Delta State In Dilemma Over Botched Resort Projects

Delta State is in a state of confusion now following the abandonment of the planned Oleri Theme Park and Leisure Centre, irrespective of the huge sum committed to the project.

Like a pack of cards, the much vaunted project came crashing without a whimper after the project contractor, virtually without warning, abandoned the site.

About a year after Senator Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa succeeded Dr. Emmanuel Eweta Uduaghan, initiator of the project, as governor Delta State, the company executing the project, Sarner PFM Resorts Limited, unilaterally withdrew from the job.

While the state was yet to digest the development, Sarner PFM Resorts Limited with Princess Abiodu Oyefusi as the arrowhead, without notice, began evacuating the equipment it had on ground.

Based on this, Okowa hurriedly set up a special committee to evaluate the development, while David Edevbie, Commissioner for Finance and chairman of the committee, quickly initiated moves to stop the removal of SarnerPFM’s equipment pending formal discussions with the government on the implications of the company’s decision.

In a series of meetings of the committee, the government has been exploring probable options on what to do with the project given the huge amount already expended with little on the ground to show.

Members of the committee include the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Peter Mrakpor; the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Ernest Ogwezzy; Lands and Urban Development, Chief Dan Okenyi; Mr. Henry Sakpra, Commissioner for Special Duties, Government House and Prof. Sylvester Monye, senior adviser on policy to Govenor Okowa with Mrs. P. Ajufo, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Environment as secretary.

The committee’s terms of reference include liaising with SarnerPFM to understand the circumstances that made it withdraw from the project; determine the extent of execution of the project; determine the nature of the agreement with SarnerPFM and what liabilities are expected of any of the two parties and advise government on the way forward with the project.

Edevbie’s committee had sought the expert opinion of E and Y, a legal consultancy firm, to get an insight into the nature of the agreement between the Delta State Government and SarnerPFM.

From the recommendations of the firm which it insisted was merely advisory, the government was informed that SarnerPFM cannot just walk away.

The committee was advised to evaluate the extent of work done by the company and juxtapose it with the amount of money paid to it.

In the views of E and Y, the Delta State Government may have to go to court to compel the company to enter into meaningful resolution, should it fail to reach in agreement with the government.

In the committee’s report to the state executive council, it actually put the government on notice that it may have to go to court to get a just resolution on the action of SarnerPFM.

Given the grand conception of the project, which ought to have been completed in 2014 at the cost of $290 million, the committee recommended that the project should not be discontinued, rather, it should be advertised and credible companies invited to partner with the state; albeit with the successful company taking over the financing of the project given that all that has been accomplished so far is the reclamation of the land at tax payers’ cost.

There is a cautious approach to the issue within government circles with the word “sensitive” routinely used to describe it.

So far, a final decision is yet to be taken with government inclined towards appointing a consultant to superintend the completion of a reduced version of the resort project.

Touted as the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, the resort was supposed to have the following features:

*Theme Resort [Oleri Village, Warri].

*An 18 zone community, spanning 186 acres built according to architecture drawn from Egyptian, American and African influences.

*Shopping malls, which boast a host of foreign and home-made brands.

*A range of Floridian, Mediterranean, Oriental and English themed dwellings built as modern inns and private villas.

*A five star, five storey hotel with 250 bedrooms.

*A three star, eight floor hotel with 504 bedrooms.

*Waterfalls.

*Service Communities including a Retail Village, African Cultural Village, Sports Village etc.

*Recreational Amenities such as Casinos, Cinemas among others.

*Ample Parking Spaces, Restaurants and other functional amenities.

* Wild life Park and Resort [Ogwashi-Uku Asaba].

*A daily capacity of 3,500 guests.

*Adventure park and safari.

*Animal village, zoo and botanical garden.

*Cycling and hunting trails.

*A five star hotel of 50 rooms and 38 luxury guests’ chalets.

In withdrawing from the resort project two years after it was meant to have been completed as well as to provide over 5,000 jobs when actual construction is yet to commence under controversial circumstances, the scepticism that trailed it at the time of conception is being justified.

Experts knowledgeable on the dynamics of building resorts had queried the capacity of the project consultant, Sarner PFM, as it is not known to have any pedigree or previous experience on such project.

Besides, its viability was also questioned as the planned resort was seen as too grandiose to be achieved.

The funding arrangement, which was initially touted as a public-private partnership, was also a source for concern as Sarner PFM was unable to enter into any financing programme with any funding agency.

While inspecting the site in July 2013, Project Supervisor of Sarner PFM, Princess Abiodu Oyefusi told then Governor Uduaghan that the stage of the reclamation of land had been completed, as the first phase of construction would start in September same year.

While saying that the first stage of infrastructure, including the Wild Life Park at Ogwashi-Uku, would gulp about $290 million, Oyefusi assured of speedy execution of the project.

“We are commencing the first phase of construction in upland in September, which will include the construction of catering villa, three star hotels and the electric fence,” she told Uduaghan at the project site.

Less than three years later, her company abandoned the project when construction was yet to start.

Years ago, after months of consistent and persistent media enquiries and faced with the fact that Sarner PFM lacks the ability and the capacity to manage and fund such a huge project, African Travel Times magazine was taken on a tour of the location of the resort at Oleri by Princess Adefusi.

When confronted with facts, she opened up and pleaded for understanding and support.

Despite attempts to sweet-talk African Travel Times magazine, whose publisher incidentally hails from Delta State, the effort hit a brick wall, and that led to a running battle with Sarner PFN and the Delta State Government.

After several months of more thorough investigations and confrontations between this magazine and Richard Mofe Damijo, [RMD’s office], then Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism, the state government eventually succumbed and opened up that a resort was not going to be built, but instead that the location would be turned into a housing estate after Uduaghan’s tenure.

The above statement was made by Mofe Damijo to Lucky Onoriode George, Publisher/Editor of this publication, who has over the years spearheaded the investigation to this gigantic and fraudulence perpetrated by Uduaghan against a state he presides over and his own people.

Authoritatively, African Travel Times magazine can also confirmed that the Resort at Oleri that is still at sand filling level has gulped over N50 billions of state money, which the former governor, Uduaghan and Mofe Damijo must tell Deltans where these monies went.

Shamefully, prominent Delta State indigenes were used for the two separates lavish and extravagant mushroomed investment forum for the projects in Lagos.

First was with Late Abel Ubeku, former Managing Director of Guinness and the all-weather; The Ibru Dynasty at the popular Lagoon Restaurant in Lagos.

Despite all the efforts, not a dine was ever raised after several warnings from this publication that Delta State must learn from the calamitous situation Cross River State is now [a state that prides itself as the tourism Eldorado of Nigeria] after spending fortunes in the building of TINAPA Resort and the rebuilding/expansion of Obudu Ranch, now Obudu Mountain Resorts; and even with a cable-car among others that many observers/industry analysts say is a waste of Cross River’s resources by the former Governor, Donald Duke.

As for the Lagos State Oyefusi, who is a British citizen that used her relationship with the former governor to terrorise the ministries of Tourism, Works, Justice, and even finance officials in the past years before the complete capitulation of the projects following the exit of Uduaghan, she must be made to account for her role in this huge scam.

Today in Nigeria after oil, which the federal government officials and politicians use to defraud the country, it is also evident now that tourism has also become a hand tool for state governors in siphoning money from their respective states’ pulse with impunity.

Finally, the Delta State House of Assembly must hold a public hearing to find out what went wrong, those involved and the actual amount of public funds spent with the view to recovering every dime.

By Lucky Onoriode George [Publisher/Editor]

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