Edo Govt Deny Allegations Over Radisson Hotel and Shoprite Contracts

The Edo State government has categorically denied allegations of corruption surrounding the Radisson Hotel and Shoprite projects. Speaking at the Government House in Benin City, Mr. Chris Nehikhare, the State Information Commissioner, dismissed the claims as baseless propaganda aimed at misleading the public.

Nehikhare asserted that since 2016, the state administration has maintained transparency and accountability in managing the state’s resources. He accused the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) of spreading lies to undermine the government’s achievements. He described the APC’s claims as “a show of shame,” criticizing their use of what he called “worthless pieces of paper” as evidence.

Despite these denials, documents reveal that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is investigating financial activities related to the state’s projects. A letter from the Secretary to the Government, Osarodion Ogie, acknowledged the EFCC’s inquiry into Central Bank interventions, noting that the State’s Finance Commissioner was unavailable at the time but would be able to attend an interview at a later date.

On August 23, 2023, the Edo State government awarded a ₦15.4 billion contract to Shapoorji Pallonji Nigeria Limited for the completion of the Radisson Hotel. This project had been stalled at 85% completion for years. The firm received an upfront payment of ₦9.2 billion, with the balance to be paid through monthly valuations. This move raised questions about the financial management and transparency of the project.

Idia Retail Development Company Limited, a key player in the project, received a feasibility report for which the Edo State government paid Afrinvest West Africa Limited ₦4.6 billion. Afrinvest, owned by outgoing PDP governor Godwin Obaseki, was initially contracted to conduct the feasibility study in 2021, receiving ₦2.5 billion for the report. The hotel project’s initial contract sum of ₦15.4 billion later increased to ₦23 billion to cover additional subcontractors’ expenses.

Subcontractors like Ace Facades Limited and 21st Century Evolution Systems received substantial contracts for specific installations, collectively worth over ₦700 billion. Furthermore, Banwo and Ighodalo, a law firm linked to PDP governorship candidate Asue Akintunde Ighodalo, was awarded a contract for legal services, receiving ₦7.5 billion as a mobilization fee.

Afrinvest’s fees surged to ₦4.6 billion, raising questions about the additional services provided to justify such a significant increase. Payments to contractors in both Naira and US Dollars further complicated the financial management of the project, potentially violating Central Bank regulations.

In tandem with the Radisson Hotel project, the Benin City Shopping Mall, initially branded as Shoprite, has been another controversial venture. Three years ago, the state government demolished the State library along Sapele Road to construct the mall. The project, initially contracted to A&K Construction Limited, saw its total sum balloon from ₦5 billion to ₦12 billion, with significant payments made for variations and additional works.

Persianas Nigeria Limited, initially named the “anchor tenant” for Shoprite, later declined involvement due to overpricing concerns. The government threatened to reduce Persianas’ stake while continuously increasing the contract sum.

The Shopping Mall, now costing over ₦12 billion, no longer bears the Shoprite name and has become a point of controversy, with allegations of mismanagement and corruption. For instance, in one day, June 14, 2023, the government approved over ₦2 billion in variations for the mall project.

Furthermore, the management of the mall has been handed over to Broll Property Services Limited, a private firm, bypassing the Edo Property Development Authority. This decision, along with the involvement of Redwire Marketing Company—owned by Governor Obaseki’s associate—has raised further suspicions.

In both projects, the Edo State government bypassed its own legal departments, opting instead for Banwo and Ighodalo for advisory services, raising questions about the justification for such substantial payments.

The APC, led by chairman Jarret Tenebe, has called for an independent audit of the projects to ensure public funds were used appropriately. The party has also appealed to the EFCC to investigate the financial dealings further, emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability in the state’s administration.

Edo residents are left with several questions: Who owns Idia Retail Development Company Limited? Why did the government pay Afrinvest for a feasibility report it handed over to Idia Retail Development? What is the actual cost of the Benin City Mall project today, and why is its management based in Lagos? What is the shareholding of the Edo State Government in both projects, and what stake does the Chief of Staff to Governor Obaseki have in the Benin City Mall?

These questions underline the need for transparency and independent scrutiny to ensure that public resources are managed in the best interest of the people

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