Explore the history of Nigeria’s Cocoa House, the first skyscraper in West Africa

Cocoa House
Cocoa House and its surroundings,

In the mid-1900s, the decolonization of Africa took place. Many countries and territories gained their freedom and independence from European superpowers.

This meant total self-rule, with the control and management of countries and their resources in the hands of Africans for the first time in centuries. As such, it heralded the arrival of developmental projects and monuments by some governments and private entities in a bid to improve the livelihood of the citizenry, some of which are still standing today.

One of such monuments is the Cocoa House of Ibadan, Nigeria, the first skyscraper in tropical Africa and then the tallest building in Nigeria and West Africa when it was built.

Standing at 26 storeys high, the building has a height of about 105 meters and a land area of 1.7 hectares and is the first known skyscraper in tropical Africa, in the heart of Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria.

Cocoa House

The idea for the building was proposed by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He led the Action Group (A.G) to embark on the project, contracting Cappa and D’Alberto with no support or allocations from the federal government but only using cocoa proceeds as cocoa was at the centre of exportation.

Cappa and D’Alberto are said to be the oldest construction firm in the country, a team of building and civil engineers operating in Nigeria since 1932, noted for iconic buildings like Mobil house, Victoria Island; Diamond Bank, Lekki, Lagos; Bella’s Place, Victoria Island.

In 1964, the building was completed and on July 30, 1965, it was inaugurated and commissioned for use.

The initial name given to the building was ‘Ile Awon Agbe’, translating from Yoruba to ‘the house of farmers’ in English. The name was later changed to Cocoa House because it was built with proceeds from cocoa exportation and also because there was a cocoa tree planted in front of the building just beside a water fountain.

The building, belonging to the Odua Investment Company Limited, became a source of joy and pride for the residents of Ibadan and Nigeria as a whole.

On January 9, 1985, almost 20 years after its opening, the entire building was gutted by fire, rendering it dilapidated and unusable. Many lives were lost and a lot more were injured. Renovations on the building caused it to remain closed to the general public until 1992 when it was fully repaired and opened once again for commercial use.

Today, the building houses offices for major firms and broadcasting outfits, with the last floor reserved for the Odua Museum and Hall of Fame which was commissioned by Professor Wole Soyinka in 2013.

Cocoa House

The building has been in the news recently following sightings of smoke from the fourth floor which was reminiscent of the fire disaster of 1985. Workers in the building were seen rushing out for their safety, away from the source of the smoke.

Reports after the sighting indicated that the smoke was caused by a faulty engine that was started on the fourth floor, causing a spark of fire and emitting smoke.

The Group Head of Corporate Affairs of Odua Investment, Victor Ayetoro, assured the people that no damage was done to the building, no lives were lost and that the building is in good shape and will be for a long time.