|Governor Ben Ayade with Investors at the Proposed Cross River Rice City|
Much of the significant critical issues in the keenly contested 2015 governorship election in Cross River State were centred on the qualities and pedigrees of the contestants. This became necessary as it was glaring that a precedent had already been set in the quality of materials the state had thrown up as governors since the current political dispensation began in 1999. Mr. Donald Duke (1999-2007) and Senator Liyel Imoke (2007-2015) represent a bold testimony to the emerging trend of enthroning young and brilliant people at the apogee of political leadership across the world. And like his predecessors, Senator Ben Ayade is a man of composite vision, who has indeed enunciated a new governing philosophy and a new set of ideas that can act as catalysts in moving the state to greater heights.
Just under sixteen months after his inauguration as governor, Ayade has demonstrated that he was prepared for the job and that he had studied and appreciated all the challenges the state is faced with before stepping in. He has lined up programmes and policies, commenced implementation of projects, which when completed, would move the state to its pride of place even without oil. At a time when the Calabar/Ikom Federal Road has become a death trap, when transiting from any other part of the state to its capital or vice versa has become a nightmare with several man-hours being lost to embarrassing craters and potholes, the governor completed the design and the de-bushing of the 260km Calabar-Katsina-Ala superhighway after President Muhammadu Buhari performed the groundbreaking ceremony last year.
As a strong commitment to his vision to developing the state, he was able to bring President Muhammadu Buhari to Cross River State to flag off the event in spite of Mr. President’s tight schedule. He is the first governor and one from an opposition party in the present administration to attract the president to his state. According to the ebullient governor, this road will reduce the journey from Calabar to Obudu, currently 8 hours, to just about two hours and reduce incessant carnage on the existing road and also facilitate quick movement of cargoes from the South to the North and vice versa. With the existence of more than one thousand kilometer-network of feeder roads built by the immediate past government across the state, this Ayade’s initiative would help facilitate the movement of farm produce from local communities to urban centres.
Because of his insistence on human capital development, Ayade places emphasis on industralisation that consequently creates employment opportunities for the people. He has established the Calabar Garment Factory, one of the biggest in the world. The factory alone has generated about 3000 jobs.
Ayade has also established the state Green Police through which 1,500 people have been engaged. He has maintained a very cordial relationship with organized Labour in the state through prompt and regular payment of salaries. The Calabar Pharmaceutical and Cosmetics Company which will employ 2000 workers is under construction. There is also the Calabar Rice City which is sitting on a 3000 hectares of land with the aim of massively producing highly nutritious and vitaminised rice for local consumption and export.
It is noteworthy to state here that aside from the completion of the Calabar Mono-rail project, the government of Professor Ben Ayade has completed the 5,000 capacity Calabar International Convention Centre. He has opened up the state to investors and has embarked on new vistas like his forays into solid minerals and real estate development. For constraints of space, the achievements of the government within this short period can be reviewed in a subsequent piece.
Again, it would be recalled that Calabar the capital of Cross River State was the first political capital of Nigeria. This became possible because the early European missionaries who came into the interior coast of West Africa discovered our territories through water. Yet it is very unfortunate that almost two hundred years since the exploration and more than fifty years after their departure, the Calabar port is as shallow and as dry as a swimming pool in a living home. This is attributable to the failure of the Federal Government to dredge the Calabar River to the Atlantic Ocean. Over the years, internal wrangling between the Federal Ministry of Transport and the Federal Inland Waterways has resulted in failure of government to develop the waterways and a lull in economic activities along the coastal axis especially in the Calabar metropolis. Ayade, aware of what the state stands to gain if the Calabar Port functions optimally, has commenced the processes for the construction of the Bakassi Deep Seaport. This would encourage and promote export trade from the state and bring about expansion of business and economic activities across the state.
Another landmark action taken by Ayade since his assumption of office as governor is his investment in the psychology of workers in the state. Before he came in the saddle, irregular payment of salaries was threatening the joys of workers in the state. But upon assumption of office, Ayade introduced a fresh initiative to tackle the problem. He invited all stakeholders including banks operating in the state to a brainstorming session to proffer solution to the problem and came up with the resolution that henceforth, workers would get their salaries on the 25th of every month.
The governor, however, surpassed that by paying even earlier than the date he officially declared. For instance, on a number of occasions he had paid salaries on the 13th, 20th and surprisingly on the 1st of May as a gesture to and solidarity with the organized labour. He has paid the salary up to date to pave way for the new order and has thus motivated workers in the state to put in their best and support his new vision for the state.
Upon his assumption of office, Ayade discovered that he was inheriting an aging workforce in the civil service. What did he do? He swiftly lifted the 23-year old freeze on recruitment and ordered fresh intakes as a way of reinvigorating the jaded civil service. This is in addition to other job creating opportunities that are beckoning.
The dynamism and intellectual reasoning that Ayade has brought to bear on government business just within months of his ascension to the exalted throne is legendary.
For those who had been to Cross River State from the administration of Donald Duke to the last days of the Imoke years, it was indisputable that Calabar was the cleanest state capital in Nigeria. The story is told of how a United States-based Nigerian from Enugu state visited Calabar during the 2013 annual Calabar Carnival and Christmas Festival. Within just two weeks of his stay in Cross River State, having been treated to the traditional hospitality of the people, the palatable cuisines and, above all, the environment, topography and landscaping, the young man went back to California to pick his wife and two kids to Calabar where they have now made their permanent place of abode. Calabar still remains one of Nigeria’s very clean cities as Ayade personally supervises the evacuation of refuse. Everywhere, the governor is seen giving instructions or directives to people to carry out one assignment or the other while he implements some himself.
His administration has also commenced the city capping exercise, to increase urban afforestation and green areas across the city of Calabar.
Yet, undoubtedly, Senator Ayade, a renowned professor of Microbiology could not have manifested such populist ethos out of the blue. At the Seventh Senate where he represented Cross River North Senatorial District, until recently when he stepped aside to contest the governorship primaries of his state, Ayade was one of the most active voices. As a parliamentarian who was at home with the condition of his people, his contributions to debates and sponsorship of bills were always proofs of his undying love for the poor and the downtrodden in Nigeria. Whatever action he undertook in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly was always a direct reflection of his compassion and feelings for the man in the street. Before he left the senate in which he was inaugurated on June 6, 2011 as a greenhorn, Ayade’s prodigious output of bills was overwhelming.
He sponsored a total of eighteen (18) bills, the second highest in the life of the Seventh National Assembly. Some people may assail his style as too liberal because of his penchant for getting things done immediately. But his preference for innovative, non-bureaucratic way of governing is more democratic than the old government model- centralized, top-down, offering standardized services delivered by public monopolies, which worked well during the colonial era but no longer fits the needs of our increasingly diverse society in the Information Age. Not only does the governor run an all-inclusive administration with open door policy, the man is a model of civilised political culture. As he is poised to complete these projects and generate employment for our teeming graduates, Cross Riverians should drum up support for this philosopher King and should not allow anything to distract him.
Dr. Orjiakor is an Abuja-based commentator on national issues.