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The Sunborn Yacht Hotel, now back at London's Docklands and restored to its splendour

The Lagos floating 4.1.9 white elephant hotel

I was in the Docklands in east London yesterday and was a bit taken aback when I saw the massive and luxurious Sunborn Yacht Hotel moored by the River Thames.

I was like: “Is this the same boat that was taken to Lagos in November 2008 to help turn the city into a tourist Mecca and a Dubai of West Africa”?

The floating hotel was part of the Docklands scenery from 2005 until some people thought it was a good idea for it to be moored by the Lagos Marina. The deal that took it to Lagos was shrouded in mystery. Then Lagos State commissioner for tourism Tokunbo Akifuyomi claimed it was acquired under a “public private partnership” between the state government and Diamond Capital Investment Ltd and that it was going to boost tourism in the state.

No one was quite sure who contributed what to the estimated 8bn naira (about $40m) price tag. What became clear was that yacht fell very quickly into a serious state of disrepair and rust, and was not put to use, with no tourist dollars coming in.

The Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Lagos, unused and decaying
The Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Lagos, unused and decaying

The yacht disappeared from Lagos in 2013 and some have claimed that the public money used to acquire it also disappeared with it. The opposition in the state screamed corruption and asked then governor Babatunde Fashola to account for the state’s involvement in such a floating white elephant.

Tunji Shelle, the state chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) asked in early 2014: “After floating miserably on the Marina water for so long, the controversial Sunburn Yacht, which cost the Lagos State Government, under (former Governor) Bola Tinubu, a whooping N8bn suddenly disappeared, only to be sighted at Thames in England.

“Now, the question is: who orchestrated this 419 and who were the beneficiaries of this waste of public fund. This is certainly a fraud and (Governor Babatunde) Fashola must tell us something he knows about this fraud, failure which he remains an accessory after the fact in the fraud.”

The claims that no public money was involved in the deal were betrayed by the response at the time from Joe Igbokwe the publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State: “Every successful investor or businessman will tell you that business is not a bed of roses. He knows business is not all about gains all the time; you gain in some and lose in some. It is the same with governments all over the world. No government anywhere in the world will tell you that it has achieved 100 per cent success in every decision it has taken.

“The world will forgive you for taking decisions and making all the mistakes but the world will not forgive you if you do not take decisions at all for fear of failure. LASG [Lagos State Government] has done away with the bad business called the Sunborn Yacht project. Case rested.”

After being refurbished and modernised in Finland, the bad business for the people of Lagos, but “good business” for “the beneficiaries of this waste of public fund” aka the Sunborn Yacht Hotel returned to London’s Docklands last year.

It was a remarkable case of “back to sender”. Shame we can’t say the same about the Lagos State money that funded its purchase.

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