Last month, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State gave wings to his dream of establishing the state on the nation’s tourist map, with the signing of a N33 billion contract agreement with Silverbird Showtime Limited for the state’s Tropicana Entertainment Centre. On completion, the Tropicana will have a 16-storey building with a 250-bedroom five-star hotel, galleria with cinema, a 10,000 sitting dome as well as water/theme parks.
At the contract-signing ceremony, Akpabio described the facility as a major milestone in the effort of the government to get the economy revving through increased revenue generation and creation of about 5,000 jobs for people of the state. And to take care of the traffic that could arise from the influx of tourists, Akpabio said the government has completed arrangements for the construction of two major flyovers at Itam Market Junction, for which the government has released N11billion to Julius Berger plc. The ink on the contract papers had hardly dried when controversy erupted.
A large slice of this arose from strident criticism of the project as an elitist vision and an allegation that a sum of N20billion was paid the firm to which construction of the facility has been awarded.A group that calls itself the Niger Delta Transparency Initiative, NTDI, led the attack on the landmark project. In a petition signed by Bassey Affian and addressed to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, the governor was accused of criminal conspiracy and abuse of office. Specifically, the group claimed that the contract was awarded without due process and in less than two days of signing the deal, a sum of N20 billion was released.
“The project in question was not contained in the budget and its award process fell short of all known fiscal standards, with no tender, bidding or technical evaluation before it was awarded,” the petition read. But at a recent session with journalists, Akpabio described criticisms against his government and the allegations levelled as misinformed. According to the governor, the contract was awarded after necessary due process. He said it was not only approved by the State Executive Council, it was provided for in the budget and approved by the state legislature. He also denied that any amount was paid to contractors since documentation on the contract is still uncompleted. The main contractors and sub-contractors, he added, were yet to submit advance payment guarantees, performance bonds and work programmes to the government.
Akpabio explained that only 40 per cent advance payment component is applicable to the construction contract awarded to Silverbird Galleria Limited. “In the petition paper about the project, the writers would naturally be saying we want to build a cinema for N33billion, just to demonise my administration. Some mischevious people will say he is using N33billion to build a cinema centre that should not gulp more than N50million. The truth is that such claim is borne out of mischief and sheer deception. They will deliberately not talk about the shopping mall…We have Tinapa in Cross River State because the people want to attract international attention. And it touches me when some people come with the lame argument that we should not aspire to have a standard shopping mall,” Akpabio said.
But is the project viable? Yes, said Akpabio. Being an oil-producing state, he argued, the project will enjoy patronage from staff of oil companies operating in the state. “We have a lot of oil companies working in the state. They include ExxonMobil, Addax and another one that is coming to invest about $12billion in LNG. They need a place like that for their children,” explained the governor. Patronage, he reckons, will also come from the neighbouring states of Abia, Cross River and Bayelsa. Akpabio said he is not averse to criticisms as long as they are constructive. He urged his critics to objectively assess his government which, he said, has provided electricty in 200 communities, intervened in over 25 urban roads and is currently building 49 others. In education, Akpabio said his government has restored accreditation in 28 courses at the state-owned University of Uyo as well as building a 1000-capacity classroom among others.