By CrossRiverWatch Admin
The Convener, Cross River State Good Governance Coalition, Mr. Agba Jalingo, explains, in this interview with Mudiaga Affe of Punch Newspaper, why Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State is being tagged a land grabber, among other issues.
You are one of those that have consistently accused the State Governor of land grabbing, why?
I will give you instances of land grabbing allegations against Governor Ben Ayade. When he became the governor in 2015, he projected the construction of a superhighway as one of his signature projects for the State. According to the rules of the Federal Ministry of Works, if you are constructing a standard road, the setback (the minimum distance within which a building or other structure must be to it) is 50 metres from the road, but Governor Ayade in his proposed superhighway said the setback would be 10 kilometres on both sides of the road. With that as a yardstick, so many villages would have been wiped out on the route of the proposed superhighway. Civil societies had to protest until the governor changed his mind – the protest was taken to the court before it was reduced. For me, that intention was land grabbing. Secondly, the Governor acquired the primary school where he graduated in Obudu – St. Joseph Primary School in Obudu main town. He had said he wanted to convert the school to a garment factory, the signboard is still standing there, but he took the garment factory to Calabar, the State capital, and decided to convert the piece of land in Obudu to a truck yard for a construction company he allegedly has a link with. In Calabar, the land belonging to the Cross River State Water Board Company Limited has been taken over by the Governor and allocated to his cronies. The land has been there even long before he (Ayade) conceived the idea of becoming a Governor. It has become a huge private estate for his friends and family members. I can go on and on; Ayade’s appetite for land grabbing is insatiable. Look at the land he is acquiring to use for the airport in Obudu; he is paying N1, 500 to farmers in the name of compensation. I think this land grabbing is one of the black spots of his administration – I do not know where he wants to take all the lands to.
The majority of the land acquired is for State projects such as agriculture, and construction of factories, so, why the complaints?
I have just mentioned the primary school where he graduated from. The land has been converted for personal use by a company he has interest in. A land taken for the purpose of establishing a garment factory has been turned to a dumping yard. Look again at the land belonging to the water board that has been converted to an estate. If he acquires a public land, as the law authorises him, and you use them for public projects, I do not think that anybody will complain. When he was proposing to acquire 10km left and right in the course of constructing a superhighway, on a stretch of 273km expressway, is that for the public interest? So, I am not talking about the land that he is acquiring for public interest because those ones are authorised and backed by the law, but the ones he has been acquiring for private use in the last four years and it is not befitting of a governor.
There are insinuations that most of your criticisms are blackmails which are for your personal gains, how true are they?
Those saying that should openly declare the reasons why they think I am blackmailing the Governor. What do they mean by blackmail? When they claim you are blackmailing someone, there must be a reason, and they should not be afraid to tell the public why. I am not a blackmailer; I am just only being a good citizen of the State, and as a journalist, giving out the right information by educating the public is making the Governor uncomfortable. I do not need to blackmail someone to survive.
The Governor has recently called for the regulation of the use of social media, and you are one of those who make constant use of that medium, what is your view on his probe?
A ‘digital’ Governor that is calling for the regulation of digital platforms is a suspicious person. The rights to freedom of expression have very slim boundaries, I think that the Governor is afraid because of the way the social media is taking him on in Cross River State. He has now become comfortable with the traditional media in the State but with the emergence of strong social media in the State, he is getting a lot of headaches and that is why he is calling for the regulation of social media. He did not say that for the good of the public because it is a piece of parochial advice.
What is your comment on the Governor’s inability to conduct Local Government election since 2015?
I see the action as that of a dictatorship. The Governor wants to run the State alone. When he assumed office in 2015, he met on the ground 18 Local Government Council executives and legislators that were elected into offices; but barely three months after their tenure expired when he became Governor, he has failed to approve the conduct of the election. His interest has been to lavish LG administration funds but he preferred to use caretaker appointees to run the affairs of Local Government Areas since he became a Governor as if he is a military administrator – it is a sign of dictatorship.
Are there no areas that the Governor has performed creditably in running the affairs of the State in the last five years?
Governor Ayade has consistently been paying salaries of workers in the last four years plus, even at a period when salary payments became embarrassment all over the country. So, we have to give him credit for that. Again, I admire his desire to industrialise Cross River by building a couple of industries, but my only worry with that is that there is no clear cut strategy that will ensure the sustenance of the industries when he leaves the office.