A multi-billion-naira project in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, looks set to be on the path to profitability for the first time ever, after being a drain on government resources for several years.
The project – Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre – was categorised as a white elephant project in a PREMIUM TIMES report in 2018.
Its concepts and physical structures are, however, being reworked currently through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) between the Akwa Ibom government and the major investor, Median Infrastructure Company Development Ltd to make it generate expected earnings to the government and other investors.
A massive leisure and business complex which sits atop 168 hectares of land, its construction began in 2008 during the administration of Godswill Akpabio who said he wanted to use the Ibom Tropicana to turn the oil-rich state into ‘Dubai’.
It has a 14-floor storey building meant for a 258-room five-star hotel, a Cineplex (six cinema halls), shopping mall, 5,000-seat convention centre, and a theme park, comprising wet and dry parks.
But all of these components, except the Cineplex and a lounge near it, were non-functional and abandoned by the time Mr Akpabio’s tenure ended in 2015.
Even the cinema was not bringing any money into the government coffers, as movie tickets were subsidised by the government and Silverbird Showtime Ltd, the company which operated it, reportedly did not also make any returns to the Akwa Ibom government.
About 45 persons only, including casual workers, were employed at the Cineplex and the bar by 2018, which was far less than the 5,000 envisaged for the centre on its completion.
The Akpabio administration had said initially it would cost the state N33 billion to build the Tropicana, but three people familiar with the project said in 2018 the cost was later reviewed upward to about N120 billion.
Mr Akpabio’s successor, Udom Emmanuel, had said he would rather “lease out” the Ibom Tropicana instead of putting more money into it.
Renovation work was going on at the Ibom Tropicana when a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited the complex on Saturday. An additional massive concrete structure has been added to the shopping mall, tucked behind it.
“This is where Market Square is going to be,” Olumide Akinsanya, the CEO of Median Infrastructure Company Development Ltd, a major investor in the revamping of the Ibom Tropicana, said of the additional concrete structure, while showing the reporter around the mall.
“There’s no way the mall would have accommodated an anchor with the way it was,” Mr Akinsanya, an engineer, added.
Market Square, a Nigerian company, is a fast-growing retail chain in the country. It was selected as the anchor for the mall after Shoprite withdrew their interest.
Mr Akinsanya said the fall in the value of naira in 2016 scared foreign investors away from investing in the mall. “We are locals, we believe in the economy,” he told PREMIUM TIMES. “We are hopeful that things would improve.”
When Mr Akinsanya’s company in 2015 moved in for the renovation, several parts of the roof were leaking, causing rainwater to collect inside the mall.
Construction workers have been working round the clock to fix it and some structural defects, including refurbishing the elevators, and installation of new electric lines, in order to prepare the mall for its targeted opening date – December 1.
Ibom Tropicana Mall had less than 5,000sq lettable area but with the remodeling, it is about 9,800sq now, said Mr Akinsanya.
Mr Akinsanya said over 1,000 workers and subcontractors have been involved in the renovation work. “The remodeling is over 90 per cent complete,” he said. “We have even commenced pre-let activities.”
Local businesses in Uyo – like Jossy furniture, Quenthall Pharmacy, Oliver Tweest Food, ShadeCover, the Choice Mall – have signed up for some of the 55 shops in the mall, so far.
MedPlus, a health and beauty concernwith outlets around Nigeria, is among the national and international retailers that have signed up too.
“Over 60 per cent of prospective tenants have signed up and they are expected to move in by September 1 and start doing their stocking before the official opening in December,” Mr Akinsanya said.
“This is the cheapest mall in Nigeria in terms of per square metre,” Mr Akinsanya said. “In Uyo (Tropicana Mall), tenants are charged N5,400 per square metre. In Owerri, for instance, it is N9,800 per square metre.
“In Uyo, the food court is N6,500, while a similar food court is N18,000 in other malls.”
Mr Akinsanya said Ibom Tropicana Mall is the only mall in Nigeria that is indexed in naira, unlike others, which are in dollars.
“Akwa Ibom is an investment destination,” he said, “we are here to add value to what the state government is doing.”
Mr Akinsanya said the mall would provide jobs for at least 600 people when it is opened for business. “It will definitely be more than that number when you look at the multiplier effect,” he added.
He told PREMIUM TIMES he was really happy with one thing – “the governor has never interfered with what we are doing here!”
He added, “I am happy he (Governor Udom Emmanuel) is from a private sector, he even understands investment more than I do.”
Akwa IbomSstate is a low-income economy, where most working-class people earn moderate salaries, working as government employees.