By Abdulbaki Ndanusa
It is unfortunate that the biggest news coming from Kwara State now is about the N17.8 billion that the Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq administration budgeted to spend on the renovation of the Kwara Hotel. While the government has played all the tricks in the books to cover up the deal and divert attention from the dirty contract award to a Lagos-based company, Craneburg, the people of the state who feel scandalized about such a huge amount of money proposed to be spent on the refurbishing of an existing structure refuse to shift focus in discussing it.
The new twist in the discussion on the proposed hotel renovation deal is the disclosure by an ally of the governor, Hon. Moshood Mustapha, the owner of the Crystal Group of Hotels, that his company had been granted a concession agreement to refurbish the Kwara Hotel by spending N5bn on the remodeling, without taking a dime from the government. The Kwara Hotel – Crystal deal had been pushed to the stage where even the House of Assembly had passed a resolution on it.
The government changed its mind because it preferred to spend its scarce resources and at a much more exorbitant rate on the renovation contract. All these are facts that are already in the public space. However, what is intriguing about the whole thing is how the Kwara Hotel renovation issue exemplifies the ugly transformation that has happened in the State of Harmony.
Fifteen years ago, the state was governed by a different political party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and the governor was a medical doctor turned politician, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki. Kwara State government then raised a bond, which is a financial instrument to source funds from the capital market for public projects. The amount raised then was ironically N17 billion. That is N800 million less than the money that the present government under the All Progressives Congress (APC) plans to throw into the Kwara Hotel beautification project.
When the PDP under Saraki got the N17 billion it raised from the capital market, the money was spent on many key projects that still stand as valuable assets to the glory of the state today. The N17 billion was spent on the building of the Kwara State University, Harmony Advanced Diagnostic Centre, International Aviation College, remodeling of Ilorin Stadium, Phase One of the Ilorin Water Reticulation Project, Ilorin Cargo Terminal and several other urban and rural roads and electrification projects.
Today, the APC government under Abdulrazaq is planning to spend the same N17 billion in addition to another N800 million on just the repair work on a hotel whose value was placed at N5.4billion. It is important to note that while the APC government wants to spend so much money on a hotel, the previous government spent less money than that on projects that had not only helped to modernise the economy of the state but also helped to create jobs, improve the standard of living of the people, eradicate poverty, and continue to generate revenue for the state.
The question to ask at this point is what makes the repair of Kwara Hotel a priority project that will gulp so much public funds and deny the state of other key economic projects and social services infrastructure? How can a government prefer to spend that huge money as an investment in a leisure business instead of on education, health, provision of potable water, empowering small-scale businesses, and boosting power supply as well as other projects that can have positive multiplier effects on the economy?
From what the Crystal Hotel group chairman, Mustapha disclosed, it is obvious that a huge percentage of the money slated for the repair of the hotel is probably meant for something else. The markup on that contract is very high. The Kwara Hotel contract is perhaps one of the biggest contract scandals in the country since the return of democracy in 1999. Very surprising that the APC leadership at the state and national levels do not feel that they should speak with their wasteful governor who has demonstrated an inability to prioritise his people’s welfare and future.
It is however surprising when some commentators say PDP is not an option in Kwara State. Of course, APC is a mistake for Kwara State as the people’s welfare and the state’s resources were better managed under the PDP. In the 16 years of PDP, there were infrastructure, policies, and programmes which raised the standard of living of the people.
The PDP never foisted on the state a scandal that is one-tenth the size of this Kwara Hotel renovation scandal. With the resources that Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq plans to throw away into the hotel, most governments in Nigeria will build hospitals, schools, cottage industries, help SMEs, provide potable water and power across the state as well as improve on other facilities that can lead to increase in the standard of living of the people.
It is no wonder that since 2019, the Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq government cannot boast of having attracted any investor, foreign or local into the state. In the same way, it cannot boast of getting any tangible new business to get established in the state, So, what will warrant this huge investment in the hospitality industry as represented by the Kwara Hotel renovation?
Which visitor is being expected to lodge in the renovated Kwara Hotel when no new businesses and no opportunities are being created for people to have some money-making transactions in the state?
What industry or sector of the business community is booming to warrant an influx of people from outside the state so they could then pay for accommodation in Kwara Hotel?
One is further intrigued by the ignominious role that the House of Assembly headed by Mr. Danladi Yakubu is playing in the whole Kwara Hotel scam. Instead of standing for the people, Yakubu and his colleagues are standing against the people. They have kept mute as if it is not concerned about how state resources are expended. It seems Speaker Yakubu and his fellow state legislators are just happy to be good boys to the governor.
To worsen the matter, the House of Assembly which ratified the earlier and more cost-effective deal with Crystal Hotel for the renovation of the Kwara Hotel is now lying that it ever ratified the deal. Yet, video recording of the House proceeding on the matter is out and it only shows the type of leader that Speaker Yakubu is. With the culture of silence, consent, and conspiracy in the executive and legislature, Kwara State is clearly in trouble.
In a state with one of the poorest infrastructure and misgoverned people, heavy spending on the renovation of a hotel is not the next option. That money can serve the state and its people better in many other areas and sectors. Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq and his fellow travelers in government should put on their thinking caps and come out with better ideas on how to invest the N17.8 billion on projects that will bring prosperity to the people.
Ndanusa writes from Lafiagi