By Jonathan Ugbal: Government House Correspondent
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River has said that his administration’s decision to embark on the construction of fans Bakassi deep seaport, one of the signature projects of his administration was premised on the fact that it was the only viable alternative to reconstructing the State’s economy.
Mr. Ayade has been criticised for his insistence on the seaport and superhighway projects, both valued at over NGN1 trillion and on Wednesday, during a parley with journalists in his office, he explained that due to the State’s huge debt burden, it was barred from accessing new loans hence the need to stimulate the economy via the construction of a facility that has kept the State with the highest income afloat for years.
“For a Cross River that I met adrift in pain; huge salary burden, huge debt burden – domestic and foreign debt burden, absolute delisting from States that can get bank loans. Cross River, Zamfara and Osun States cannot get commercial loans because we were already at a crucial limit before I came into government.
“The Debt Management Office said sorry you cannot take any more loans; this does not mean that we were provided any extra income; that is where I started from.
“I knew that I need to change the story, I need to refocus. What do I do? I need to create a brand new income, what is the strength of the State with the biggest income? Lagos, it is the seaport; take away the seaport from Lagos – that factory is located close to Ogun State or Lagos because of the seaport for ease of raw materials, for export,” Ayade said and explained why a new port was better than financing the existing port.
He averred that: “If you have the seaport, the seaport itself creates almost 35,000 jobs. So why can’t Cross River have a seaport? Oh we already have a federal port. So why can’t you just dredge that port? That port has already been concessioned out and federal government has not met the obligation of the concession and the concession was skewed in such a way that the concession is deemed to become effective from when federal government does the dredging of the canal; a canal of 97 kilometer, from an average depth of two to three meters draft to be dredged to nine and ten meters.”
Continuing, Ayade said: “federal government is failing and the concessionaire is saying sorry, even though I have been here in this port for almost 50 years plus, I am not going to pay and my deals are not active until federal government meets her obligation.
“So the port becomes literally dysfunctional and only allows flat bottom vessels to come in. The maximum you can carry there is about 6,000 metric tons of petroleum products.
“This limits it, it has a technical bottleneck, it has a split personality because it is disjointed in terms of ownership. The concessionaire views it as his property until federal government meets its obligation.”
Furthermore, he explained that: “The use of the existing Calabar port; we don’t have the financial wherewithal to do the dredging which is supposed to be a federal government project which was already awarded to (Niger) global dredging by the previous administration and stagnated by this administration which is an issue of litigation which is in Court. Therefore, that too has its own bottleneck. So, either way, I find myself in a macabre dance.”
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