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Cocoa House: 50+ years standing strong

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By Abraham Adekunle

The first skyscraper in West Africa was first dubbed “ilé àwọn àgbẹ̀.”

Nigeria has many notable monuments in all the geopolitical zones in the country. Some of them are stadiums, commercial centers and parks, etc. One of them is the Cocoa House. It is a legacy that was left by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba nationalist and the premier of the defunct Western Region of Nigeria from October 1, 1954, to October 1, 1960. The building was proposed by Awolowo to be built with allocations from the proceeds of agricultural products, particularly cocoa.

In the 1950s and 60s, cocoa production and export accounted for industrial growth and rapid socio-economic development of areas where it was produced. Revenue from cocoa then formed a major part of funds used to finance education, health services, infrastructure, telecommunication, and provision of basic amenities. So, Chief Awolowo proposed the building of an iconic structure that will be named after the revenue-generating source. The construction was contracted to Cappa and D’Alberto and it was commissioned in August 1965.

Cocoa House stands at 100meters+ tall, once the tallest Nigerian building.

The building was completed in 1965 at a height of about 105 meters. During that time, it was once the tallest building in the country. Also, Cocoa House was the first skyscraper in West Africa. It is located at Dugbe, a major commercial center in the Ibadan area of Oyo State. Initially, the name that was given to it was “Ilé Àwọn Àgbẹ̀” (Yoruba for “the House of Farmers”). The name was later changed to Cocoa House because it was built from revenue generated from the export of cocoa in the period. Some have also said that it was named that because a cocoa tree was planted in front of the building beside a water fountain.

This 26-story building belongs to the Odua Investment Company Limited. It is managed by Wemabod Estates Limited, a subsidiary of Odua Group of Companies. The building has 26 floors, about four elevators, a basement and a total land area of 1.7 hectares. The building became not only a source of joy for indigenes and residents of Ibadan but also a trigger for Ibadan’s growing popularity as of then. It is also one of the legacies which was established during the regime of the then Western Region government and which still stands strong today. Over the years, the look of the building has changed, though it still serves different purposes to different people.

Gutted by fire in 1985, renovated in 1992.

On January 9, 1985, 20 years after the commissioning of the building, Cocoa House was gutted by fire. It was allegedly caused by sparks from electricity wires. Occupants and workers in the building ran for dear life and scampered for safety. The fire burnt down everything in the building and left a skeleton-like structure for years after. This caused the indigenes and concerned citizens of the country much sorrow. The building lost its beauty and grace to the inferno.

However, in 1992, Cocoa House was renovated and opened for commercial use again. The structural integrity of the building and the quality of materials that were used in constructing it ensured that it stood strong despite the inferno. This is one of the reasons why Cocoa House will still be respected for a very long time, even after a century of its commission. A large shopping mall has now been built beside it. At the Cocoa House, you could see a movie at the Cocoa Mall, visit the Odua Museum or eat out at the Kokodome Restaurant.

Even after 50+ years, the building still stands strong.

Probably a contrasting situation that makes people appreciate Cocoa House more is the “Ikoyi Building Collapse.” The incident is one that leaves a lot to be desired about the construction sector as well as the real estate industry in the country. The building’s giving way to weak pillars and thin concrete slabs might be a testament to the construction of structures with inadequate or inferior building materials. However, after 57 years of existence, it is clear that Cocoa House was not only built with quality materials but also by experts in the construction industry.

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