By Jonathan Ugbal and Inyali Peter
Cross River Governor, Senator Ben Ayade is at the center of a rising storm as Bebuagbong community in his hometown Obudu local government area yesterday (Tuesday) mobilized and occupied a parcel of land upon learning bulldozers were moving in to clear the land alleged to have been acquired by him.
This comes less than a month after the old students association of the Hope Waddell training institute in Calabar, the Cross River State capital cried foul over Governor Ayade’s alleged brazen grab of the institution’s land to build his private apartment.
The community which shares a boundary with the Governor’s native Kakum community; both located less than 10 kilometers (km) away from Obudu main town which itself is located over 300 km north of Calabar warned that it will revolt if the Governor invades the parcel of land which is just located behind a bungalow said to be built by Ayade at his family compound.
The site CrossRiverWatch gathered is to house the proposed Canadian international school which the Governor signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian government last year and following a deadlock in a meeting between the Governor’s delegates and select chiefs of the Bebuagbong community, officials suspected to be from the state went ahead to survey the land and mark the portion of land for excavation which was billed to commence yesterday but was stopped by the Bebuagbong community after they invaded the place and destroyed all the ribbons and stakes used in marking the portion of land.
An elder in the community which had sent a delegation to the Clan head of Kakum to warn the Governor, Linus (other name withheld), 69, posited that: “Ayade said he wants to build a Canadian school. The question is, would the school be owned by government or him? If it’s government, we know the processes to follow to acquire land from a community.
“Government should send a delegation to our community where we can sit and negotiate. We want to know if we’re to lease the land permanently, annually or for a specific period of time. We are not fools and Ayade must stop undermining our community.”
He continued: “Ayade has acquired large portion of land in Obanliku. He came here and deceived one community that he wants to build rice industry to create jobs for their youths. He got the land but has converted it to his family property. He’s building houses there for his family members.
“Even the one his community (has) given him, a lot of people are crying because the real owners of the land were not consulted. Go to where he is building now, he has cleared everything from that former councilor house to the other side where people were farming. Widows are crying because Ayade has destroyed their farms without compensation. People have their own in government to celebrate, why is Ayade making us cry instead?
“Everybody must not go to the city. Most of our people are farming in that place and their source of livelihood is from there. What would happen to them if we allow Ayade to destroy the land? This is a land we fought war with Ukwel-Obudu many years ago about. We don’t have land in our community so we can’t afford to lose the little we have. Our children are also growing so government won’t end with Ayade.”
Ben Adie, a youth also berated Ayade saying: “Ayade is pushing us to the wall. We may not have a governor from our community but he may regret what he is doing. He has tormented us enough. Look at his Leophina company that he established here, how many people from our community are working there? When they on that engine our water turns black. We have complained many times but to no avail.
“Why always Bebuagbong? The intimidation and harassment by the Ayade’s has become unbearable and we’re now ready for the worst. He has acquired land everywhere deceiving people that he wants to do this and that. What has he successfully done? He has not completed a single project yet he is talking of Canadian school. We are waiting for him.”
But Solomon Adah begged to differ as he believes the building of the institution will open up the community for development
“I am not in support of Ayade taking our land fraudulently but we must give peace a chance. I know that Ayade has been very unfair to us but is that enough reason to stop him from developing our place?” he said.
“I think we need to support the project by any means we can. If that school is established, it will open up opportunities for our youths. It will open our community to the international communities. The benefits are enormous therefore I call on our people to think twice before warring against this initiative,” Solomon added.
In a related development, the Hope Waddell Old Students’ Association (HWOSA), after its meeting on Sunday, April 2, 2017 lampooned the “Illegal Take-Over of over one-third of the College’s property by the Governor of Cross River State, Professor Benedict Ayade, who is building his personal ‘palace’ on the waterfront property of the college, occupied since 1894.”
The land is located behind the Emergency Response Center, opposite the Governor’s office premises and is bounded to the south by the UJ Esuene, Matthias Offoboche and Solomon Unoh lodges of the state government as well as an apartment allegedly belonging to a former minister, Tony Ani.
HWOSA in a post on its Facebook page said that information obtained by the association showed that “The immediate past Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke also had plans to encroach on the said property for his personal use as a resort facility, but was put in check by the Old Students’ who promptly mobilized the Moderator of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, the Most Reverend Professor Emele Uka, to send a strong delegation to Governor Imoke. After that, the Imoke dream of the Calabar Rivera Spa Club died a natural death… or so it was thought.”
“However, with the assumption of office of Prof. Ayade, the dream is not only alive; it has blown into proportions unimaginable. The waterfront property of the Institution which had recently been earmarked as the location for the New Model location for the 2nd century of her existence has been forcefully taken-over with massive development in progress.
“Work on the Ayade ‘facility’ started in full by DFL, a foreign consortium during the second quarter of 2016 and has reached an advanced stage as at the time of this report. The property has been sealed off from the original owners, Hope Waddell Training Institution with heavily armed security officers patrolling the property.
“The matter which has generated widespread concern by the Presbyterian Church and the Old Students’ worldwide, it was a topic of great concern and debate during the 2015 and 2016 HWOSA North America Reunions held respectively in Queens, New York and Philadelphia, USA.”
HWOSA wondered whether “Does the Governor of a state have such overriding powers to encroach into properties belonging to individuals or organizations with impunity?” and said the institution established by the Scottish Presbyterian Mission (today Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, PCN) is Nigeria’s fifth oldest post primary school, oldest in eastern Nigeria and the first comprehensive Institution in West Africa.