By Fredrick Okopie
The ancient, coastal town of Badagry, in Badagry Local Government of Lagos State, has for many years been viewed as a sleepy town. But on Thursday, April 12, 2018, it suddenly came alive as people from all walks of life gathered there for the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Oba Akran International Shopping Mall, named after the Akran of Badagry, De Wheno Aholu-Menu-Toyi I.
* De Wheno Aholu-Menu-Toyi I.
The ceremony was kick-started by Setonji David, a representative of the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa; when he plastered two blocks together. Five minutes later, he unveiled the foundation stone. With those two significant and symbolic actions came one of the most practical steps towards the realization of a vision which, when attained, will be a major component of the much-advertised Lagos Dream.
The 93-acre site is situated at Cemetery Road, along Badagry-Seme Expressway, a mile and a half away from the heart of the town. The ultra-modern and international mall is being handled by Palmnto Nigeria Limited, a consortium of investors and developers in conjunction with the Badagry Royal House and the people of Badagry Local Government Council, the host community. The project is expected to be completed in the next 24 months from commencement.
To underscore how important the project is to him, the monarch told a mammoth crowd of investors, government officials, politicians, bank executives, traders and musical groups, who formed a sort of kaleidoscope at the fore-ground of the massive land during the ground-breaking ceremony that the project would be one of the ways he intended to etch his name permanently across the pages of history. According to him: “The desire to have a legacy which will serve to immortalize my name, and of course immortalize the historic royal institution of Badagry, has, for a very long time, been nursed by me”.
“At a point in time, I remembered the 93-acre family land on which we are today, and thus, came to the conclusion that such a parcel of land could be used to provide the legacy of my dream. Thereafter, an effective machinery was set up to produce technical, legal and financial partners and in the process, PALMNTO Nigeria Limited emerged,” he informed in an address presented on his behalf by High-Chief Hundogan Samuel, the Agoloto of Badagry.
Among those who graced the occasion were leaders of the Amalgamated Traders Association, Lagos, ATAL; Association of Bureaux de Change Operators of Nigeria, ABCON; National Union of Banks, Insurance and other Financial Institutions Employees, NUBIFIE.
The project, estimated to cost N18 billion, is envisaged to provide a Dubai-like market.
It is also expected to boost tourist attraction in the predominantly Egun-speaking town.
Besides the main project, the subsidiary projects include a housing estate, a five-star hotel and school (primary and post primary).
Also speaking at the occasion, the Chief Executive Officer of Palmnto Nigeria Limited, the company responsible for the construction, K.O Okorafor, an architect, explained: “The first phase of the Oba Akran International Shopping Mall is estimated to cost N18 billion; the building structures consist of lock up shops, plazas and offices, warehouses, banking halls, police post, clinic, fire station and the second phase will gulp N458 billion, would be expanded in the construction of a five-star hotel, schools and housing estate.
“The external facilities of the mall include well-planned road network, paved walkways, external electrification, water supply with treatment plant, refuse disposal system, CCTV camera/ security system and car parking lots. The equipment and facilities that would be provided here in the mall are of world class standard, the environment is serene, aesthetically pleasing with laid out land scape. The intention is to provide a work place that is environmentally friendly in all its ramifications. We are now at a point of executing a project that would be a reference point by professionals in the construction industry/estate management when completed.”
Jide Adefesowa, a lawyer and director of the outfit, giving further insight into how the project was initiated, introduced a spiritual dimension. “First of all, I have to appreciate the Almighty God, because it is through the Almighty God that I came here. It is the intervention of God that brought me here today. Why I say this is that it was through my pastor, Pastor Amos Ade, of the Christian Revival Centre, who said that I should tap into the virgin land of Badagry, that I should put my investment in Badagry Kingdom. Then I told him that I didn’t understand. He told me that I will be part of the people that will develop Badagry. It was later that I met Architect Okorafor,” he said adding that from that meeting a partnership was struck.
Stating that one of the major advantages of the location was its closeness to the ports, he said the coming of the market would make it easy to move goods from all parts of Nigeria, through Nigeria to neighbouring countries and the rest of the world, just as had been seen in the Dubai experience.
His words: “What I can tell you is that the opportunities are limitless. It is massive and it cannot be quantified. In the coming years, you will be a witness to the massive transformation that will take place in this place. Everybody is committed and there is already massive interest by all the stakeholders and the target market. But everybody is welcome in this dream. Everybody can also invest, just as you have it in Dubai where all sorts of investment opportunities abound.
“I have no doubt that the hand of God is in this project. And because of this, it is going to be massive. But the project is not going to be for the people outside alone. It is going to benefit the people of Badagry in a lot of ways. Not only will there be investors coming from this place, many of them are going to be employed. We are close to the ports through which goods and services could be ferried to any part of the country. They are very key to this, given their already established talents and way of life. So, they are going to benefit massively. That also goes for the people in neighbouring countries. Investment is not restricted. There will be investments from all over the world, from America, UK, Asia and other parts of the world to invest. Everybody is welcome. The space is large enough for everybody”.
Okorafo later told reporters that the siting of the project in the location was not only going to create another world for Badagry and its people, but help also open up the space for business in Nigeria, especially with the several investment initiatives of the Lagos government.
He explained that the fact that exploration and exploitation of oil was already ongoing in the area meant there was going to be heightened business activities and therefor the imperative to create a robust and viable market environment that would further add impetus to the larger vision.
“You are aware that within Badagry here, drilling of oil is already going on. You are also aware of the deep sea port, which the government is pursuing. The governor has already signed some documents. Don’t forget the 10-lane expressway that passes through here. With the BRT, with the train and other easy transport services, you are in Badagry in 30minutes. So, there is a tendency that in the next seven or 10 years, you may not find a space anymore here with the massive development that is expected”, the CEO said.
Emphasising that the first phase is programmed to be completed in two years, with an additional six months grace period, he said with the thinking is that the shopping mall and the over 10,000 lock-up shops, plazas and storage facilities, that consisted of the first phase, was all that would be needed to ensure the massive activities that would lead to the influx of people, which in turn, would then make the second phase quite attractive.
“What we are thinking is not the usual thing you see around. If you see our architectural designs, you will understand. We want to change the face of what you already know and surpass it. It is not going to be like any other market. I don’t want to mention names. What we are looking at is market. We are looking at maximum comfort for anybody that comes here to do business or for whatever reason. If we had wanted to build the usual thing, we would have finished it in the next six months. But we are thinking outside the box and looking at something bigger, because of the type of business that is expected and the type of people we also expect, which includes those that are used to maximum comfort and ease of doing business elsewhere”, he stated.
“Remember, this is supposed to be a Dubai-like market. That was what the Kabiyesi told us and that is exactly what we are working at achieving. Even if you are selling yam here, your yam will be a different kind of yam. We are going to package it in a different way. People will come here to buy pepper, but it is not going to be the normal pepper you see because of the handling. This is going to be an organised market.”
Dismissing any fears of restiveness from the indigenes of the community, he said all the knots were already tied in the manner that all interests were taken care of in the memorandum of understanding, including that of the locals.
“Palmnto Nigeria Limited, the Kabiyesi and land owners are one in accord. In our MOU, it is a win-win situation for the investors, the land owners and to the people of Badagry. Our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is already spelt out. It is the indigenes that will occupy a certain layer here in terms of employment. The market itself, the community will have a certain percentage reserved for them. Even if we say the market is for everybody, you know that it is not everybody that will have it. But what is important is that the interest of every stakeholder has been taken care of.”
First Bank, one of the financial institutions involved in the project, pledged its readiness to see to the attainment of the dream while the Association of Bureaux de Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON) promised to provide all the foreign exchange components of the project.
Even ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo expressed his support. In a personal letter addressed to the Badagry monarch, he regretted that his schedule would not allow him to be present at the occasion, but prayed for its success.