Contractors protest non-payment for services as remodeling of Agbowo Complex stalls
• Mother With Hole-In-The-Heart Baby Among Protesters, Claims She Needs Fund To Save Ward’s Life
About two years ago, Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, leased the popular Agbowo Shopping complex in Ibadan to Whitestone Global Limited for 50 years. The lease arrangement was to see the massive edifice, which was once an economic hub in the state capital, renovated, reconstructed, and remodelled.
Speaking at the flag-off, Makinde noted that many administrations had tried unsuccessfully to renovate the facility. He said the lease, which would see the investor inject about an N4.9billion, was expected to convert the moribund structure into premium commercial real estate and a 4-star hotel.
The 36-year-old mall, Makinde recalled, was once the biggest shopping mall in the State, which not only generated income for the government but also provided thousands of direct jobs for the citizenry.
“In its heydays, it had a massive arts and film theatre hall, department stores, night club, and several large offices. It was one of the visions of the late Chief Bola Ige-led administration, which served as a unique economic hub.
“Our administration understands that the only business that government should have in business is to create a conducive environment and the needed support for private enterprises to thrive. And this is what we are doing. You will readily agree that the injection of N4.9 Billion into the State economy is an economic stimulus in the short term that will translate to broader benefits in the long run,” the governor said.
At the time, Governor Makinde promised that “in 24 months, that is 104 weeks, this complex will be ready for business. Messrs Whitestone Global Ltd has given us this assurance.”
To be sure, Agbowo Complex is home to such facilities as 84 shopping units, 10-storey office blocks and banking halls, three departmental stores, a cafeteria, a nightclub, a 540-seater cinema theatre and 15 groceries shops. So, Makinde’s promise of its resurrection gladdened many a heart. But, two years on, it is still tales of disappointment that are emanating from the facility located opposite the University of Ibadan.
Last week, some group of sub-contractors staged a peaceful protest at the complex, demanding the urgent intervention of Governor Makinde. They specifically asked the governor to direct whoever is concerned to pay them money owed for materials they supplied for the reconstruction, rehabilitation and renovation of the Complex. The protesters were led by Femtech Resource Global International Limited, Rotund Domus Enterprises, Adediran Adefemi Samson, Edo Awayie, Abiodun Popoola & Co, and Omolara Ogunbiyi, among others.
In their petition, titled, ‘Save our soul: Fraudulent activities of Connect Multiplus Construction Ltd. in collaboration with Pavillon Engineering Construction Co. Ltd./Grenner Construction Co. Ltd./Greener Portion International (Nig) Ltd., concessioner of Agbowo Shopping Complex and non-payment of jobs at Agbowo Shopping Complex,’ the protesters called on Governor Makinde to compel the contractor, Toyin Owonubi, to whom Oyo State concessioned the Agbowo Shopping Complex, to pay their debts.
The petition reads in part: “The fraudulent intention and act of wickedness were meted to we, citizens of Oyo State, and some other subcontractors/suppliers through Connect Multiplus Construction Limited under the leadership of Architect Toyin Owonubi in collaboration with Pavillon Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd, led by Engineer Obafemi Olufowora (Project Engineer/Manager), whom the state government awarded the concession to remodel/renovate/reconstruct and also manage Agbowo Shopping Complex for 50 years through the Oyo State Investment & Public Private Partnership Agency, on December 23, 2020.
“The company has refused to pay us for the job/supplies done since January 2021 till date while all efforts to persuade Architect Owonubi to affect our payment yielded no result. It sounds embarrassing/disgusting for us to hear Architect Owonubi saying it was Engineer Olufowora of Pavillon Engineering & Construction Co. Ltd that engaged our service and that we should go and collect our payment from him despite the fact that Engineer Olufowara stands in for Connect Multiplus Construction Limited in executing the project to its current level.”
They also alleged that some of the materials, which they supplied and were yet to be paid for, are being sold without their consent. “Mr. Governor, please investigate the matter. We staged this protest as a last resort, having been to the Government House several times until the security operatives refused to grant us further entrance.
“We also approached the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Department of State Service (DSS) and other financial crime institutions but, at every point, we were redirected to approach the governor. Kindly assist us and prevent us from untimely death,” the petition read.
The protesters also said the governor should note that work has stopped on the site for the past five months, adding that development is capable of denting his scorecard/political image in the face of the public.
One of the protesters, Adigun Femi, said they did their best to make the project work. “We supplied many things for the past 18 months and we were not paid. We reported to EFCC, ICPC, DSS and the government office in Room 47. But nothing has been done. The Housing ministry is also aware of the problem and we even met with the current deputy governor.”
Another protester, a nursing mother, Bola Shokunbi, who held her ill daughter, Ise Oluwa, said she supplied 30 tonnes of stone dust and was promised that her money would be ready in two weeks but it is now 18 months since she made the supply.
“I have a baby that had multiple holes in the heart. I need money to always take her for medical check up in Ife and also at UCH due to her health issues that must be corrected before she grows up. But I don’t even have a dime on me. I sold my car to settle some debts,” Shokunbi said.
Tunde Olawale, who represented the shop owners in the Complex, said: “We paid between N1million to N6million. The contractor promised that the shops facing the University would be ready in less than two months and we bought equipment and spent several million to buy goods in anticipation of moving into the shops. But, now, everything is lying waste.”
Several calls were made to the major contractor, Architect Owonubi, but he didn’t answer his calls. Barrister Olalekan Banjo Esq, who was also listed in the petition as project legal, however, told The Guardian he is also looking for Owonubi, like the protesters.
According to him, “The same man has refused to pick my calls after he refused to pay me a dime for the legal work I did for him.”
The State Commissioner for Information, Dr. Wasiu Olatubosun said the contractor is in charge and that the government did not engage the suppliers and therefore cannot intervene now. “Now that it has gone to the public, the government will take appropriate steps.”
Agbowo Shopping Complex was the brainchild of the then-military governor of the Western Region of Nigeria, General David Jemibewon. It was constructed on over 30-plots of land in 1983 by former Governor Bola Ige of the old Oyo State. At the time, it was the biggest shopping mall in Oyo State, equipped with a central air conditioner. The shopping complex had a functional fire fighting office that served it and the entire Agbowo community and environs. The complex generated thousands of jobs.
When the shopping complex became under-utilised, in 2012, the state Housing Corporation removed electricity and withdrew the security men, cleaners, gardeners and other service hands. The beauty of the shopping complex faded and the sprawling estate became a den of hoodlums. Beggars and mentally challenged people also made the complex their home until September 2020, when Governor Makinde flagged off its renovation and remodelling, which seem to have now been stalled.