Corruption remains the bane of leadership in Africa, and recent developments in Anambra state suggest that the state governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, might have succumbed to the same bug that has plagued Africa and its leadership for more than five decades post-independence.
The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, the late Kofi Annan, might have envisioned Anambra state under Soludo when he spoke about corruption and leadership failure in Africa.
In his words, “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately because it gives impetus to diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.”
A few days ago, Governor Soludo announced his intention to build a 10-storey hotel in Awka, a small capital city with over 106 registered and fully functional hotels already servicing all categories of local and international guests.
While Anambarians are gradually coming to terms with the fact that the governor seems to lack a sense of prioritization, the latest announcement by the state government of its intention to embark on the construction of a 10-storey hotel project in Awka has opened a new source of concern over the governor’s policy drive towards a dangerous trajectory that further deepens and exacerbates the fears of independent observers of the politics of Anambra state.
The disquiet and apprehension are in recognition of the possibility that the professor of economics might have metamorphosed from a failure to understand the basic scale of preference into an outright disposition to corruption with a heightened probability to misappropriate public funds and pilfer the same for personal political aggrandizement.
**THE CONTEXT IN NIGERIAN POLITICAL ANNALS**
In 2008, the Akwa Ibom State government announced that it would embark on a project to transform the oil-rich state into Dubai.
“My vision is to produce a small Dubai within the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and create 5,000 jobs,” said the then governor of the state, Godswill Akpabio, who initiated the project, in early 2012.
Armed with N120 billion, the government embarked on the construction of a massive 14-floor storey leisure and business complex named Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, situated in 168 hectares of land in Uyo, the state capital.
It was the tallest building in the state, meant to house a 258-room five-star hotel, a Cineplex (six cinema halls), a shopping mall, a 5,000-seat capacity convention center, and a theme park comprising wet and dry parks.
By the time Mr. Akpabio’s tenure ended in 2015, only the Cinema (leased to Ben Murrays Silverbird Showtime Ltd) and a lounge were functional. The rest were uncompleted despite the N120 billion capital already spent.
Many years down the line, the project, which was never completed, has failed to recoup even 5% of the capital investment made by the state government. Till date, Silverbird is still struggling to recoup its lease capital.
The N120 billion project employed only 45 persons, including casual workers who were employed at the Cineplex, the mall, and the lounge, which was far less than the 5,000 projected at the conception of the project.
The Akpabio administration had initially stated that it would cost the state N33 billion to build the Tropicana, but government sources revealed in 2018 that the cost was later reviewed upward to N120 billion.
Mr. Akpabio’s successor, Udom Emmanuel, after pumping in extra billions of Naira into the project, simply gave up and said he would rather “lease out” the Ibom Tropicana instead of putting more money into it because the state could no longer afford to spend scarce resources trying to complete such a project considering its huge completion cost and low prospective income capacity.
Those who thought that Udom Emmanuel would do better were in for a rude shock when the same governor who abandoned the Ibom Tropicana for being a white elephant went ahead to spend N32 billion on the construction of the Akwa Ibom International worship center, where people will gather to sing and pray without any regard for the financial viability of such an expensive white elephant project.
The Nigerian landmass today is littered with all sorts of abandoned projects with an estimated cumulative worth of over $100 billion.
For several insane reasons ranging from kleptomania to vainglorious megalomania, many state governors dubiously embark on white elephant projects under the guise of delivering a legacy project.
Most of these projects appear germane and plausible to the gullible, the undiscerning, the praise singers, the party allies, and the cronies of the governors, but to the informed and under closer scrutiny, 90% of these so-called legacy projects are nothing more than a bureaucratic conduit pipe designed and deployed for the sole purpose of siphoning and looting public funds.
This class of leaders continues to ignore the people’s needs and well-being while focusing on inanities, as they keep coming up with wasteful and misguided showmanship projects while the people continue to suffer needlessly.
Nigerian “kleptocrats’” proclivity for wasting public funds on vanity projects or expensive construction projects of little socioeconomic benefit is well documented.
**For proper context,**
At the tail end of his tenure as governor, precisely in 2007, Gov Donald Duke spent $450 million (over N450 billion taxpayers’ funds in today’s rates) to build and launch TINAPA RESORTS. The sum did not account for the required annual maintenance and running cost of an extra N100 billion. TINAPA failed even before it was inaugurated. The project did not generate even 1% of the capital investment for the state treasury.
As of today, overgrown by thick forests, TINAPA has become a $450 million habitat for snakes, reptiles, and different calibers of wild animals while indigenes of Cross River state continue to serve as gatekeepers, maids, and domestic servants all over the country and beyond.
See the current state of Donald duke’s N450 billion TINAPA: [Link to YouTube Video]
As if that was not enough, Liyel Imoke, who took over from Donald Duke, ignored the lessons of TINAPA and came up with another N100 billion white elephant scheme called Six Flags Millennium Park. Before the end of his tenure, Mr. Imoke ended up outspending his predecessor in funding projects that ended up as liabilities to the state.
In Ebonyi state, Dave Umahi claimed to have spent N36 billion on the construction of the Chuba Okadigbo airport while he was about to leave office. Less than six months later, without a single commercial flight using the airport, the new governor, Francis Nwifuru, approved N13.7 billion for the rehabilitation of the same abandoned airport which was collapsing due to stagnation.
This is almost N50 billion public funds wasted by the leadership of a state with one of the highest poverty and illiteracy rates in the southeast region. Presently, the airport has been turned into a car park, and only the private aircraft of government officials use the runway due to a total boycott by airline operators occasioned by nonexistent commercial traffic or zero patronage by passengers.
Not only has the present crop of governors wasted huge sums of money that could have been deployed to better serve the common Ebonyian, future governors will be forced to continue spending scarce resources to maintain the white elephant airport.
**GOVERNANCE WITHOUT CONSCIENCE:**
Corruption in Nigeria appears to be ubiquitous and has proven to be endemic in the Nigerian psyche and polity as a culminate result of recurrent incidents of governance without conscience.
Many observers might question the mental sanity and administrative competence of these governors who embark on these wasteful adventures. However, The truth is that embarking on white elephant projects like the proposed 10-storey hotel in Awka is actually one of the foolproof ways adopted by executives who wish to divert and loot public funds without leaving actionable blueprints or “investigatable” traces. This is due to the instability of foreign exchange and the free market indices that permit budgetary fluidity, price fixings, and cost fluctuations based on individual capitalist considerations of the contractors, suppliers, and every active player in the value chain.
In the absence of people-oriented leadership, corruption and abuse, especially in the exercise of power within the economic, social, and political institutions by the political leadership, becomes desideratum.
Renowned anthropologist Daniel Jordan Smith, in his bestselling book titled *A Culture of Corruption*, places corrupt practices within the purview of the average Nigerian political leadership, while political scientist Richard Joseph went a step further when he coined and used the term “prebendalism” to describe how Nigerian public officials view their position as a personal financial entitlement and a leeway for personal aggrandizement.
Sadly, posterity has justified these men as the reoccurring decimals in the Nigerian
leadership equation, and the cycle seems to be persistent.
These leaders often justify their reckless conduct by claiming that such projects are part of their legacy for the people, even when the project’s essence, reality, or viability are already outdated, unjustifiable, or nonexistent.
Political scientists and leadership scholars have often referred to the proposed 10-storey hotel and others like it as a “white elephant project” or “monumental scam.”
The habit of governors proposing the construction of white elephant projects may not stop until a law is enacted that stipulates that any governor who proposes a white elephant project should be ready to forfeit 70% of the sum allocated for such a project for the development of education, healthcare, and other critical infrastructure. This will guarantee that governors focus on projects that will have a direct impact on the people rather than lining their pockets.
Governor Soludo has the opportunity to prove the critics wrong by ensuring that his administration prioritizes the needs of the people and embarks on projects that will uplift the living standards of Anambra residents.
In conclusion, as the people watch the unfolding developments, they remain hopeful that Governor Soludo’s leadership will diverge from the prevalent trend of wasteful projects, and instead, prioritize initiatives that directly benefit the people of Anambra state.