Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

This councilman’s travels to Africa are being investigated by state attorney

Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro
Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro Miami Herald File 2014

Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro says he has made two trips to Africa on city business. Now the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office is investigating how those trips were paid for.

The state attorney’s office has subpoenaed information from the city on Ighodaro’s travels to Africa dating back to 2012, including transactions in which he used his city-issued debit card and documents showing the source of financing for the trips.

Investigators also requested documents related to funding of the city’s International Music Festival, which was spearheaded by Ighodaro.

The subpoenas, which were obtained by the Miami Herald through a public records request, seek documents similar to what the state attorney has looked at in public corruption cases.

Ighodaro told the Miami Herald that he wasn’t aware of an investigation, but that “there is nothing that was done outside of the norm” with his travel.

The councilman, who travels regularly to Africa, said two of his trips were related to Miami Gardens business. The most recent was a February trip to Benin and Nigeria as part of Sister Cities International. He said that his expenses were approved by city staff and were not paid through his city debit card.

The other trip, in 2016, was in support of developing an African history museum in the city. Plans for the museum have been in the works since 2013 but stalled in 2015 when the City Council voted against a $125,000 grant to support the museum. Ighodaro said the museum’s planning group paid for his travel on that trip.

“I know people want to create all kinds of smoke when there’s no fire. Let them look at the numbers,” Ighodaro said.

Ighodaro has also organized annual trips to Africa through a partnership between the Robert B. Ingram Foundation and Carol City High School where he takes a group of students on a “Rites of Passage” trip.

School Trip
As part of a 2013 trip organized by Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, student Gerre Barnswell greeted a local Imam at a Sierra Leone mosque. Ighodaro’s travel to Africa is now under investigation. Provided to the Miami Herald

Additionally, the state attorney requested documents about the city’s International Music Festival, which began in 2015 and was a fundraiser for the proposed African museum. This year’s festival is set to take place Saturday and will feature a performance by Jo-Mersa Marley, the grandson of music legend Bob Marley.

City Manager Cameron Benson declined to comment on the investigation. City Clerk Ronetta Taylor, who was asked to produce the records, was not immediately available for comment.

State attorney’s office spokeswoman Terry Chavez said the office could not confirm or deny the investigation.

The city’s policy is that elected officials and other personnel must use the purchasing or “P” cards for official city business and that personal use of the card is not allowed.

Other subpoenaed materials include:

▪ Emails, texts and other correspondence by any city official related to the councilman’s travel.

▪ Calendar or schedule records and any itineraries from the travel.

▪ Documents showing that the travel was approved by a city employee or official.

▪ Any repayments Ighodaro made to the city.

Ighodaro was initially appointed to his council seat in 2012. In 2014 he won a four-year term. He is also an adjunct professor at Florida Memorial University.

This story has been updated to clarify who paid for one of Ighodaro’s trips and his role with the Nigerian American Foundation.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3