Port Harcourt — Code-named 'Tower of controversies' because of the issues surrounding the project, the idea for the Bayelsa Tower Hotel was conceived by former governor of the state, late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha to boost the tourism potentials and generate revenue. However, several years after the dream was conceptualized and billions of naira injected into it, the multi- billion naira state-owned project has become the proverbial stillborn.
It was intended to be a 14-storey building with 120 rooms and 2,500 capacity auditorium.
When our reporter visited the hotel located between Bayelsa Palm Road along Milford Okilo Expressway, the spiral shape structure wears a relic of neglect.
What is left of the hotel is over-grown weed, caving walls, and dejected staff of Gitto Construction firm - the contractor handling the project - who were loitering around the premises when Daily Trust visited.
The foundation for the project was laid by late Alamieyeseigha less than two years after he assumed office.
The project was inherited by Goodluck Jonathan following the removal of Alamieyesiegha from office. The hotel project was at second floor when Jonathan was nominated as Vice President to late President Umaru Yar'adua.
Timipre Sylva, who succeeded Jonathan, later redesigned the structure and upgraded it to its present 18 floors status.
The now abandoned project was described by Jonathan during a campaign rally in Yenagoa in 2012 as 'a monument of disgrace.'
At the grand finale rally of Peoples Democratic Party in the build up to 2012 governorship election that brought Seriake Dickson to power, the former President said the political difference he had with Sylva had to do with the abandoned hotel project. The former president said at the rally that he did not support Sylva's reelection bid because the former governor abandoned the hotel project. "Everybody knows that in our society, we need development. I was second in command to Alamieyeseigha administration. One thing I remember is the Tower Hotel. It was not my dream but it was conceptualised under Alamieyeseigha administration"
"He discussed with the contractors. It was supposed to be a five star hotel and it would attract people from all over the world. But now, it is a monument of disgrace", Jonathan said.
Sylva, on his part, said he built the hotel to the 18th floor it is now and accused Jonathan of compromising with contractor handling the project.
The abandoned hotel has become a home to destitute, street urchins, weed smokers and harlots.
A staff of the company, who pleaded anonymity, told Daily Trust that the State Government has not terminated the hotel contract, saying the company will demobilise from the site as soon as the contract is terminated.
He said that the management of the company is waiting for another mile stone mobilization before the next phase of the project will commence. But the mobilization fee may never come as the present administration in the state seems not interested in continuing with the contract.
The press secretary to Governor Seriake Dickson, Daniel Iwariso, neither picked calls nor responded to the text message sent to him on the matter.
But a source said the state government has reengaged another contractor to continue with the project. The source said a new contractor has been mobilised with a sum of N4bn to complete the project within 18 months. "The N4bn is to enable the contractor re-mobilise to site. We have engaged world class consultants from South Africa, who have the experience and expertise in the development of tourism facilities", the source quoted the governor as saying during the signing of the contract.
The state of the hotel has become subject of debate among political actors in the State with critical stakeholders questioning the actual amount of money sunk into the project so far. Many see the edifice as a project that may never be completed while others see it as a conduit pipe for siphoning public fund by successive administrations. Former Governor Sylva was said to have gone to the capital market to source for a N50bn loan in 2009 to fund the project. According to the Financial Management Review Committee set up by Governor Dickson in 2013 to review the actual amount of money expended in the project, a sum of N3.6bn from the said loan was budgeted for the completion of the project in 2011.
The Committee chaired by the former Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Timi Alaibe indicted Sylva of financial recklessness just as the report showed that the cost of the project was N13.9bn. The report further showed that the project was rated 26 percent completed when the bond was obtained. The Committee in its report noted that "it is pertinent to state that most of the projects highlighted were long abandoned projects and they remained abandoned even after the refinancing".
Both Sylva and Dickson have been trading blame on who did what in the controversial hotel project. While Dickson's camp accused Sylva of using the project as a conduit pipe to milk the State treasury; Sylva on his part said he abandoned the project because of the variation of N5bn demanded by the firm handling the project.
Sylva had told reporters that he inherited the hotel project from Jonathan when it was at the second floor . He said the contractor was paid N6bn out of the initial N8bn agreed as the total cost of the hotel project but stopped further payment when the contractor demanded another huge sums of variation.
"That 5-Star hotel project was at second floor when I came in as governor in 2007. It was a project started and abandoned by former governor, late Alamieyeseigha. I came in and took that project from second to 18th floor. The project was initially awarded for N8bn and I had already paid the contractor N6bn at a point.
"Then the contractor came to me to ask for a variation of N5bn because the external works were not included in the initial contract they signed", Silva was quoted as saying.
According to him "I told the contractor it will be too expensive a project because if we add N5bn variation to an already expensive project of N8bn initial contract value, that will amount to N13bn and we have not included the furnishing of the hotel yet. And 18-storey five-star hotel is not going to be easy to furnish."
"So by the time we put all these things together, it would probably have cost us about N20bn to build one hotel in Bayelsa. I thought it was really not a viable project and that is why I withdrew from the project".