The Akwa Ibom government on Monday launched an attack against a former governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, over a four-star hotel built by the government during his administration.
The government alleged that the hotel project was not ‘transparent’ and did not comply with best practice.
The hotel, Four Points by Sheraton, has become a subject of political war between Mr Akpabio and his estranged protégée, the governor of the state, Udom Emmanuel.
Mr Akpabio, a senator representing Akwa Ibom North West District, recently defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The defection is seen as a major threat to Governor Emmanuel’s bid for a second term in office.
The hotel, located in Mr Akpabio’s senatorial district, was one of the signature projects of the Akpabio administration.
While the senator is accusing the current administration of refusing to put the hotel to use, the governor is claiming that his predecessor left the hotel unfinished before he (Akpabio) left office in 2015.
“They talked about Four Points by Sheraton. Today, I don’t want to answer them. But let me state, the facts must come out fast and the facts must point to the truth because the truth is constant,” Governor Emmanuel said on Friday in Uyo before a large crowd of supporters in a 30,000-capacity stadium, while declaring his bid to run for a second term.
“It is just now that we have incorporated a company to negotiate with Starwood for that name Four-Point by Sheraton. If anybody has ever done that, let him show me the agreement he signed.
“It is now that we are doing external works in that premises in order to turn it into a hotel. Is building a hotel? Can a building be a hotel?”
“I don’t want to join issues today, I just want to humbly submit myself. But the truth must be told that it is just now that I have paid $7.2 million to Starwood so that we can retain the name that was surreptitiously put on the building called Four-Point by Sheraton Hotel.
“Who is telling you a lie? Who is telling you a lie? Can they tell you that there were mechanical or electrical fittings in that building?” the governor said.
No sooner had the governor finished his declaration speech than APC faithful flooded Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp with photos, including one where the former governor and his successor were having lunch at the Ikot Ekpene hotel, as a ‘proof’ that Mr Akpabio had completed the hotel before he left office.
The party, in countering Governor Emmanuel’s remarks, referenced a news story published in the Nation newspaper, July 12, 2014, where Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide reportedly announced the signing of an agreement with the Akwa Ibom government for the establishment of the Four Points by Sheraton Hotel, Ikot Ekpene.
But an unrelenting government quickly fired back.
“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 net-worth project as one in question,” the Commissioner for Information in the state, Charles Udoh, said in a statement issued on Monday.
Mr Udoh insisted that Mr Akpabio, as governor then, commissioned the hotel “without a signed franchise agreement and a full complement of requisite furniture and fittings”.
The commissioner said Raffia City Hotels and Tours Limited, the company which managed the transaction on behalf of the state government, was incorporated on June 11, 2015, ”more than one month after Mr Akpabio had commissioned the hotel.”
The government also posed seven questions to Mr Akpabio.
“How come the hotel that had been commissioned never started operations before the end of his administration?
“How come there was no guest traffic count and/or feasibility study carried out to justify the N25.4 billion investment in a 146 room hotel?
“Why were external caterers hired to bring in food if the kitchen and dining facilities were ready, equipped and commissioned?
“How come the hotel is a subject of discussion today, three years after it was supposedly commissioned?
“Who benefited from the contract awards for the hotel?
“Who brought the contractors?
“Who benefitted from the over 95% payment his administration disbursed on a half-completed hotel?”
When contacted for comment, the media aide to Mr Akpabio, Anietie Ekong, declined commenting on the allegations.
But he said: “The information that is already in the public domain is enough for people to read and make an informed opinion on the matter.”