The residence of the late Alhaji Ahmed Mai Deribe, popularly known as Fadar Deribe, Deribe’s palace or Deribe’s house, in Maiduguri is one house that made it into the history books as some of its structures were said to have been built with a mixture of liquid gold. It’s a huge building containing several apartments; including five interesting parts that housed his four wives and mother.
It was believed to be the most expensive and well-decorated house in Africa when it was built, and one of the twenty most adorned sites in the world. This magnificent house has attracted many VIPs and important personalities in the world.
The palace has hosted His Eminence, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, who spent two days there in 1986. After his visit, he said the people of Borno had maintained long artistry in architectural designs in relations with his country, Spain, dating back to over 1,000 years.
The palace also hosted Prince Charles of England with his late wife Princess Diana, former US President George W. Bush, a former Prime Minister of Canada and many other notable personalities.
This house, for the people of Borno, Nigeria and Africa, can be compared to the famous Taj Mahal of India as it depicts elegance and class.
The construction of the residence started in the early 80s, on vast plots of land which one of the late tycoon’s sons, Alhaji Shettima Abubakar Mai Deribe, told our reporter he couldn’t ascertain the size.
According to him, the two-storey building consists of many rooms and apartments. But for the parts housing his wives as well as his mum, each consists of four bedrooms and a toilet. There is also an apartment for domestic workers/servants and a kitchen.
“Honestly, I can’t say the exact number of rooms and apartments in this building because if you enter some parts of the building, it will seem to be a hall, but it’s not. You can go and see things for yourself, and then see if you can figure out rooms, apartments for our mums, boys’ quarters, apartment for domestic workers, and that of visitors. There are so many that I don’t have a definite number of how many rooms the house contains,” Abubakar Deribe says.
He added: “There are car parking spaces in almost every corner of this house. There’s no specific parking space for us except that of our late father so everyone parks their vehicle wherever they wish. Because of the swathe of landscape, in the morning you will think it’s a car mart.”
Daily Trust Saturday learned that furniture, and house utensils were manufactured by an Italian company Giovanni Monzio Compagnoni (GMC). The company is famous in manufacturing house adornments for the world’s wealthiest individuals, the likes of late King Fahad bn Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, former Gabonese President late Omar Bongo, Sultan Qaboos bn Sa’id of Oman who passed on recently, Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan, President of United Arabs Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait Central Bank.
Based on the accounts of Abubakar Mai Deribe, Daily Trust Saturday learned that the palace is built on the very spot where late Alhaji Ahmed Mai Deribe was born. “He was born and bred here before he relocated to the Fezzab area in Maiduguri city.”
Building this palace has further brought the name of Mai Deribe, Maiduguri city and Nigeria into limelight worldwide – looking at the humungous amount of money injected in the construction work that lasted 10 years nonstop except for weekends, as Abubakar Mai Deribe told our reporter.
On the current situation and how the palace was built, Alhaji Shettima Abubakar Ahmed Mai Deribe said: “This is the actual birthplace of our father. This place is very vast. He lived in this house for 12 years before his death. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo once spent a night here. When the palace was to be commissioned, the then Head of State, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, led a delegation of some presidents to commission it.”
Alhaji Abubakar Mai Deribe said a billion naira was spent on the construction work. “From the tiles mixed with liquid gold, and carpet, curtains, tap faucets and even the door leading to the main sitting room all have gold. The main entrance gate is bulletproof,” he said.
How Mai Deribe lived/survived in the palace
Alhaji Abubakar said the their father was the type that never interfered in other people’s affairs. He stayed away from trouble and was very focused on his business, “But if he’s confronted, then honestly that person will meet his waterloo. Though he’s easy-going in social activities and interaction, he detested dishonesty and lies,” he said.
“Our father’s life, as well as that of his family, was a very interesting one as we lived a joyous and fulfilling life with him. He wouldn’t condone recklessness and any sort of nonchalant behaviour. He was very vigilant with his children. Anytime he didn’t see one of his children just after Maghreb prayer; he would ask where’s that child was He would always go to his office, where every one of us would go and greet him around 10am. And when it’s evening, the bachelors would dine with him; and once you’re absent – you know the consequences.
“I was once a victim sometime in 1996. He had gifted me a new car and one day I came home late after Maghreb. During Isha prayer, he asked me where I had been because he didn’t see me during Maghreb. I told him that I was home. He asked, “Don’t you have a wristwatch?” I remained silent. Two days later, he called me and asked for my car keys. He instructed me to drop them on the table and leave the vicinity. That’s how he would penalize every one of his children if you err, irrespective of your age. I am fascinated by his lifestyle which is quite astonishing in the sense that he monitor the affairs of all 27 of his children,” said Abubakar Mai Deribe.
“He left behind 27 of us, but I can’t tell you the number of his grandchildren. They’re too many,” he said.
On the rumours making the rounds that IDPs have taken over the palace, Abubakar Mai Deribe says: “The IDPs are all over the nooks and cranny of Maiduguri city. IDPs are here, but anyone you see living here is our relative. Some of them were hitherto living somewhere in the towns and villages but because of Boko Haram insurgency, they had to migrate to this place and we provided them residence. Many of our relatives fled the Boko Haram attacks and we’re living together with them,” he said.
State of the palace
“As you know, it won’t remain in its former state like when the late Mai Deribe built it. Even the aspect of maintaining the palace is something else. Honestly, some parts of the palace are still intact as when it was first built, but they’re affected by longevity. You can see its condition and everyone is taking care of their side. So, once you take yours for granted and allow it to decay; you’re on your own. But as I testified to you earlier, its condition can be said to be ‘fair’, said Abubakar Mai Deribe.
He didn’t leave behind a will on the palace
On whether the late Mai Deribe left behind a will on the palace, Abubakar says, “As far as I know, I can’t recall him speaking on a will concerning this palace. You have seen the palace, and I can tell you he had already shared the residence among us before his demise. Everybody was given their part. But for this very palace, none of us was accorded a portion of it; it’s meant for the whole family members. We’re 27 as his children and we’re united and can tell you that no one has had issues or gone to court over the inheritance. Since he gifted everyone a portion in the residence; there was no need to talk about the inheritance among the heirs. Our eldest brother’s residence, Alhaji Zanna, was built even when this structure was being erected; but it’s not part of the palace.”
For Ba’ana, who’s saddled with the responsibility of taking care of the palace, he’s been living there residence since inception and had lived alongside the Mai Deribe for many years.
Ba’ana described the late Mai Deribe as one who cherishes and had affection for people. He said presently, he’s in charge of the late Mai Deribe’s section which includes more than 10 huge parlours, apartments and his guest house that have all been turned to a museum where visitors throng.
Alhaji Ahmed Mai Deribe was born in 1924, and died on March 13, 2002 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he was on admission for an ailment. His funeral prayers were performed in the Holy Kaaba Mosque.