The National Provident Fund building, now known as Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) on Essume Street, Iyana Era, along Lagos-Badagry expressway is the perfect definition of a concrete jungle, a colossal waste of resources.
The building, now referred to as Ile Nla (a massive house) by the people of the community, is one of the properties abandoned by the federal government in Lagos. The 18 storey-building has been standing uncompleted for over three decades, serving no purpose other than being a haven for miscreants, who have converted some of its open spaces to their toilet facilities.
Ile-Nla became a victim of Nigeria’s wasteful and poor maintenance culture in the ‘80s during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida, when Lagos served as the country’s Federal Capital Territory.
Conceived during the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1979, the construction of the building started in the early ‘80s, during the Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari-led administration.
According to the locals, the reason for siting the edifice in the area – that was at that time a crude community with no trace of development – was to decongest Lagos Island by moving some headquarters of government agencies away from the seat of the federal government.
Unfortunately, what should have become a source of development to communities along Lagos-Badagry expressway is lying idle and rotting away under the supervision of hoodlums, members of Odua Peoples Congress (OPC) and omo oniles (landowners) in the area.
Pulse saw the rot and abuse of the multi-billion naira property firsthand, during a recent visit. The complex has successfully become a dumpsite where hoodlums and members of the community dump their wastes.
The first two floors of the building are littered with fresh and dry human feaces. One can hardly take a step without stepping on someone’s dung.
Entering the street from Iyana Era, the road that leads to Ile Nla and the surroundings of the building, is dotted with heaps of wastes that attract pigs and scavengers who go to the heaps on a daily basis to collect discarded items.
The front and sides of the building have been rented out to auto-mechanics by Omo Oniles (miscreants who claim to own the land), while the OPC members have found for themselves a space for their weekly meetings around the building, whose value according to experts is worth about N50 billion.
Before OPC members and artisans started using the premises of the building as their workshops, kidnappers, ritualists, armed robbers and cultists had reportedly found the complex useful for their nefarious activities. Even with the presence of artisans around the property, it’s still not a safe place for women and children at night time when the artisans leave the premises.
With weeds taking over the place and graffiti by cultists and hoodlums on the walls of the building, the air of fear and loneliness the atmosphere of Ile Nla evokes makes it a perfect location for horror movies.
Speaking to Pulse about the edifice, an elder in the community, who pleaded anonymity, said the building was abandoned because the government felt it would be a waste of resources to complete it when they realised that the Federal Capital would be moved to Abuja.
He said, “Ile Nla was built by a parastatal of the federal government. They intended to build it as their headquarters, but I think they felt it’s a waste of money to build the headquarters here when they realized that the federal capital would be moved to Abuja. It was IBB that stopped the construction of the building.
“When I came to this community I met it like this, they had stopped working on it. They only completed the postgraduate medical school along Lagos-Badagry expressway, because it had already neared completion at the time they moved Federal Capital to Abuja. I think the idea then was to move some of the parastatals from Lagos Island to this part of the state to decongest Lagos Island.”
In May 2019, The Guardian reported that the National Assembly showed interest in the property. The Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Labour also visited the property and thereafter promised to get back to the NSITF, the government agency that owns the property.
Since the committees reportedly visited the property nine months ago, no concrete effort has been made to revive it, the building remains uncompleted, idle and wasting away.
In a bid to confirm whether the National Assembly or the NSITF has a plan to complete the building and put it to use, Pulse reached out to the Lagos office of the agency, but a lady identified as Ngozi said the Abuja office of the fund is in a better position to provide information about the property.
Pulse called the Abuja office and another representative of the fund said one Kabir Maji and Thankgod Max-Egba are in charge of the properties of the agencies, adding that they can provide necessary information about the edifice.
However, both men refused to say anything concerning the building. While Maji believes Thankgod is most qualified to address the issue, the latter said the Managing Director of the agency is in the best position to comment on it.
Thankgod said, “I don’t have the mandate to speak to you, you can speak to my Managing Director, and to do that you’ll need to come down to our office to see him.”
Pulse pressed further to get the MD of the agency to speak on the matter, but efforts to get reactions from the agency was frustrated by the usual bureaucracy of government establishments.
FG abandoned over 60 properties in Lagos
The relocation of the Federal Capital Territory to Abuja in December 1991 was conceived as a result of the belief that Lagos portends a security risk for the Federal Government because of its closeness to the sea.
The unsuccessful Orkar coup against the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida in 1990, is also believed to have accelerated the movement.
Due to the relocation, the federal government decided to abandon all its properties belonging to ministries and agencies in Lagos after setting up others in Abuja.
In 2017, Agboola Dabiri, Special Adviser on Central Business District to a former governor of Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode, said there are over 60 abandoned properties belonging to the federal government in the state.
During his administration, Ambode while holding a town hall meeting on security with stakeholders, urged the federal government to hand over its abandoned properties in Lagos to the state government, stressing that the buildings were fast becoming hideouts for criminals.
Some of these properties lying idle on the Island side of the state include the Independence Building which used to house the Ministry of Defence; the National Assembly Complex at Tafawa Balewa Square; NECOM House at 15, Marina Street; NITEL Building; Secretariat in Ikoyi; the Old Defence House and many more around CMS, Obalende and Ikoyi areas of the state.
Are the properties abandoned for miscreants to manage?
On Sunday, February 9, 2020, Pulse monitored activities around the Old Defence House, one of the abandoned properties on Lagos Island. It was discovered that the building has not only become a hideout and cash cow for miscreants, it’s also a garage for Danfo drivers to park their yellow buses.
One of the men who manned the gate to the building was seen asking anybody who wished to gain access to the building to pay up.
Car owners who come to the area for social functions are allowed to park their cars for a fee. This writer tried to enter the premises of the building but one of the men manning the gate demanded an access fee of N30,000. That would have been a joke if he had not insisted on collecting N10,000 just to enter the premises of the building.
“You think this place is free? It’s either you pay or leave now,” he retorted, while holding a cup of local herbal mixture.
This is the situation in some of the abandoned properties in Lagos, and it’s unclear if the federal government is willing to hand over these buildings to the Lagos state government or has a plan to revive the dilapidating properties any time soon.
In a bid to get the federal government’s views on the many abandoned buildings in Lagos, Pulse reached out to the Ministry of Works and Housing headed by a former governor of Lagos, Babatunde Fashola.
Hakeem Bello, Fashola’s media aide, said the minister, while addressing issues of insecurity recently in Lagos, spoke about taking action against organized crime and also identified unoccupied buildings as areas where criminals hide.
He, however, maintained that only the director in charge of public buildings and housing in the ministry could respond to questions on what plans the federal government has for the abandoned properties in Lagos.
One week after sending an email to the director on the federal government’s plans for the buildings, there has been no response from the ministry even though Bello confirmed the director’s receipt of the email.
Too many empty buildings in a city battling with a housing crisis
The irony of abandoned properties scattered all over the so-called centre of excellence can be likened to a situation where there’s water in abundance but many remain thirsty. Housing is one of the lingering problems the Lagos state government has not been able to solve, despite the huge budget the state commits to housing and community services every year.
Between 2011 and 2018, the state government reportedly allocated over N400 billion for housing and community services in its budgets. Yet, accommodation remains a major challenge in the state.
The last time housing issues were genuinely tackled in Lagos was in the ‘80s during the administration of the first civilian governor of the state, Alhaji Lateef Jakande.
It’s on record that Jakande’s administration established low-cost housing schemes for middle-class residents of the state without introducing any financial or administrative bottlenecks to discourage Lagosians with some purchasing power.
The ubiquitous Jakande estates in the state are a testament to the successes and legacies of the administration of Jakande in Lagos.
The administrations of Fashola and Ambode also made efforts to provide housing for citizens, but the politics and rackets that come with the average Lagosian buying these houses have reduced the state government’s housing projects in Igbogbo, Igando, Agbowa, Surulere, Epe, Alimosho, Sangotedo, Amuwo-Odofin among others, to problems rather than solutions to the housing crisis in the state.
The bulk of these housing estates remain largely unsubscribed, despite claims by the Lagos State Mortgage Board that they were set up to bridge the gap of the current housing deficit in the state by providing affordable homes for residents through a sustained mortgage scheme.
The undersides of bridges, motor parks and stationary vehicles are homes to many homeless Lagosians. Many others who find abandoned properties, especially those owned by the federal government as a place to rest their heads at night with their families, after hustling around the city, can only sleep with one eye closed because they can be dislodged any time.
However, even if the federal government hands over its properties to the Lagos State government, it’s not certain that the properties would not end up in the hands of few politicians who call the shots in the state. This perhaps is the fear of the federal government about handing over the buildings to the state government.
In any case, the federal government needs to take care of the dilapidating structures, revive them and find ways to make them useful for Nigerians, if its promise on the provision of one million housing units annually is anything to go by.