Although it is still imposing in size, its sight, however, tells a gory state of how Nigeria manages its real estate assets – the Ministry of Defence complex, popularly called Independence House, located in the heart of the Lagos Island, Lagos State.
Worst still, there is perhaps a conspiracy of silence over the ownership status of the once upon ‘pride of the nation,’ as officials of the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry, supposed landlord of the complex, claim ignorance of their right.
The state of comatose has further thickens cloud of uncertainty over this monument, which should have been a major revenue to the nation, if not abandoned and left unoccupied by either its owners.
It was the first high rise building in Nigeria; completed in 1960 just as Nigeria gained its independence from its British colonial masters.
And for those who see diamond in the discoloured complex, they have not only lamented the present state of the property, but have said the building still remains one of the best real estate investments in Nigeria. Consequently, they urged the Federal Government to either commercialise or dispose it.
Standing on 23 floors above the ground level and at an estimated height of 103 metres (338ft), it was rightly named ‘The Indepedence House’.
The Independent House marked the end of the colonial era, as it symbolised the lowering of the Union Jack and the raising of the Nigerian Flag, the clear representation of the end of the British rule and ushering in a new era of self governance with a promise to leave a lasting legacy for generations of Nigerians yet unborn. It thus became the very first federal secretariat, housing several ministries in the years following Independence, when Lagos Island served as both the State and Federal capital respectively.
It would subsequently be renamed as the Ministry of Defense building under the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida and in 1993 it was gutted by fire under suspicious circumstances. That singular event is believed to be the beginning of the decline, deterioration and subsequent abandonment of the monumental building that today remains in a state of disrepair despite several contract awards for its renovation over the years. Thus, the once glorious edifice on Broad Street, Lagos Island, at best lies abandoned, a shadow of its old self and possibly home to persons of questionable character.
A government approval secured in 2004 for the renovation and transformation of the building to a World Trade and International Business Centre (WTIBC) notwithstanding, the fortunes of the magnificent property is yet to change. The project proposed for management by the Tafawa Balewa Square Management Board (TBSMB), an agency under the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry never materialised.
However, it paved the way for the handing over of the building from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, (Industry, Trade and Investment) which officially took place sometime in October 2009.
Designed to be a private enterprise effort in collaboration with the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission the goal was to ensure that the building is redeveloped to international standards.
Sadly, seven years on, this fact seems lost on all the staff of the ministry, including the Director of Press, Mr. Greene Anosike, Mrs. Idowu also of the press department, the Director General Services named simply as Mr. Adesola, and the permanent secretary, Mr. Aminu Aliyu Bisalla.
The Guardian, through mobile phone contacted all of them but the same reaction of total ignorance after the fact was the response. Adesola, who is in charge of all the ministry’s buildings /facilities sought to, among other things, know if that was even possible in the first place.
“Please, how did you get this information so that I can look in that direction to know if it is really true that the building has been handed over to the Ministry of Industry Trade and Investments? He queried. He equally sought to know where the property is located in Lagos pleading non-residency in Lagos State.
When completed, the proposed World Trade Centre will boast such facilities as office suites, hotels, exhibition floors, conference suites, leisure and business facility, government agencies, among others.
However, although it is widely believed that the project is a potentially successful business venture going by such factors as the building’s structure, its strategic location, and current trends in Lagos State commercially speaking as well as the rapid development potentials, several estate surveyors are of different views.
They argued that the building has lost too much ground to the dilapidation process as a result of the years of abandonment. They have suggested that the government should either commercialise it or sell it off.
“Government should commercialise it because there is limited space on the Island. No income has been coming from it all these years and it is depreciating in value. Also, abandoned properties such as the Independence Building harbor all sorts of criminals, which is not good for our security.
Government, should actually be very careful with such things. So, they should either sell it or get someone to manage it and it will become a source of income for government. The location is very attractive but whoever buys it will spend heavily to transform it,” said Mr. Kunle Oshodi of the Kunle Oshodi and Company firm.
Mr. Ehondor Erhabor of Knight Frank Estate Agency simply said: Sell it. “Government should discard any thought or idea of spending tax payers’ scarce resources on resuscitating the building,” he further stated.
They equally suggested a thorough evaluation of the property to determine its status and actual market value.