The Looming Political War in A’Ibom

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SATURDAY PERSPECTIVE 

Beyond the disagreement over whether former governor Godswill Akpabio had almost completed the multi-million hotel in Ikot Ekpene or not lies the fight to control one of Nigeria’s richest states, writes Tobi Soniyi

Not until Godswill Akpabio began to make insinuation that tends to cast aspersion on his administration, the Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel Udom had deliberately refused to join issues with his mentor.

Despite mind-boggling financial mess he inherited, the governor kept his cool and would not blame his predecessor for the state’s woes.

Whenever Udom is confronted with  questions bordering on his relationship  with Akpabio, even when the relationship had become frosty, the governor usually speaks good of him.

Even when there are indications that all is not well between them, Udom denied such rifts exist. That was how far he was willing to go to protect his mentor.

However, when the former governor, now senator attempts to rubbish the Akwa Ibom State government, perhaps, to satisfy his new political friends in the All Progressives Congress, the Udom-led state executive would have none of that.

Akpabio could be said to have opened the pandora box when he claimed that the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State was over 98 per cent completed as at the time he left office in 2015.

The state government described that claim as false. It did not just stop there, it did something it rarely does: it issued a statement to formally debunk Akpabio’s claim.

In a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Charles Udoh, the state said it sounded ludicrous for the immediate past governor to allege that his administration fulfilled all franchise requirements with Starwood Hotels and Resort for the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel and that the current administration was only expected to pay the fees when it fell due in 2015.

The government said that it would not have dignified “such brazen lies” with a response but that it was expedient to react in order to set the record straight.

It said that Akpabio commissioned the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Ikot Ekpene without a signed franchise agreement and full complement of requisite furniture and fittings.

According to the state, 95 per cent of the total contract sum was approved and disbursed by the immediate past governor as building and site improvement cost and the worldwide standard for building and site improvement cost component of a full-service 4-star hotel in an emerging market is 64 per cent of the total cost of the hotel – (Hospitality Valuation Services HSV)

The Akwa Ibom government therefore challenged Akpabio to validate his claims of having fulfilled the requisite contractual obligations with Starwood Hotel & Resort for the Four Points by Sheraton franchise by publishing a copy of the signed management agreement and a copy of the Certificate of Incorporation of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) he used for the transaction, stressing that the SPV that manages the transaction on behalf of the Akwa Ibom State Government; Raffia City Hotels and Tours Limited, was incorporated on June 11, 2015; more than one month after  Akpabio had commissioned the hotel.

The state also asked why the hotel which Akpabio claimed to have commissioned was unable to start operations before the end of his administration and why there were no guest traffic count and/or feasibility study carried out to justify the N25.4bn investment in a 146 room hotel?  Among other questions, the Akwa Ibom State government asked why external caterers were hired to bring in food if the kitchen and dining facilities were ready, equipped and commissioned and why the hotel became a subject of discussion three years after it was supposedly commissioned.

Part of the statement read, “It has become necessary for the public to know who is telling a lie and we feel obligated to state as follows:

  1. “That immediate past Governor commissioned the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Ikot Ekpene without a signed Franchise agreement and full complement of requisite furniture and fittings.

“We challenge immediate past Governor to validate his claims of having fulfilled the requisite contractual obligations with Starwood Hotel & Resort for the Four Points by Sheraton franchise by publishing a copy of the signed management agreement.

“When was the agreement signed? Who were the signatories and witnesses to the transaction?

“Which Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) was used in signing the agreement before vacating office.

“The SPV that manages the transaction on behalf of the Akwa Ibom State Government; Raffia City Hotels and Tours Limited was incorporated on June 11, 2015; more than one month after Senator Akpabio had commissioned the hotel. (Certificate of Incorporation attached).

“To set the records straight, the Senator should also publish a copy of the Certificate of Incorporation of the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) he used for the transaction.

“Regrettably, it paints an unpalatable picture of mischief for the immediate past Governor; a lawyer by profession, to present an unsigned and unverified press statement in the Nation newspaper of July 12, 2014 as evidence of a legal contractual obligation on a high networth project as one in question. This is a brazen and unremorseful attempt at demeaning the intelligence of the good people of Akwa Ibom State.

“Who benefited from the over 95% payment his administration disbursed on a half-completed hotel?

“While the Akwa Ibom State Government is reluctant to engage in a mudslinging combat with anybody, we will provide more facts to justify who is telling the truth and who is lying when the questions asked are answered.”

Perhaps, the threat to provide more facts has done the trick. Since then, the distinguished senator has refrained from joining issues with his state government.

With both Akpabio and Udom in different political parties, no one expects the ceasefire to last.

This is because the hotel is just being used as porn. The real issue at stake is who will control one of Nigeria’s richest states comes 2019.

As elections approach, expect the fight to get messier.