Long before the Cross River State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party sounded the whistle to signal the commencement of its governorship campaign, Senator Ben Ayade was already considered by many as a presumptive governor merely awaiting a formal coronation on May 29.
And by the time the campaign was finally flagged off on January 19, it was clear even to the blind and the deaf that the race to the Diamond Hill house of the governor’s office, Calabar, was a no contest, as far as the 45 year-old Professor of Microbiology and environmental consultant is concerned.
Even if it were a two-horse race, many are agreed that it is between Senator Ben Ayade and Ben Ayade himself, making it a one-horse race, as the outcome of the various campaign rallies across the 18 council areas of the state would later prove.
From Ogoja, the political headquarters of the Northern Senatorial District, encompassing Bekwarra, Obanliku, Obudu, Yala and Ogoja Local Government Areas, began what would soon morph into hurricane Ayade. Before long, it swept inexorably across the Central and the Southern Senatorial Zones, charming in its wake, large armies of followers, supporters and devotees.
By the time the campaign train made its final stop Friday, 20th, at the secretariat of Calabar Municipal Council Area, what had begun as Ayademania had steadily transformed into a movement, or if you like, a philosophy with reverential followership by the old, the young, the elite and the proletariats, professionals and artisans alike.
For each group in the course of the rallies, the governorship candidate cut a special appeal. Variedly, Ayade embodies different themes with an inimitable message of hope.
For the poor, he represents philanthropy, for the aged, he symbolizes compassion, he appeals to the youth on account of his swashbuckling and zestful swag. Students adore him for his bombast. And like nectar to butterflies, so is he to investors, alluringly seductive, owing to his vast network of global business connections.
All of these attributes were very much on offer and earned for him massive endorsements from both the traditional rulers and opinion leaders.
In what would signpost a gale of endorsements beginning at Ogoja Local government Area, the Paramount Ruler, Chief Igbaji Monkom, who spoke in an impassioned voice on behalf of the council of traditional rulers had this to say: “We are grateful to our governor, Senator Liyel Imoke and the party that despite the skepticism that trailed the zoning of the governorship to our zone, you have kept an abiding faith in your promise to the North. On our part, we are very determined and ready to support not only our son, Professor Ben Ayade, but also our President, Goodluck Jonathan in the 28 March 14 and April 11 elections. Ayade has always been part of us and has identified with us over the years. He has the passion for the people. He knows our pains and he shares them with us. We are totally for Ayade.”
Reechoing Monkom’s position, Chief Dr Sunny Ekong who spoke on behalf of the opinion leaders said: “Ayade represents everything we want in a leader. The only way we can actualize the leadership he epitomoses is to get our permanent voters’ cards and ensure that he is voted one hundred percent into office come April 11.”
In another reaffirmation of Ayade’s popularity and acceptability, Mrs. Maltina Odom who spoke on behalf of the women group from Yala Council Area, said: “We appreciate your consideration and feelings for us at every challenging time. Our wards have benefited from your scholarships, your intervention in the healthcare of our people. You are a man who has a heart of pity. You have given us water and equipped our health centres. We assure you that not only men will vote for you in Yala, but we the women will also vote massively for you. We believe in you and we know your capacity.”
Similarly, the Paramount Ruler of Ikom, Dr. Ntool Emang Peter Eku, while assuring the campaign team of his subjects’ total support for Senator Ayade, during an interactive session, said: “Since 1999, the people of Ikom have always followed the PDP. If we have enjoyed tremendously from aligning with the PDP, we are not ready to shift position now. It does not matter how many of our sons and daughters may be in the other party, but PDP is the only one united family we have always known. My subjects and I have decided long before the campaign train touched down in our domain that it is Senator Ben Ayade, a man with great intellect, a man with vision and entrepreneurial capacity. For us, he represents the future.”
In further validation of Senator Ayade as a man whose coronation as governor had long beckoned, Chairman of the Traditional Council of Chiefs and Paramount Ruler of Odukpani, His Royal Majesty, Asakara Ekanem Ita Ekanem Umoh, did not only give his blessing but had this to say of him: “I dare say that Odukpani is PDP stronghold and I assure you that we will mobilize to deliver 100 percent to you and the party in the April 11, governorship election so that you and your deputy can continue the good work of your soon-to-be predecessor.”
In Biase Local Government Area, hometown of Ayade’s running mate, Professor Ivara Esu, where an unprecedented crowd of supporters literally eclipsed the governorship candidate’s campaign train, both young and old, men and women of different persuasions could hardly veil their excitement. They were upbeat as they sang and danced all through the rally, eulogizing the blend of youth and experience epitomized in both Ayade and Esu.
Earlier, the Chairman of the Traditional Council of Chiefs and Paramount Ruler of Biase, His Royal Majesty, Onun Apostle Nicholas Odum, had this to say of Ayade and his sidekick: “We in Biase have never disappointed Imoke before and we will not disappoint you and the guests you have brought to us this time around. For us in Biase, we have known no other party than the PDP. On behalf of my people, I assure you that we will deliver 100 per cent votes for our governor to be, Senator Ben Ayade and his running mate, Professor Ivara Esu.”
Despite obvious absence of viable challengers, Ayade would not take chances or allow complacency take a better of him, as he still went ahead to campaign in all the 18 local government areas of the state, a feat other contestants could only dream of.
Besides the overwhelming endorsements which highlighted his campaigns across the three senatorial districts, the sheer size of the crowd that graced the rallies, without doubt, underlines his widespread acceptability by the people he seeks to govern, and offers a deeper insight into the quality of leadership he evinces and a clearer hint yet, that his coronation on May 29 is a fait accompli.
Unlike his pretenders to the coveted office, Ayade has not only demonstrated that he has a good grasp of issues or challenges peculiar to each local government area, for every council visited, he addresses issues critical to them.
Already conversant with the challenges that lie ahead, Ayade has consistently harped on his capacity to harness the huge natural endowments in the state to sustain the good works as well as break new grounds for better service to the people.
It was along this strategic thinking that while interacting with opinion leaders and chiefs in Etung Local Government Area, a couple of weeks ago, promised to create value chain for the cocoa produce which the community is famous for by establishing cocoa processing plant. That way, he reckoned, more employment would be generated for the teeming army of unemployed youths in Etung.
He assured: “I believe that when you give me the opportunity to serve as your governor, job creation for our teeming youths will be my primary focus. I will ensure that I sustain the tempo that Senator Liyel Imoke has instituted with a view to adding more value to better the lots of our people.”
In Ikom, the governorship candidate emphasized that “My his administration, rather than embark on new projects, will ensure that every ongoing ones are executed on record time, adding that the status of Ikom, as the commercial nerve centre of the state continues to enjoy its pride of place under my administration.|”
Even as the campaign curtain was finally drawn last week with the grand finale at the secretariat of Calabar Municipal Local Government Area, it was evident that Professor Ayade and Professor Ivara Esu, the duo who have been rechristened by their rambunctious supporters as ‘P Square’ are merely awaiting to fulfil the formality of their coronation, despite elections being two months away as victory is already assured.
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