When Sen. Ben Ayade was sworn in on May 29, 2015, he left no one in doubt that he is a man of great intellect and unique ideas and it goes without saying that his Governance styles would be quite apart from the usual. Sen. Ayade showed immediately that if his predecessors had bold ideas, he had bolder ideas. If his predecessors were courageous or showed courage, Ayade was to show greater courage. Thus, from his acceptance speech on the day of inauguration, he exhibited the character of a man in a hurry to calve a niche for himself. It was clear that he is going to change things radically from the mundane to a brand new beginning. A beginning of the process of diversifying the economy of Cross River State and consolidating the foundation for growth, laid by his successors, by lifting governance to digital heights.
In unfolding his agenda, the Governor said he would transform the economy, from third world to first world, through industrialization of the State. He also stated that, to lay a formidable foundation for a successful industrialisation programme, he would develop a Deep Seaport at Bakassi and a corresponding evacuation corridor of a road, the Superhighway, also from Bakassi to the North, both of which he tagged as Signature Projects.
Sen. Ayade would not only go ahead to create twenty nine Ministries, but ensured that about half of that number focused on contemporary global themes like New Cities, Solid Minerals, Climate Change, Sustainable Development Goals, International Donor, Power, Gas, Petroleum, Commerce and Industry, Social Housing, Rural Transformation, Infrastructure, Tourism and Culture, etcetera. His intention is to pursue infrastructural development and industrialisation of the State using these Ministries and some Special Purpose Vehicles (SPV) set up for that purpose. With this institutional framework, a foundation was laid for the commencement of infrastructural development as a pathway to industrialisation of the State. He thought of industrialisation with linkages to tourism and agricultural development, which guarantees an economic growth matrix that would in due course decouple the State from the total dependence on the Federal Account Allocation.
However, four years down the line, probably the most spoken about projects of the Ayade first term, are his signature projects. For me, speaking without equivocation, the deep seaport and superhighway are very good and well intended projects and would be the bedrock for a sustainable economic development of Cross River State.
Unknown to many Cross Riverians, the twin projects of Deep Seaport and Superhighway were conceptually and strategically well thought out by the Governor. These Projects conceived by the Governor are, with the benefit of historical hindsight, a timely intervention aimed at correcting a planning or infrastructural abnormality caused by the British Colonial administration.
It should be noted that, during the construction of the original four arterial roads that traversed the geographical landscape called Nigeria, there was a design abnormally relating to the arterial road that led to the Calabar port. It would be instructive to note that, while creating roads into the hinterlands by the Colonial administration, each arterial road was designed, in the master plan, to emanate from Northern Nigeria and terminate at a Seaport in Southern Nigeria. However, while the other three arterial roads were properly constructed, the arterial road that terminates at Calabar seaport was not properly constructed because of the faulty location of the Calabar port itself, having been wrongly located on a shallow channel which hampered proper functionality. The originally intended location of the Calabar port is probably around the location of the present Bakassi deep seaport. Therefore, by embarking on the building of this deep seaport, within the atlantic coastline and constructing a 275KM thoroughfare to link up the North Central and North Eastern parts of Nigeria, the Governor is not only correcting the infrastructural abnormally, created by the colonial administration but simultaneously preparing grounds for the future economic boom in Cross River State.
The construction of the signature projects of this Government has stirred more controversy than any other known public infrastructural development project in our recent history. The politics of Federal approvals, forest conservation, other States and Regional interests much more than funding needs has slowed the progress of work on the projects. In any case, work has continued on both projects, probably slowly, but steadily. Interestingly and regardless of the regulatory controversy, nobody seems to deny the enormity of the economic and social benefits of the Deep seaport and Superhighway to Cross River and Nigeria. All that people say is that Cross River lacks the financial capacity to fund the projects and this is where I have a problem, because with proper strategic planning and marketing of the monumental economic benefits derivable from the project, private finance can very easily be attracted to fund the projects.
This is because, a Deep seaport within the atlantic coastline with an evacuation corridor, the Superhighway as twin projects, if successfully executed, will heighten commercial activities between the South East and South-South on one hand and the North Central and North East on the other and recouping investors funds wouldn’t be a challenge at all. The Deep seaport will equally attract maritime activities toward the Eastern part of the country and simultaneously integrate trade and commerce with Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe, and to other member countries of Chad Basin Development Commission, some of which are landlocked, thereby consolidating that intra-African trade.
It is therefore instructive, to consider the intention, importance and economies of these projects when speaking for or against the projects, so we don’t throw the baby with the bath water. The people campaigning against the construction of the Superhighway, though within their constitutional rights of freedom of expression, must apply methods of campaign that are objective and constructive and not abusive as the present campaign seem to be suggesting. Forest conservation, though important in the contemporary climate change dynamics, should not stand in the way of the economic development of Cross River State or Nigeria. Especially, where there are no commensurate economic empowerment programs put in place by Government for the forest Communities.
If the long term economic benefits of the Superhighway and Deep seaport are worthwhile, then we must speak out for the projects and shut out agents of our competitors who do not wish Cross River well.
Furthermore, touching small a part of our Forest for the greater good of our tomorrow should not bring down the heavens. The UK Government ignored the politics of the forest and went ahead with the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5 and the UK is the better for it today. While I salute the Governors courage for embarking on these humongous projects in the face of the very lean resources, I would like to reiterate the point that these projects are projects of the future and do not need public sector funding. Private funding would be available in abundance if we do the needful, especially on the back of a Federal Government sovereign guarantee, as suggested by some. All well-meaning citizens of Cross River State must therefore join hands with the Government to procure what is the needful.
This is particularly so because Cross River State should be compensated in perpetuity by Nigeria and the International Community for the loss of Bakassi. Again, locating a Seaport in Bakassi will give the people a sense of belonging and continue to draw national and international attention to the plight of the Bakassi returnees. Indeed, the Government and people of Cross River State must demand from the Federal Government of Nigeria, the construction of the Bakassi seaport as part of reparation to the State and the people of Bakassi, for the loss of the Peninsula through no fault of theirs.
I also enjoin the youths of Cross River State to take ownership of these projects, nurture them, defend them, market them and ensure they succeed, if not today, then in the foreseeable future. Let no one deceive you that the projects are not doable, because they are.
As His Excellency, takes Oath of Office for a second term, I cannot but wish him well. He came, not many gave him a chance, yet he saw and he conquered. Believe it or not, he has moved permanently from where he was and have joined the enviable Leaque of Political High Flyers and National Leaders.
My frank advise though is that, he should do a critical appraisal of his last four years, concentrate on projects of relative or comparative advantage and deliver on them. For all other projects, including those under reference herein, he could deliver on proper feasibilities, analyses, frameworks, studies and approvals, while leaving the rest to his successor and posterity.
Finally, I call on His Excellency to remember his people, Cross Riverians, on whose overwhelming votes he’s back on the saddle. Please secure them, endure with them because they have endured with him, they have been praying for him (Ayade) and they wish that he finishes well, strong and with reciprocal fanfare. So that by their prayers, he would move up and serve them better, probably as number One, Two or Third citizen of Nigeria or somewhere else in the Comity of Nations. I STAND WITH HIM on the development of the Superhighway and Deep Seaport. I also CONGRATULATE him for winning again and for winning so easily and so overwhelmingly. God bless his Second Term.
George Ekpungu KSM, Ph.D is the past Commissioner, Ministry of New City Development, Cross River State and writes from Calabar.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, George Ekpungu, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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