…From The Proceeds Of COCOA
In Ibadan, everybody knows Cocoa House. Even outside that ancient city, many have heard about Cocoa House. The story of Cocoa House was taught in schools all over Nigeria in the 70s, 80s and even 90s. Years back, it was the tallest building in Nigeria and across West Africa. It is a 26-storey building that is 105-metre in height, that dwarfed other buildings in its neighbourhood. It was commissioned in 1965, as ile a wo sifila. This literally, means a house one could not behold its magnificence unless you look up, which could make a loose cap fall off wearer’s head.
The building stands protruding into the empty space towards the cloud, ready literally to touch the sky, but for its height that falls short of toucing the sky. It was a symbolic master piece that signaled Nigeria’s readiness to embrace modernity and keep pace with European and the United States of America’s (USA) architectural development and standard. The edifice blazed the trail in modern architecture in Nigeria as it boosted commercial and socio-economic value of the suburb that played host to it. Tourism too benefited as the region earn more money from the modern House situated at Dugbe.
Dugbe was the first modern market that started on a slab in the ancient city. The Ibadan railway station was (is) close by, not to talk of Assyrian and Lebanese, Cocoa Merchants merchants, who had their warehouses, where they stored their consignments of agricultural produce in the neighbourhood. To complete the commercial domination of the area, there was the Gbagi Market, cloth market that boasted supermarkets and, of course, different modern stores that were evidence of Nigeria’s contact with European standard of civilization. The rail line made (makes transportation produce to the coast easy, while consignment of imported goods were easily delivered to the importing merchants’ warehouses.
Cocoa House was a product of a sound mind that initiated a comprehensive developmental policy geared towards making an unprecedented fortune from the enterprise that would positively rub on other spheres of life and people. All these commercial features were what the 26-stoery building added more value to. The house was a bold statement in setting the standard of the first world class housing in the Western region of Nigeria, a back water Third World country. At the time the prodigy house was commissioned, it could be rightly tagged an edifice in a jungle. The presence of the building in the mid 60’s, however, beckoned other modern buildingsthat changed the architectural setting of the area and spurred Ibadan in a race that could make Nigeria, a satellite colonial nation rivaled any cosmopolitan country and rub shoulders with any first world nation. Cocoa House that was an evidence of developmental value chain aimed at giving the defunct Western region a robust foundation on which other developmental projects would rise, in such a way that one project would complement another to the eternal glory of the region.
Cocoa House, that was initially called Ile Awon Agbe, House of Farmers, was built from proceeds’ earned from exporting cocoa beans. A symbolic cocoa tree, however, stood in front of the edifice, and reflected in its magnificence in a pool of water that surrounded a fountain. Credit for what could be described as an unprecedented tempo of development in Nigeria rightly went to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The premier was the brain and the leader of a group behind the stunning development race that made other regions in the country turned yellow with envy. In the developmental package were 20 farm settlements backed up with five agricultural institutes that would facilitate making farming profitable and attractive to young educated men. The products of the agricultural institutes would go into farming as a career. The production of those who could be called modern farmers by the institutes were ready to make the policy realize its objective were in place too.
The contract for the house was awarded by the National Investment and Property Company (NIPC) to Messers Cappa and D’Allerto. The firm established by two Italians, menPietro Carlo Cappa and Vigino D’Alberto was a leading building and Civil Engineering company that came to Nigeria in 1932. The NIPC had four directors and shareholders. They were: Dr. Akinola Maja, who was the chairman; Chief Alfred Rawane, Chief S. O. Sonibare, secretary-cum managing director, and Chief S. O. Gbadamosi, a rich merchant from Ikorodu. The NIPC was floated to source funds that would make financing the Action Group, the party that was running the government of the Western Region ,ease. There was even crisis over the true owners of Cocoa House after it was commissioned in 1965 by the incumbent premier, the Late Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola.
Coincidentally, it was commissioned on the premier’s birthday. At the time, Awolowo was away in Calabar Prison after he was convicted for treasonable felony. Despit Awo’s misfortune, no one could take away the credit of building a honey pot that would always generate revenue for the government The motive for building the giant house was to expand sources of revenue generation that would make sure that fund would not be a challenge in the quest of Action Group to fulfill its obligation on its course of achieving its planned political goals.
With the completion of edifice, called Cocoa House, the Western Region government had set a pace that was very difficult for other regional government in Nigeria to match. The building was completed and ready for delivery to NIPC in July, 1964, but was not commissioned till 1965. Cocoa House could not only be called commercial enterprise, it was also a tourist centre that could generate more revenue from its tourist value. Cocoa House was however, been relegated to a second position in term of building height in 1979 when NECM building appeared in the horizon of Lagos Island. It was a 32-floor house that was made the headquarters of NITEL