Shortly before Ayade’s Supreme Court judgment, I was on a short visit to Calabar when my Archbishop asked that I represent him during the opening of an ultra-modern diagnostic centre built by General Ukpo, the brother of emeritus Archbishop Joseph Edra Ukpo. General Abdulsalami Abubakar was special guest, Governor Ayade was host, Donald Duke was present, as well as the Ndidem of the Quas and other prominent citizens. As I opened a psalm and asked everyone to repeat the responsorial, something told me right there that God had heard Ayade’s prayer, even as he recited that psalm. I called my cousin and friend and told him that Ayade would win his case at the supreme court. I thought Ayade would use his victory as second chance to serve the good people of Cross River State.
Indeed a people deserve the kind of leader they get. After Donald Duke and his (tourism) transforming agenda, Liyel Imoke, although on the dull side, consolidated things but like Obasanjo who does so well and then scatters it all through a choice of successors, Liyel Imoke bequeathed to Cross River State a man who might well be described as a megalomaniac. For Ayade if it’s not big, it’s not done, and because he waits to do the big things, he ends up doing nothing of substance.
The day I dismissed Ayade as a huge joke was when I looked through the 2018 amounts budgeted by states in Nigeria. To my shock Cross River State budgeted higher than Lagos State. Even a state as rich as Rivers did not budget up to a trillion naira. Only Lagos and Cross River States budgeted more than a trillion naira and Cross River’s was higher than Lagos’! I spent hours wondering where the money would come from, and if Ayade were a green horn I would think he was mistaking a budget for cash, because a second republic house of assembly member opened up to me that when she was newly elected she thought that amounts budgeted automatically translated to money somehow. Even if these monies were to come through loans, I wondered whether the Cross River State government had forgotten that state loans are guaranteed by the federal government. I went further to check the Capital Importation data from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics for 2017 and saw that in all quarters, coming down in Q3 to 79.54% because other states such as Enugu, Oyo, Kogi, Edo, Ogun, Abuja, Akwa Ibom, managed to squeeze in something. I looked everywhere for Cross River State and did not see anywhere it imported capital either as foreign direct investment in terms of equity or other capital; or portfolio investment in the form of equity, bonds or money market instruments or even as trade credits, loans or currency deposits.
So where will Ayade get nearly N2 trillion to execute his mega projects when there has been no trend at all recorded ? Will it be from all these small companies chased away by the exorbitant tax regime ? Even if there were investors, would monies belonging to private companies be counted as funds coming into state coffers ?
Someone sent me a video spot of the mega rally planned to endorse Ayade’s candidature. Among all the things listed as achievements was a dual carriage way, a road that takes off from the trans-African highway in Cameroun through Mfum in Ogoja, into Okuku in Yala and Abochiche in Bekwarra, passing through Obudu and ending in Obanliku. When completed, this road would speed up travel along these routes.
But up till now what has been done is to scrape off the asphalt on the existing single lane, and expanding the road to double lane, and grading it. Not even a kilometer has been tarred yet. As I write, feedback I get indicates that accidents on that road have multiplied because of poor visibility due to heavy dust. School children have to wear masks. I won’t even mention the health hazards, as most vehicles that ply that road would not be air-conditioned. And this is mentioned as an achievement ?
Even the controversial superhighway is counted as an achievement whereas what success has been recorded is felling trees along that path and destroying the ecosystem despite global outcry. And then the deep sea port. Please who has gone to verify? I have never seen a government that so celebrated plans and fantasies as achievement, and the impoverished citizens dancing along the emperor.
To be fair to Ayade, he has established a tailoring outfit where NYSC or Police uniforms could be sewn in multiples, I mean the garment factory. Also he has made more than a thousand persons either special assistants or special advisers, many of who have no specific job description but have an alert each month, although in the last months the alerts have ceased to drop as when due; he promptly pays salaries of state civil servants, although local government workers and pensioners go for long periods without their entitlements; and this is against the backdrop of huge amounts given as bail out and Paris Club refunds by the federal government. In a way recession did not hit Cross River as hard, which is good.
Ayade has a good heart. He loves the poor. But he loves himself too much and is too spoilt to respect what is conventional; a man who would declare his brother as Co-Governor and go ahead to practice it cannot be trusted to render selfless service. And worse of all, perhaps due to his frequent out of state visits or lack of coordination with security agencies, Calabar has suddenly become one of the most notorious cities for armed robbery and kidnapping, even as this is hushed up and not reported in the press. Calabar is now just like any city in Nigeria, with refuse strewn around, and potholes only hurriedly filled to prepare for the annual carnival. Places like Ikot Ishie hardly have refuse bins at all and residents throw refuse in the gutters like Aba.
I think it is time to put sentiments aside and reflect on who can move Cross River State forward. The argument of allowing Ayade to continue (in 2019) so that Cross River North could have its complete eight years so that the governorship can come back to the South is like saying we should continue under Buhari for another four years so the North would finish its turn of eight years! So zoning is more important than good governance ? Unlike Lagos which has progressed consistently from Tinubu to Fashola and now Ambode, Cross River has retrogressed substantially under Governor Ayade, without anything concrete to show, despite earning a whopping 68 billion naira from the federation in 2017, not to mention internally generated revenue from Akamkpa and other LGAs.
I expect a barrage of attacks and insults from paid social media activists, where Gov Ayade is best performing governor in cyberspace. But let me say what I have to say no matter the consequences, so that when the time comes it will be remembered that not everyone was fooled when the jester was playing his pranks. I also vow to apologize to Gov Ayade if his actual budget performance is up to N800 billion by first quarter of 2019.
*Bassey, a Catholic priest, contributed this piece from Abuja