In the four years of the mandate given to Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade as Governor of Cross River State, the word ‘industrialization’ was perhaps the most used by Mr. Ayade, his over 6, 000 aides and official correspondence from the Peregrino House.
In his first communication with Cross Riverians as Governor which was his acceptance speech at the Calabar International Convention Center (CICC); venue for his inauguration, the Governor had told whosoever cared to listen that he intends to provide food for all hungry Cross Riverians through the industrialization of the State and his signature projects.
But, what is industrialization? According to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “it is the act or process of industrializing: the widespread development of industries in a region, country, culture, etc.” Its first known use was in 1892 according to the above definition. However, the phrase ‘Industrial Revolution’ is used to describe the massive transition to manufacturing processes from the old ways between the 18th to 19th centuries. This period is often referred to as the first industrial revolution.
In Africa and Nigeria, industrial revolutions occurred largely between the 20th and 21st centuries which is commonly referred to as the third industrial revolution.
Cross River State, had its fair share of industries but whether one can say the State has ever been industrialized remains a question for another day.
For a State which had worn the toga of ‘Civil Service State’ – a rather derogatory term used to describe a geographical carving that has no industries with the populace relying on only blue collar jobs provided by Government; this was a very divisive stance especially as it was the first time in the fourth republic the State will be in partisan opposition from the Central Government in Abuja.
But, the Governor forged ahead and told every Tom, Dick and Harry who cared to listen about his plans and how he will industrialize the State in order to create the purchasing power for Cross Riverians to patronize the tourism industry which was reliant on external patronage only as well as provide jobs for the over 6, 000 Cross Riverians who graduate each year from tertiary institutions.
One would have expected that with the over eight dozen Memoranda of Understandings (MoU) signed, the State will become one huge construction site especially after he (Ayade) told journalists in 2016 shortly upon his return from a lengthy trip that there will be at least one cottage industry in each of the 18 Local Government Areas that make up the State.
In four years, the Cross River Garment and Textile factory, the Automated Rice Seedlings and Seed manufacturing center – both in Calabar and the ultramodern toothpick factory in Ekori, Yakurr Local Government Area remain the only completed factories, manufacturing plants and or industries which leaves much to be desired especially when the projects are subjected to sensitivity analysis with emphasis on geographical locations which will mean only one eight of the Local Government Areas have been touched. When further subjected to analysis of availability of raw materials in the location sited; only the toothpick factory in Ekori will pass the test while the Garment factory will be the sole score when the analysis is based on nearness to market.
However, these do not bother us as a media organization which knows that a good branding backed by a comprehensive media plan as well as quality in the product or service will definitely make impact in the market and offer competition to already established brands.
As a watchdog, has been seeking the opinions of Cross Riverians, industry experts and those who don’t give a hoot about governance what their thoughts are, concerning the industrialization agenda which the Governor has said he will pursue even more vigorously in his second term; the results? They have been far from encouraging.
Some posit that there is no sincerity of purpose in the Ayade-led administration’s industrialization agenda with several critics describing the acts as mere land grabbing schemes masked under the guise of development. This has been a front burner since the State began the construction of the Garment factory which was supposed to be a “Quick Win” in June 2015 but was later completed in 2017.
Also, the discourse on the Superhighway has always had a dark cloud looming over it. The Ultramodern Rice Processing Plant in Ogoja, the Rice Farms in Obanliku and Bekwarra; the Chicken Processing factory and Pharmaceutical Company in Calabar and the Poles, Piles and Pylons factory in Akamkpa have had question marks on the rationale behind the massive lands acquired for such purposes.
While these remain valid questions, another challenging issue has been one of ownership with the State almost mute on how Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) were initiated and the true cost of constructing these factories which form the core of the industrialization agenda.
Alas, one can say if the end justifies the means and all these turn out mega revenue generating outfits for the State, then, table manners can be observed as the teeth will not bite the tongue when the mouth is filled with water or wine.
But, how sustainable are these projects and what models do they operate on? These are questions that have been dodged several times by people whose duty is to explain to Cross Riverians, how taxpayers’ monies are spent by those elected and appointed to manage it.
There are several laws in Nigeria guiding how Government can conduct business even though many have argued that Government has no business in doing business. Some of the models permitted include Public Private Partnerships (PPP), Joint Ventures and Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) models. Which of the models is the Cross River State Government operating?
Until that question as well the questions of the actual cost of the projects and whether there is a blueprint that is been followed are answered, one can only speculate whether such is sustainable or not. The dangers of a watchdog’s speculation are better imagined than experienced as evident in the confusion in the United States of America where the investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling into the last Presidential elections has left many to ponder over who is the actual enemy – Is it Russia or was it a slow attack on President Donald Trump? Is Russia stirring up resentment amongst the electorate or are media outlets just making things up?
The Garment factory is touted to have employed over 3000 workers of whom 80 percent are said to be widows. This means a whopping 2, 400 widows have been engaged! While the figure looks funny given the fact that at any given time, less than 700 people sit at the Garment factory; it does not run a shift system and has less than 700 machines, one can only wonder where the other 2300 are!
But, questions about its real ownership remain known to only those who may have read an article on CrossRiverWatch which shows that it was incorporated with shares of which half is owned by the Cross River State Government and the other half is owned by two individuals loyal to the Governor of which one is now a Senior Judicial Officer. How these other two were selected, appointed, commissioned or gotten remains a mystery while the true operators of the factory remain a secret.
One will expect that the Special Adviser on Garment Factory will alongside, the factory’s management and board brief the public on the earnings and expenditures of the factory. Unfortunately, the aide remains a beneficiary of the ‘Food on the Table’ policy and knows next to nothing.
In saner climes, Cross Riverians should know how much it cost to build the factory, furnish it, who constructed it, what the salary scale is and from where the salary is drawn from – taxpayers money or revenue from sales of products: this remains a wish that may never be granted!
The story remains same for the Automated Rice Seedlings and Seed manufacturing center which is popular referred to as ‘Rice City’ which no one knew when the Executive Council approved its construction; the implementing agency; when procurement, bidding and award of contract was done; the contracting firm; the costs; where funds were gotten from; how recruitment was done and who pays who and what!
Also, the Ultramodern Cocoa Processing Factory in Ikom, the cotton farm in Woda, Yala as well as Eastern Instant Noodles factory in Calabar have the same storyline.
With over Four billion spent on both Local Government and State salaries including pensions per month; a figure which is set to increase due to the new minimum wage, questions regarding the fate of these.
There are laws which guide the processes for the employment, remuneration and retirement or retrenchment of staff – have these been followed?
For example, we are aware that the pension act stipulates that corporate bodies should initiate a contributory pension schemes for organizations whose staff strength are above a dozen and quarter. Are staff of these industries on contributory pension schemes too?
These questions remain on the minds of Cross Riverians who see through the unnecessary quarrels of spin doctors and image makers as well as those whose roles are to explain the administration’s policies and roadmaps to the taxpayers – who at the slightest provocation, rain abuses on hardworking Cross Riverians who strive to contribute their quota to the growth and development of the State.
Governor Ayade set an uncanny ball rolling by announcing timelines for some of his industrialization projects despite the lean resources accruing to the State. It remains to be seen whether he will achieve the construction of any industry, factory or plant within a specified timeline as announced from the beginning.
The attempt to also portray some of these industrialization projects as already completed or nearly completed by his aides when foundation stones are yet to be laid like the case of the rubber plantation in Okundi, Boki Local Government Area also leaves a lot to be desired from a man who has always said his integrity and name remains more important than office.
Furthermore, bearing in mind that the constitutional term limits for Chief Executives as per the 1999 constitution as amended is two, and given the fact that the question of continuity in legacy projects by successors is usually a challenge, the concerns about the sustainability of Mr. Ayade’s mode of industrialization cannot be treated with kid gloves.
As he begins his second term in office, we have no doubt about his capacity to deliver. But, our concern is whether the developmental paradigm is in order and how Cross Riverians will reap from the billions ploughed into this industrialization drive.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are solely the opinion of the CrossRiverWatch Editorial Team.
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