Cross River: Can Ayade Prove To Be A Man Of His Own? BY INYALI PETER

In Breaking News, Columnists, National News, Opinion, Politics
Governor Ben Ayade
Governor Ben Ayade

Since the dawn of uninterrupted democracy in Nigeria in 1999, Cross River has arguably been a paradise destination in Nigeria in terms of its ever green and clean environment which has made it a haven for tourists within and outside the country.

The first Governor of the state in the current democratic dispensation, Mr. Donald Duke who came on board then initially introduced agriculture to be the mainstay of the states’ economy.

The cultivation of pineapple, cashew, castor and the revamping of the oil palm industry was to contribute to the fields of agriculture to boost all round development of the state.

But along the line, perhaps for the obvious reason of the huge financial outlay that may accrue to this initiative, Duke diversified wholly into development of the tourism sector and giving teeth to development in environment, information and communication technology, investment drive among others.

Through his work, Calabar was rated as the “cleanest city in Nigeria,’’ and even won a laurel in national reckoning for this posturing.

It was during Duke’s days that the state boasted of such facilities as Obudu Ranch Resort that apart from serving as Nigeria’s Camp David [according to the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua] hosted many athletes of international acclaim in the now famous International Mountain Race. The event has today grown to become the most lucrative mountain running competition in the world.

The BBC reported in September 2006 that Governor Duke was the only governor specifically mentioned as not being under investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC (Four other governors were also reported as not under investigation but their names were not released.)

However, notwithstanding this reality, the former governor was widely criticized as the public believed his policies and programs were too elitist and beyond the reach of the common Cross Riverian.

For instance, considering the reality that Cross River is greatly a civil service state, its citizens have been wondering how it is possible for a typical civil servant who earns a meager salary compared to the enormity of the economic challenge he encounters to be able to patronize the expensive Tinapa Resort, Obudu Ranch Resort and of course access the Ranch using the Cable Car that Duke had put in place for easy transportation of tourists to and from the ranch.

How do these facilities then generate the financial outlay to sustain themselves given that the economy of the state is majorly dependent on allocation from the federal coffers? These and many more questions were the puzzles at the time and have remained unanswered.

Realistically, as the immediate past governor, Senator Liyel Imoke left the saddle (on the 29thof May 2015) as the State Chief Executive, a position he occupied from the end of Duke’s having assumed office on the 29th of May 2007, reactions have trailed his 8 years reign from all quarters including the insinuation that Duke left a shoe too big for Imoke to wear.

Perhaps, so much was expected of him being that from 1992 when he became the youngest Senator in the history of Nigeria at age 30, to his appointment as Special Adviser to then President Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999 on Public Utilities and his appointment as Minister of Power and Steel in 2003, he would have garnered enough experience in development governance to either maintain the level his predecessor left or do better.

Ironically, these expectations from Cross Riverians didn’t see the light of the day.

Incidentally, while Duke projected Tourism as the mainstay of the state’s economy, Imoke’s administration had little or no serious interest in Tourism as the former. Imoke had always come under knocks for allowing the Tinapa, Obudu Ranch, Cable Cars and the Marina Resort to mention a few to become comatose and thus had no realistic bearing on the economy of the state.

However, Imoke’s government had applause for empowerment of the citizenry as indicated in the appointments of retinue of political office holders and aides in both the state and local government levels. His eight years reign was also applauded for the relative peace the state enjoyed more than the Duke’s dispensation.

Imoke and Duke are no more in the saddle today and a new dispensation has just been ushered in with Senator (Prof.) Ben Ayade being the new kid of the block.

For Cross Riverians, it is indeed a new round of expectations from the Ayade’s government whose emergence came as a result of a very controversial circumstance from the Peoples Democratic Party primaries up to the elections proper.

The build up to the Governorship primaries of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state on the 8th of December, 2014 was stunning for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the spirit of unity that always pervaded the direction of the party leadership and fellowship was affected following the divergent interests amongst the governorship contestants.

Some of Imoke’s Commissioners, those for Youths and Sports Development, Mr. Patrick Ugbe, Works, Barrister Legor Idagbo, who is now in the Green Chambers of the National Assembly representing Obudu/Bekwarra/Obanlikwu federa constituency, Local Government Affairs, Mr. Peter Ojie, the immediate past Speaker of the State House of Assembly , Hon. Larry Odey, the former Executive Secretary of National Planning Commission, Barrister Fidelis Ugbo who was also Secretary to the State Government under Imoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Joe Agi, Prince Goddy Jedy Agba, then with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Prof. Ben Ayade who was then a Senator representing the northern senatorial district of the state, among others, were all in the race on one hand as gladiators from the northern senatorial district.

On the other hand was Imoke’s best friend and political ally, Chief Gershom Bassey who is now in the Red Chambers for the Southern Senatorial District of the state. Senator Bassey was greatly rumored to be running for the governorship from the southern senatorial district and was favored by his friend and political ally.

The ex-governor, Mr. Donald Duke was from the southern senatorial district, Imoke from the central and so the interest of justice and equity had zoned the governorship automatically to the north which had never enjoyed a shot since the dawn of democratic governance in the country.

But because of the tradition in PDP for the governor of the state to decide where the pendulum swings in terms of candidacy and appointments, it was apparent that Imoke was in a fix to choose who becomes the party’s flag-bearer and successor from amongst the gladiators in the north and his best friend, ally and one of the triumvirate of himself and Duke and Bassey who was said to be swimming against the tide.

However, pressure mounted from Cross Riverians who insisted that zoning must be considered in accordance with the three senatorial districts and not on the bases of the triumvirate who had divided the turns among selves. After all said and done, Prof. Ben Ayade was selected as the party’s candidate for the April 11, 2015 polls.

Prof . Ayade’s candidature was circumstantial given that the aspiration of the billionaire former NNPC chieftain, Prince Goddy Jedy Agba was a challenge that would have resulted in a big blow on the governor, should Agba finally flew the party’s flag.

Agba who was virtually “buying “ his way to the Government House was believed to have issues with Imoke when the later was sick and flown abroad for treatment.

Imoke’s subsequent consideration of Ayade came when the present governor was said to have offered a palliative and bail out for the state’s financial quagmire as well as on Imoke’s attempt to buy over support from party faithful which he later used against Jedy’s aspiration.

In the course of the primaries, apart from Joe Agi who insisted on contesting, it was alleged that every other aspirant including Agba and Senator Bassey, whose’s rumoured aspiration at this stage was glaring, had collapsed their interest for Ayade at the behest of the state’s party leader, governor Imoke.

Gershom Bassey subsequently was settled with the Senatorial seat following the stoppage of the second term aspiration of the popular Senator Bassey Otu.

However, apart from Gershom, who is now a Senator, what becomes of the benefit of other aspirants who stepped down for Ayade is yet to be seen.

But Ayade coasted home to victory at the governorship primaries with 752 votes as against 11 votes scored by Joe Agi. He was by that “coronation” a step into the Government House which was perfected on April 11, 2015 when with his party’s popularity and might he defeated the scholarly and erudite APC’s Odey Ochicha scoring 342, 016 as against 53, 983 by Ochicha to emerge the governor of the state.

Today, barely two months since Ayade was inaugurated as the third democratically elected governor of the state in the third republic, Cross Riverians’ opinions about his government are in mixed grill.

While some expects and believe that his government may beat the records of the past administrations in terms of performance, some others do not see anything spectacular coming from the new government that would be different from the previous.

The big question then is, can Ayade prove to be a man of his own?

Ayade is allegedly already proving to be a man of his own, he has this strong philosophy. For instance, it is alleged that when he was to make the first face of his appointments, inputs came from some party stalwarts but he denied them the privilege of appointing their cronies into his cabinet and went ahead to pick the people he has picked so far.

Whatever is the case, he is the Chief Executive Officer of the state, he is in charge thus, if anything goes wrong he takes the blame and if things are right; which means he succeeds, he takes the glory. Therefore if he has this picture in mind then, that is why he is going the way he has started.

Also, the way Ayade is going about the policies of his government; he is in some sort of summersault from the Imoke’s orientation. Take for instance, his intervention in the idea of moratorium placed by Imoke on logging of woods for a number of years.

His disbandment of the task force on logging, the probe of the taskforce’s past activities and the lifting of ban on logging are attestation. The ban on logging of wood had brought untold hardship to the masses.

Records show that there was no substantial financial deposit into the state’s account that came from the moratorium, therefore the decision by Ayade to set up a panel to probe the development is a positive development.

Moreso, some political watchers have strongly argued that no matter what Ayade is doing now, there is nothing different from the previous government. Taking into consideration the obvious fact that he and Imoke share the same platform and considering the part Imoke played by standing his ground during the elections that it must be Ayade or nobody, he may ‘chew more than he can bite’ by attempting to betray that trust of Imoke on him.

As Cross Riverians wait patiently with so much expectation from the current administration of Governor Ayade, the years ahead will testify whether or not he is his own man or another surrogate imposed on the people by the conservatives’ cabal.

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