When A Reverse Gear Is Ideal: Ayade and Destination Cross River Challenge By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi




By Bankong-Obi


The Cross River governor’s office is an incredibly swanky place. With its eco-friendly architecture, the building fits very well into the lush greenery of the ambience that Calabar, the capital offers. Of course, the natural environment is complimented by the vast investment in security gadgets that protect the staff and visitors– public and civil servants who work in or visit the edifice.

The Government House, Calabar just a mile or two from the Governor’s office sits on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. It is also a site to behold. Nestled by the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, the Eastern Naval Command, the Court of Appeal and toppling hills. Occupants of that building, ordinarily, should have unfettered access to tranquility, a gateway to reflection. With this they could draw from the vast human and natural resources available to turn the State in their custody to a heaven of sorts.
Besides, the governor’s office overlooks the Hope Waddel Training Institute, reputed as a foremost institution that produced great Nigerian leaders such as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Okoi Arikpo, Professor Kalu Uka, Ambassador Okon Uya, among other pathfinders. This should jerk up ambitious antennas and inspire anyone providently opportune to oversee the state, to aspire to statesmanship.

Regardless of the expensive assemblages in these two public facilities, one room in the governor’s office stands out distinctly. Not for its near decrepitude, though. The small library in the governor’s office is the treasure trove. It is suffering great setback, despite the finances expended on renovating and equipping the piece of structure. Ensconsed in the second floor of the imposing  edifice, the library is clothed in magazines, newspapers, books and periodicals, most of them dating back to the eighteenth century. That those materials have been alive, is perhaps thanks to the diligence of the workers in that section. The bad news is that the bookhouse which functions as a support unit of the media arm of the governor’s office, is now in a pitiable state. The complication in this case is that this happens despite two professors presently working just next door. There are doubts that these academic-politicians or some of those who conquered the State before them as governors or administrators ever visited the library or use(d) condensed material therefrom as a compass to navigate the state. In addition, there are bundles and piles of materials that non-state actors like me aren’t expected to have access to. All these are meant to afford whoever governs this abundantly-endowed state a binocular-effect entry into the past and then aid her or him to define the future.

Aside officials may be shunning the library, Cross River State in the last one year has not organised any profound all-encompassing seminar or conference as a measure of harnessing the diverse intellectual and field material for the purpose of enhancing the governance and development of the State. Also, when the state is now cast on artificial fault lines of ‘they in PDP versus them in APC’, governance dips further down the lane of indifference, stagnation and disrepute. Yes, an array of stars has been put together to asssist in rolling the motors of governance. But, when a senior official recently threw in the towel, blaming lack of briefs or space to function, contriversies set in.

A glaring evidence of the abandonment of that small asset (library) is almost manifesting in the form of leadership slide into hallucinations as a method of governing. This happens despite the fact that all basic theories and formula required to move, trudge and swashbuckle positively, are enshrined in those brittle books. I will begin from 1968 to show how materials on those racks can make governance easier. When the young state which had just been uncoupled from the Eastern Region as Southeastern State just set up offices in Calabar, there were only three towns that electricity and pipe-borne water. Colonel Jacob Esuene, the pioneer governor who was appointed by then Head of States, Major-General Yakubu Gowon laid the foundation for the takeoff  in 1967. During a recent trolling through libraries in Cross River State, I stumbled on a copy of Esuene’s 1968 budget proposal at the library in the governor’s office. The document showed that projects and programmes for the year were intended to be financed with proceeds from cocoa, palm kernel and oil, forest produce and of course the small subvention from the Federal government. That creation also included Akwa Ibom State which was carved out in 1987.

Given that it was a budget of reconstruction and a rising from the ashes of the civil war, Esuene was tasked with laying a foundation for, and building a state out of the ruins of the conflict in this part of Nigeria. Despite his administration’s notoriety for human rights abuses – including the public whipping of traditional and community leaders in Ikom Division, no one in his senses can deny the fact that Esuene supervised the building of the University of Calabar, the road connecting Calabar to other parts of Nigeria. He built the stadium, the famous Polytechnic Calabar which has been drunkenly renamed Cross River University of Technology, CRUTECH,  the Calabsr Airport now renamed Margaret Ekpo International Airport, the State newspaper and broadcasting outfits, among others. Since Esuene’s removal in 1974(?), infrastructural development has remained largely a fantasia of political themes, with little practical returns.

Leapfrog the journeymen who came on tour-of-duty as military administrators and land on the short-lived Chief Clement Ebri era for some appraisal. Though his tenure was cut short by Khalifa Sani Abacha and his palace coup associates, Ebri, a figure at home with intellectuals and laymen, erected the foundation for health institutions across local governments in the State. He also supervised the takeoff the newly created local councils, as well as giving the people a sense of belonging. I remember how much Ebri was loved by people across divides. He dined with them, visited schools, council chairmen were treated as colleagues, partners and friends not as serfs and boys as it is presently the case. The governor routinely visited schools and colleges, laying foundations for new ones. He never left his desk to go in search of investors. His, was a new face that everyone, including this writer who also lined up the roads with other schoolchildren to welcome the governor whenever he came visiting, sort to wear.  Mr. Ebri’s impact was just beginning to be felt when Abacha struck and unleashed anarchy, with real governance off in flight
So, when the despot expired and democracy returned, Cross River State, like others across the nation, heaved a sigh of relief. Then, Donald Duke, smiling broadly and offering a glimmer of hope, took the state by unconcealed civility. The first two years of his administration were spent setting up what became his legacy – tourism. With the fierce energy of youth and optimum utilisation of the human resources across spectrums, he was able to pursue the tourism agenda with the ferocity of a mafia boss. At the end, he left behind a civil service state that transformed  to Nigeria’s premier tourism destination. Yes, in addition to qualifying as a playboy of the corporate world, Duke left the state in debts that but not for genuine miscalculations and lack of broader consultation, would have been justifiable.

Yes,  I hold that given her geo-economic location, Calabar didn’t need the Tinapa Resort, at least of that magnitude. Yes, I still maintain that Duke left the educational system in shambles. Yes, his men’s relentless quest for absolute political control reportedly left some amount of blood on the streets of Calabar, Obudu and elsewhere in the State. But he is the man who saw the future. He saw petroleum leaving Nigeria in a lurch and rose to stem the unpleasnt future from happening. His tourism legacy, though now in the cooler, provides an alternative to petroleum. I understand that within eight years of his administration, the number of hotels, motels and guesthouses rose from barely 99 to about 400 in Calabar alone. Jobs were created in the sector. Culture became a huge enterprise. The Calabar Carnival, the flagship Christmas cantata became the income source for a number of Calabar residents. Investors came with little or no beck. Duke moved  Cross River to tourism as an alternative revenue generating vehicle. But, he fell short of outright diversifying the economy from a civil service one to that erected on at least a tripod of oil, tourism and agriculture. Duke failed in evolving sustainable agriculture. Having achieved one however, his successors were expected to build the other arms.

Lyel Imoke who was inaugurated as governor in 2007 did so much for the eighteen local government areas. He maintained status quo until a sudden rumoured fixation on post-governorship job in Abuja gripped him. That was based on the projection that former President Goodluck Jonathan would win the presidency again in 2015. Senator Imoke maintained the balance, rehabilitated greying war horses, empowered some foot soldiers and cemented his place as the consensus builder of Cross River politics. Imoke’s attempt at privatisation of farm estates that litter the State was shrouded in lustful immidiacy. The fruits are yet to be reaped, years after. Civil servants are still clicking classes that the man who was indifferent to their plight is no more on the saddle. Despite these failings, he kept the peace even though the Skolombo genie was planted during his term. He tarred some rural roads, built a few huge infrastructural cathedrals. And importantly for the people of Northern Cross River, he reset the balance of power when he supervised the election of Ben Ayade as the first governor of Cross River State from that axis. Imoke, to the many who look at governance from the prism of having person in positions of authority from their area, is the dispenser of justice, a dove that marked time and flew, simultaneously.

So, with Ayade, a professor of Environmental Studies and Professor Ivara Esu, another professor of Soil Science in tow as governor and deputy governor, respectively, every one thought that the state was sleeping from one average dream into brighter days, a fresh dawn. But the last one year has left many disillusioned. The impatient lot point to the motion-without-movement that has characterised the regime. They believe that Ayade has no business building a new foundation, afterall, his party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has been incharge since 1999. And importantly, he, like most other Nigerian governors, is believed to have the ears and support of President Muhammadu Buhari. Instead, Ayade is showing the people shopped transfigured photographs with no clear roadmaps to achieving the dreams. He has spoken of Calasvegas, Disneyland, New Cities( with no strategy to send tourists back to Obudu Ranch Resort, Buancho Drill Ranch, Tinapa, Nkarasi Monolith). He is hooked on the  Deep City Port and Super Highway even as  rare forest specimen are vanquished while the highway project is stalled by avoidable litigations. The vapidity, many believe, is snowballing. More than a year after his novel swearing-in speech, Ayade’s professorial theories appear blurred on the performance barometer.

Indeed, Esuene in the budget speech I referred to earlier, said “The ability of a group of people to manage their affairs at governmental level is known by the extent to which individual members of that community are self-reliant. No government in the world can fulfil its role of raising the national economy to a respectable level where various communities fold their arms and wait complacently for the government to supply elementary social amenities for them…If the government cannot do these things from its limited resources, the people must wake up to help themselves.”  The conditions for achieving this are peace, a level play ground and workable peer review mechanisms. It is doubtful if the rampaging cult gangs in Calabar, some suspected to be within the government, will ever allow citizens to contribute to lifting the state. No one expects the current governor to achieve his dreams for the state overnight, given the weary global economy. No, that will be asking for the impossible.  But there areas he could buy consensus witb the governed.

Cross Riverians simply need a governor who can sit down and work. Who will travel less in search of eluding investors – others, from 1999 have gone and returned empty-handed. The State needs a woman/man that can galvanise them to work in the farms and other huge reserves of nature’s bequeathing. They will like to see a governor who brings in new tractors and other modern farming implements to truly industrialise agriculture. They need a governor who can laise with the Federal government to reactivate the Cross River Basin Authority and put the forest and aquatic reserves from Boki to Calabar and the arable land in the old Ogoja Province to great use. They yearn for a governor who can set up cottage industries to refine cocoa seeds into powder before export. They need someone who understands the importance of building a small biscuits factory in Ikom or Boki to stop wastage of the large-scale banana grown in the area. Cross Riverians, I’m sure appreciate it, if their governor rather dredges the old seaport rather than build a new one without a defined feasibility study. Many people, not Ayade’s men-on-suit, will stick out their necks for a man who listens to reason even if he is sufficiently fed on Charles Mackay’s The Extraordinary  Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Not all criticism amounts to killer broadsides. The people will line the streets voluntarily to welcome a governor who keeps them safe. Even the physically-challenged who recently took the entire state hostage by blocking the only entrance into the city while the governor was away, will genuinely sing his praises if the very basic amenities that his predecessors could not fix are taken care of. Nobody wants to sleep so long in a good dream that cannot leave the body, soul and spirit stronger. Ayade can turn things round. This is how:

First, another key thing to do after agriculture and cottage industries is a return to the tourism master plan designed earlier. Agreed, there are shortcomings in the document. He can rejig it. Agreed, global income is falling and the number of tourists is also low. Boko Haram may not have helped by its international recognition as a Nigerian wraith of terror. In all these, we should see things from the perspective of hope by preparing for the good day. At the right time, these present impediments will be self-fixed. We must strengthen state-wide festivals that had been abandoned. We should work with selected Nigerian embassies in Europe and the Americas to woo tourists– I think we can even have desk officers in choosen countries and keep a tab on how they perform in terms of luring foreign nationals to visit our State. In addition to reaping from our share of the diaspora reserve, the Ayade government can find a way to cultivate friendship with some reputable foreign media outfits to correct certain narratives that hinder tourist flow – these guys move the traffic.

We must leverage on the recent statement by the outgoing United States of America’s ambassador, James Eintwhistle that he appreciates the nature and serenity in upper Cross River than anywhere else in Nigeria. We need to wake up to the reality that we can convince foreigners that Cross River State has indisputable  immunity from the Boko Haram carnage.

Before attempting to cast off that log, we must take care of the self-groomed cult wars in Calabar. Ayade should lead the charge to unite the people – politicians or not into a functional platform. Ultimately, he should listen more. If he listens, he can pick out and do the basic things for the season.  And when things improve financially, we will certainly lend him our backs to erect his dreams for the State.
The Ministry of Environment should be empowered to spruce the streets. The benchmark should be a return  to Duke-era attainment. In the same pursuit of excellence in The Peoples Paradise, the yawning craters on Calabar-Ikom-Ogoja/Obudu Highway should be blotted out.

The goverment should consider making visible investments in information technology. One doesn’t need to emphasize the need for this. The thing to add is that it could become a good marketing medium for the Cross River while also providing jobs for the people.

I will conclude by noting that dreaming big is a hallmark of greatness. But the job at hand should never flag while the jobber is on cavorting sprees or day-dreaming at the same time. Our governor has done pretty well with the civil servants; keeping them happy. He can keep the entire state happy if he thinks along the lines of immediate needs – jobs, to medium term –a pathway to legacy and long term –indisptable functional legacy, not another Tinapa. Ayade has the luck of time in his pouch. It is still within his reach. He can build on his gains and halt on densed imageries that may not be fully interpreted concretely, any time soon. This way, Cross River can return to airport halls as Nigeria’s number one leisure destination and nature’s cradle.

Bankong-Obi, journalist and poet, can be reached via banxobi@gmail.com
from: www.thenewsng.com

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