By Sylvia Etta
Cross River State in 2007, when former governor, Mr. Donald Duke was leaving had accrued a total debt of 80 Billion Naira which was largely borrowed to finance the construction of Obudu Cattle ranch and the Tinapa Resort which has now failed and has been taken over by the Asset Management Company of Nigeria, AMCON.
Eight years after, the state debt profile has risen to 403 Billion Naira with over 300 Billion borrowed by the Imoke administration and expectedly, stakeholders have expressed great concern that this may constitute a grave challenge for the incoming governor of the state who will soon discover the mess he will be inheriting.
Recently, the former Vice-Chancellor of University of Calabar, and pioneer Vice-Chancellor of Cross River University of Technology, CRUTECH, Professor Kelvin Etta, described the level of indebtedness of the state as “most worrisome and frightening” and expressed great concern that the N403 billion debts will place the state in a position that will hamper successive regimes from developing infrastructure or embarking on any capital project in the state.
According to Etta, “Like Tinapa, they might have to equally sell of more public infrastructure in the state in order to get even. But this will be at the expense of future generations.”
Also the State Commissioner for Information Mr. Akin Ricketts had earlier confirmed that “the state is very broke and going through financial crisis.”
While the Accountant-General of Cross River State, Mr. Henry Ojogu who is presently battling with a financial scandal in his office, told State Legislators recently that the State’s inability to meet its financial obligations to civil servants regularly was due to the fact that Cross River receives one of the least allocations from the Federation Account.
Ojogu said: “Cross River State receives one of the least allocations. We are between fifth and sixth lowest paid
states in terms of revenue allocation. With these lean resources, we still try and pay our civil servants. But presently we have paid workers’ salaries up to last year December. Cross River State for now owes January 2015 salary and we are going to pay it very soon.”
Now the salary arrears have accumulated for two months and has lingered into the third and the accountant general does not seem to be in the mood for answers as he is still battling with a huge financial scandal involving some of his staff.
State actors like the Commissioner for Finance Mr. Etim Caifas, who should know exactly how much the state is owing and what plans there are to get the state out of the financial strait was unwilling to comment on the matter.
But for the politicians who are also gearing to take over the mantle of leadership in the state from the ruling PDP, they say if something drastic is not done, the state is on a procession to Golgotha.
The Labor Party governorship candidate who was also a former Commissioner for Finance in the State, Ntufam Fidelis Ugbo in a recent interaction with press men said: “The extent of Cross River State indebtedness is such that if not well managed, the state might go extinct before long.”
The APC governorship candidate, Mr. Odey Ochicha who also spoke with journalists recently said: “Our dear state is experiencing considerable difficulties in paying worker’s monthly salaries. The situation is likely to get worse in the coming days in light of the continuing slide in crude oil prices.”
Year 2014 which just ended exposed the financial impecunuity of the state after it became increasingly difficult to even meet overhead costs and regular payment of workers salary and there has been a litany of complaints and grumbling by civil servants, contractors and other concerns that depend on the government for their operations, leaving many to wonder what manner of burden the next governor will have to carry.