Agbowo Shopping Complex, built under the administration of the late Bola Ige in 1983, has often been symbolic of what happens when successive administrations abandon the vision of their predecessors. This and other moribund buildings and public companies also remind us of mismanagement and waste of available resources.
The structure used to be the rallying point for people in Ibadan who want an all in one experience of shopping and getting entertained. But it gradually decayed and became a shadow of itself. As each successive administration came and went, Agbowo remained a symbol of the failure of public officers to evolve in their thinking or to follow up their thinking with action.
The fact remains that Agbowo is a relic of the thinking of the era in which it was built. In 1983, Oyo State came under a social democracy when they voted in representing the Unity Party of Nigeria. The party ran under the principles of a welfarist state. And so, most of the decisions taken by the party revolved around government providing, often for free or at minimal costs, the needs of the people who cannot afford it.
While this may have worked in 1983 when the Nigerian economy was more robust, Social Democracy takes its toll when some components are mismanaged. The building is also symbolic of the truth behind the saying that government should not be involved in the day-to-day running of a commercial enterprise.
When Governor Seyi Makinde spoke about the AgbowoShopping Complex on assuming office, many people were expecting not just words but action. In fact, a section of the populace was so intent on getting action on Agbowo that they claimed the governor had said he would rebuild Agbowowithin his first 100 days. But they were disappointed when it appeared nothing was being done.
In January 2020, Daily Trust Newspaper reported on the state of affairs in the complex. The report talked about the economic waste of prime property which used to have “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.” In addition, it adduced that the building as an economic hub provided about 5,000 jobs for the populace.
It is on record that on October 12, 2016, the APC led Ajimobi administration tried to revive Agbowo Shopping Complex by signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the AgbowoMall Infrastructure Development Company Limited. The N8 Billion arrangement had a completion date of Q1 2019. Unfortunately, that MOU did not advance beyond the paper it was written on.
In fact, by July 2019, Honorable Babajide Adebayo of Ibadan North II constituency presented a motion before the Oyo State Assembly titled, “An appeal for the evaluation and renovation of Agbowo Shopping Complex Towards Boosting the Internal Generated Revenue of Oyo State,” calling for a probe into why the project never took off under the Ajimobi administration.
So, it was with great joy that the people of Oyo State trooped out in their hundreds to witness Governor Seyi Makinde carry out a symbolic handover of the Agbowo Shopping Complex to new concessionaires. In his speech on that occasion, Makinde stated that the Oyo State Government would be working with Messrs Whitestone Global Ltd on the project.The company were offered a long lease concession of fifty years in exchange for a capital injection of N4.9 Billion. They will be converting the structure, which has hitherto become a den of thieves and vagabonds, into “premium commercial real estate and a 4-star hotel.”
Critics may have issues with the length of the lease which looks more like a sale than a lease considering the capital sum injected. More importantly, in a country where governments are not renowned for honouring obligations of past administrations, the concessionaires may find themselves in a battle in the future. We believe that Whitestone Global Ltd is heading into this deal with their two eyes open and it must be a win for them or else they wouldn’t get involved.
It most certainly is a win for the Oyo State government who have finally done in four years what the previous administration could not do in eight years. And going by what has been done on the complex so far, this is the real deal. According to the governor, the concessionaires have given the assurance that in 104 weeks, the Agbowo Shopping Complex will become functional again.
Oyo Affairs gives Governor Seyi Makinde a hat tip for his move in resuscitating not just the Agbowo Shopping complex but other moribund public assets. For example, the Pacesetter Quarry and Asphalt Plant, Ijaiye, handed over to CarboncorRoad Technology Ltd as concessionaires in May 2020, is already in operation. It is producing the asphalt being used in road constructions in Oyo State. More recently, he has also handed over Pacesetter Fruit Processing Limited to AgvestLimited. The company has promised to start operations in less than six months.
Admirers of the Oyo State Governor often say, “it is not easy to be Seyi Makinde,” in response to critics whom they feel are unnecessarily impugning him. If Governor Seyi Makindecontinues on this trajectory, then it really would near impossible for a coalition of the opposition to unseat him should he choose to recontest in 2023.