolarinwa, told us to continue to stay in the complex for security reasons. But even at that, some officials at the Housing Corporation had sent security agencies many times to disturb our peace here.
“They have successfully killed the businesses here in the complex. On many occasions, they brought fake security men and even fake contractors to this complex but we told them to follow the right channel. Our problem is that we can’t have an audience with the governor since he assumed office. He was here during the campaign and promised to renovate the complex, but, today, we cannot have access to him. He only listens to what the Housing Corporation officials tell him,” he said.
Another tenant, who also pleaded anonymity, told our correspondent that many of them had invested greatly in the complex and it would be unreasonable for them to leave without a concrete agreement with government, in case it is finally reconstructed. He said, “We cannot just leave here. Many of us had invested hugely here. For instance, I inherited this office complex from my father who had furnished and paid for years in 80s. We stopped paying money recently when government abandoned the complex. We contribute money to take care of cleaning and other expenses here. See, this place is a security threat to government if nothing is done soon. We have heard cases of cultists chasing themselves here in the complex when everybody had gone home. Another point is that the governor must oversee it himself because some people somewhere are using this place to dupe the state government.” Another tenant, while expressing fear on the imminent total abandonment of the mall, recalled that the complex was once generating over 5,000 jobs.
He also revealed that the complex had the highest concentration of internet presence in the state, adding that with proper intervention and purposeful grooming, the complex can become the Oyo state silicon valley.
Efforts to get the comments of the Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism in the state, Dr Wasiu Olatunbosun, on the issue were unsuccessful as he didn’t pick calls by our correspondent to his line, nor did he respond to a message sent to his phone.