So, the other day, a younger brother of mine, Adeleke Adelana, posted an aerial picture on his Facebook page of the NECOM Building (or NET Building), with the caption ‘the tallest building in Nigeria’. I was taken aback. What?!! NET Building is STILL the tallest in Nigeria? It could be the perfect metaphor confirming that Nigeria is not improving, has become ambitionless, has stopped growing, literally, since NET building was completed in 1979.
Now, Nigeria External Telecommunications (NET) Building as it was first known – before the rechristening to whatever name it bears today – was then an iconic building and a symbol of our progress, ambition and quest for achievement back in the late 70s. I recall as barely as a 12 years old child in 1983 when we learnt that the building was torched allegedly by people who had embezzled money and needed to obliterate their tracks, I felt personally angry and defrauded. This is because as a child, I remember being driven past NET Building by my Dad as we made for the Bar Beach. I recall even the ships that used to berth at the Marina then. Those were great days of NNSL (Nigerian National Shipping Line).
Anyhow, standing at 520 feet (160 metres) with 32 floors, the NET Building (as I prefer to still call it with fond nostalgia), remains the tallest in Nigeria, followed by a building newly installed in Eko Atlantic City, called the Champagne Pearl Tower (perhaps an ode to Nigeria’s recently-found love for champagne whereby we have become the world’s largest consumers of the liquid). In third position comes Union Bank building in Marina.
However, the NET Building is only the 8th tallest in Africa. It trails behind juggernauts such as The Leonardo (234 meters or 768 feet), and the Carlton Centre (232 metres or 732 feet), both located in Johannesburg. Whereas the Carlton Centre was completed in 1973, the South Africans bested themselves with Leonardo in 2019. That is how nations show life and progress. Let me not even talk of the non-achievement of West Africa in general (this NET Building is the tallest in West Africa and has been since 1979). In 3rd position for the tallest building in Africa is Kenya’s Britam Tower (200.1 metres or 656 feet), completed in 2017. The Kenyans have kept rolling out skyscrapers in recent times and those include Nairobi Global Trade Centre (at number 5 in Africa and 604 feet tall; completed in 2020), UAP Towers, at number 7, completed in 2016 and 535 feet tall). I recall noticing when I visited Nairobi in 2013 that that city had more skyscrapers than all of Nigeria combined. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia HQ in Addis Ababa is the 4th tallest building in Africa, standing at 198 meters or 650 feet). The 30 tallest buildings are populated by South Africa, Tanzania, and Egypt. The Egyptians are not very fond of skyscrapers it would seem, but Egyptian buildings occupy the 21st to 32nd position back-to-back in the ranking.
WHY IS THIS SIGNIFICANT?
Well, we could say these rankings – which is just my personal obsession – are not important at all. The solidity of a building is more important than its height. We could also say we have bigger issues to deal with than competing for the height of our buildings. Another fact could be that not every topography needs or can withstand very tall buildings. Fans of tall buildings understand that they are mostly required for space management especially in dense areas. All good. I am an enthusiast in a way because I am in awe of the achievements of humanity. I sometimes wonder what pushes man to embark on modern day Towers of Babel, and whether God may get angry someday, with some of these guys who are trying to poke him in the eyes. Whereas the Burj Khalifa stands as the tallest in the world today (at a crazy 828 metres or 2,717 feet), followed by the Shanghai Tower (632 metres or 2073 feet), Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower in Mecca (601 metres or 1,971 feet), the Ping An Finance Centre in Shenzhen, China (599 metres or 1,965 feet), South Korea’s Lotte World Tower (554.5 metres or 1,819 feet), and the One World Trade Centre in New York (541.3 metres or 1,776 feet), the world is presently trying to best itself. The Chinese occupy the 7th to 12th position, and Russia, USA, Malaysia, the UAE, South Korea and China intersperse the rest up to the 50th position. New record breakers are being built as we read this, notably the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, which is to stand at a princely 1,000 metres or 3,281 feet. The Emiratis are also trying to reply the Saudis through The Tower at Dubai Creek which will be 1,345 metres and is expected to be completed in 2022. These Arabs have gone mad!
I have casually studied skyscrapers, how they originated in Chicago, the challenges they had, their prime movers, how materials used in building them changed and where they are today. I am in awe of the achievements of the white man through his science. I don’t really have a head for heights but don’t mind going into these towers. I am also challenged by the truth spoken by Pastor James Manning, that African-American preacher who accused our ancestors of building nothing beyond what sticks and straws could hold together. Love him or hate him, he spoke the unblemished truth in the main (our structures did not evolve that much in terms of complexity). However, we live in a modern age where we need not reinvent the wheel. We have gone to schools and learnt science. So, beyond getting foreigners to come and build things for us, it is important we try our hands on a few things ourselves. Recently, the NCDMB (Nigerian Content office) commissioned its 17 floor new headquarters, which is the tallest building south of Nigeria and indeed I saw the pride shared by the executives for achieving that feat. It is remarkable that the building was erected by a Nigerian contractor. This means there is value in these things. I will attempt a few below:
1. It is a sense of national progress
2. It is a sense of improvement, innovation, science and technology
3. Even if we have land today, nations should plan for population increases and start building up
4. It is a test of the prowess of a country’s engineers and architects
5. It is a sign of modernity
6. It is a sign of economic growth, and in fact mental development (the non-ambition of black Africa is stark in this regard. What is the essence of our vaunted education?)
7. It is a sign of ability to compete with other nations and hold our own
8. Practice makes perfect. The more you build, the better you get. Not building or improving at all means you are not practicing as a people
9. It is a sign of freedom, especially for upcoming generation who must do better than their predecessors. Many people who could achieve in black Africa, have refused to try because they don’t want to rock the boat. They do not want governments to come after them either politically or for excessive taxes. This is a symptom of fear.
10. It is a symbol of national, continental or even racial pride and gives some bragging rights in the comity of nations.
You could add more. But I am making a case for someone to bell the cat and tell the world that we are still in competition, or if not in competition, that we are still thinking and making progress. What is not acceptable is to say this is not our problem, this is not our forte or priority and so let us continue to plough the depths of underachievement and mediocrity even as the world surges ahead. When history is written, what mentions will we have in this department? Our young architects have been everywhere and back. They have seen the world. Someone told me that our institute of architects is full of conservative old men who are unwilling to allow the young Turks take over and express themselves. Let them know that they are not doing our race and nation any favours by holding us all down. We need to prove our brother, Reverend Manning wrong here. The Black man should wake Up! There is much work to do.