Akwa Ibom’s five years with Udom Emmanuel (Part 1)
The 21 storey smart building in Akwa Ibom state built by Governor Udom Emmanuel administration.

Photo of the 21-storey ‘intelligent building” built by Governor Udom Emmanuel administration in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.

By Mfon Gabriel

A 21-storey so-called “intelligent building” is being built by the Akwa Ibom State government ostensibly to accommodate international oil companies (IOCs) and other multinational corporations (MNCs) operating in the state. The project has a lifespan of 18 months. It commenced early in 2018 and was expected to be completed in December 2019 according to the state government. The project has overran its expected completion timeline, and it is becoming a veritable drain on public resources, raising questions on the rationale for and integrity of the project.

The 21 storey building is expected to gulp a total sum of N19billion. But from the budgetary provision of N13 billion in 2020, N8billion in 2019 and an unknown budget sum which could not be found in the budget of the supervising ministry in 2018 (and assuming they are all being cash backed), the state government has exceeded the total cost for the project.

We must also question the additional provision for this building in the 2020 budget. When December 2019 was initially fixed as timeline for completion, was it not envisaged that the total project cost would be covered in the budgets of 2018 and 2019?

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More puzzling is that the state government had claimed that the 21 storey building would be a public private partnership, with the private partner(s) providing 40 percent while the government finances 60 percent. Who are the private partners for this project and why are their name(s) not in the public domain?

How much have they put in since this project commenced? With what the state government has budgeted for and spent from 2018 to 2020, this project appears to be single-handedly financed by the Akwa Ibom state government without private sector investment. Akwa Ibomites must be on the lookout for any private entity(ies) that may come up tomorrow to claim that they were partners in the project.

Phony budget for phony 21-storey 'intelligent building' Governor Udom Emmanuel.

The budget breakdown of the N13billion for this project is also disturbing. Superstructure N5billion, Monitoring and Evaluation N3billion, Office Building N6billion, Gate House N2.2million, Swimming Pool N3.7million, Road and Pavement N3.5bn, Parking Lot N220M, and Perimeter Fence/Gate N2.6bn. In the 2019 budget, N5billion was budgeted for the superstructure, which was already at the 20th floor as at the close of last year. So which superstructure is the 2020 budget referring to? In 2019 N3billion was budgeted for monitoring and evaluation.

In the 2020 budget the same amount has been repeated for the same purpose. The question is: Is it that the money for last year was not released? If that is the case, what are the actual cost items under monitoring that the supervising Ministry would be spending 3 billion naira on, since this project is just in one location? Another N6billion is earmarked for office building. Which office building are we referring to again, when the 21 storey building is already an office building? A gate house for N2.2 million and swimming pool for N3.7million: Is this supposed to be another living apartment in this office environment?

The road around the project location are already tarred and paved, so where is the road and the pavement with a budget of N3.5 billion supposed to be constructed? Is it subway or what? Again, from the budget 2020, the sum of N2.6 billion was provided for the fencing. Akwa Ibomites deserve explanations on this N2.6 billion fence for a 50,000 square meters project.

Furthermore, it is disturbing that while the project is ongoing, Governor Udom Emmanuel is still imploring the federal government to impress on the multinational companies to establish presence in their states of operations.

The Commissioner for Information, Charles Udoh, recently stated that this “smart building with standard facilities for a modern office” was being built “so ExxonMobil would no longer have any excuse for not relocating to the state”. At this level, we would have thought that the state government already has strong written commitments with potential anchor tenants who will be using the facility after its commissioning.

There is little justification for putting taxpayers’ money on a project whose potential utility is still in the realm of hope. Also, making a provision for a swimming pool within the 21 storey building is quite disturbing. One hopes this is not a Plan B to convert the project into a hotel should the multinational tenants fail to come in as expected.

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A project of this magnitude should have the input of the people. This top-down approach to governance smacks of autocracy, negates transparency and accountability, and encourages corruption. For a state that has invested a paltry N4b each for the health and education sectors this year, the over N20 billion budgeted so far for this project is unjustifiable and does not reflect the interest of the majority of Akwa Ibom people.

In the final analysis, this so-called “intelligent building” might not be such an intelligent venture as its name would suggest. As it stands, the project remains a huge corruption red flag, until the Akwa Ibom state government comes clean on it.

Citizens deserve answers to all the curious questions that have been raised on this project as it is our collective resources that are being spent. And we will continue to ask, until every kobo counts!

Mfon Gabriel is Policy and Research Associate at Policy Alert.