Governor Ben Ayade: The First 4 Years, A Tale Of Mixed Blessings For The Obudu People BY ADIE ADUGBA 

In Breaking News, Opinion

Benedict Bengioshuye Ayade, an illustrious son of Kakum in Ipong Ward of Obudu, an environmentalist, inventor (they say), Lawyer, Professor and business mogul as widely known was no doubt irresistible as a choice to take over from the silent and smooth achiever and Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke in 2015; especially for those who are not from Obudu and those who perceived that his academic achievements were an assurance that he is a man of integrity who will uphold all the ethics required to govern a State. It must have also brought Imoke himself a sense of fulfilment and relieve that he had done very well for himself after the bitter and gruesome fight to ensure that Prince Goddy Jedy-Agba should not succeed him.

To the Obudu people who have served many successful Governments in several key positions and proven themselves to be dependable subordinates to the Governors they served, it was yet another confirmation that Obudu was relevant to produce a successor especially in consideration of the sustainability of the developmental achievements of previous regimes and the future of Cross River State. The people of Northern Cross River did not feel left out at all as the whole of Northern Cross River had always been a family that shared same political fortune and stand by each other at all times right from the 2nd republic days of Senator Joseph Wayas who was its leader. However, the uncommon selection of Ben Ayade to take over from Imoke should have hinted a twist of fate and concern for due process, never-the-less he was whole heartedly accepted by all across the North and the entire State for 2 principal reasons rather than merit;

He was from the ruling party PDP and a choice of Governor Imoke who did very well as a Governor, and just because it was the turn of the North to produce Governor and he is from the North.

Thus as it happened, Governor Ayade took office on the 29th of May 2015, and he is undoubtedly the second term Governor of the State till come May 29th 2023, by the grace of God.

Digitalization of Government Processes and Administration.

Governor Ben Ayade considers everyone he met in the civil service analog, incompetent and not educated enough to understand him or work under his administration. He has therefor set aside the use of various lined MDAs established by law to perform specific functions for the State and deployed the use of personal domestic staff and relations to assume functions of Civil Servants in these MDAs irrespective of the scope of work or sensitivity of the task not minding their level of education or professional competence to handle the complexities of the project of his dream.

This has rendered the State MDAs unaccountable for the “massive industrialization, management of infrastructure, bulldozing and destructions of natural vegetation and in some cases properties going on across the State” in the name of development under the digital system of project development under his watch.

It is particularly very disheartening how an academic Professor who by all standards should uphold and promote professionalism and the culture of due diligence in professional handling of State matters and projects has rather preferred to engage in all sorts of disregard for engagement of accredited professionals in the Civil service and the private sector to settle for celebrating himself as most knowledgeable in all fields of infrastructure development. After all, he has wealth of personal experience in investments, travel and education which he considers superior to everyone who works under him.

Lined Directors in the various Ministries such as Works, Lands and Urban Development and other utilities have long forgotten when they last participated in project planning and execution. The Governors’ in-laws, nephews and political job men are in charge of the bulldozers and diesel required to work at the digital space and urgency of the Governor irrespective of the trail of avoidable destruction they leave behind if such urgency is not deployed and careful planning is considered before the commencement of these thoughtless activities.

The Tragedy of Action Without Planning and the Collateral Damage of Digital Development (Bulldozer Action) and Charity Beginning from Home.

Obudu, the home LGA of the Governor is the most pitiable place to cite as a home of any Governor that has ever been in power in recent times in any State so far as the 4 reveal. The following projects embarked upon by the Governor have left many confused on how well the projects have impacted or benefitted the citizens of his father land rather celebrating the projects coming from their son.

Electricity Supply and Power Generation: The unassuming and loving citizens of Obudu imagined that their son meant well when he resumed Office and started first with the disconnection of the LGA from the National Grid and to provide them with independent and uninterrupted power supply. The result was a disaster, first the contractor who supplied the generators was not paid and this delayed the commissioning of the generators for use; second, there was no sustainability and management plan for the generators of power supply project. It was new as an electricity option embarked upon by our state for any town or LGA in this nature.

Issues Began to Arise: Who collects tariff for energy consumption? Who fuels the generators? Who maintains the generators? Etc. Yours truly, the Governor could not fill in the answers as one experiment went on to the other until Obudu was finally thrown into darkness for a period of almost 2 years of his regime before the residents began to cry out for the reconnection of the LGA back to the national grid. Several small scale businesses that are electricity dependent had closed shops out of frustration. The damage to the social life of the people, the loss of business of small scale enterprises and the trauma caused the Obudu people did not create any cause for worry or concern to the Governor or his esteemed followers and interestingly, when Obudu got reconnected to the national grid supporters of the Governor took to social media to celebrate the Governor for reconnecting Obudu to the national grid, rather than blaming him for the inconvenience caused by him to his fellow citizens.

The cost of this experiment to the entire State cannot be overemphasized and the status of these abandoned generators is of no concern to anyone in the regime. The certainty is that, as of today, an audit of the project premises and equipment will definitely indicate missing items, from the generating sets and electrical circuits to the change over switches.

Road Construction: Yahe, Okpoma, Yache, Aboucheche, Obudu, Sankwala to Ranch road construction/dualization project, again another case of selfish experimentation with public funds and total disregards (abuse of Office and criminal negligence) to due process as in standard road construction practice and ethics. This project’s contractor as was published during the flag off of the road project has no known office address in State from the commencement of the road project, they share equipment and site camp with the Leophina Construction Company (once proud visible construction company of the Ayade dynasty, which has currently striped itself of all emblems and marks of visibility that every construction company displays to show their strength and capacity as a construction Company).

Uncommon Digital Construction Style: The first disturbing sign about this project was that the contractor (or direct labour implementers) of the road project embarked on the process of bulldozing the road from Yahe to Obudu before possibly considering further action on improving the road to reduce the suffering of people caused by the dust from the earth opening, accidents cause by gulley from eroded earth of abandoned bulldozing and grading in some cases, damages caused to vehicles and bikes as a result of road which had become unmanageable and most painfully, the reduced means of public transportation along these routes that may have resulted in deaths for people who need time transportation to seek medical attention in emergency situations as well as farm harvest lost to damage as they could not be transported to the market for sell by the farmers. Of these issues mentioned above, irreparable collateral damaged cause by this project especially for Obudu people are.

The Africa Development/World Bank CRS Water Board sponsored urban water supply expansion schemed designed to expand the supply of portable water from Obudu town to adjoining small towns and villages such as Ipong, Okambi, Igwo, Betukwel, Ohong and beyond had their main feeder pipelines bulldozed and damaged drastically due to the ignorance and non-involvement of appropriate supervisory Ministries, engineers and stakeholder on cluster development to join in planning, execution and supervision of the project.

The multi-millions of Naira spent on laying of pipes and construction substation water reservoirs’ and connection and metering to over 5000 homes under this expansion project in less than 2 weeks by the Government direct labour bulldozers in the name Sydney Construction Company and the facilities are now monuments that will serve as historical evidence of the disruptive and painful development under Ayade regime. This scheme, the cost of facilities deployed and the impact to the quality of livelihood of the potential beneficiaries of this water has gone unsung and without a blink of concern to the Governor who Obudu people voted for and are ready to defend at all cost.

Apart from the Loss of the Water Scheme: Everyone can attest to what happens when a contract of that magnitude and cost of the road is being executed in any place. Mobilization of the contractors to site in any town by a legitimate and credible company is evident and greeted with giving employment to people (drivers, security men, artisans and technicians in such locality) and business of supplies (consumable machines and motor parts, petroleum products, safety wares etc). People are still witnesses to the arrival in Obudu by SGEN Construction Company to construct Obudu/Ranch/Ikom road in 1979/80 and the economic impact it brought to the town in terms of commerce and employment. One begins to wonder if this Ayade’s road construction is executed by ghosts and the result is amply shown in the speed, quality and standard of finish, and technology deployed for the job which is by all means visibly very poor.

The Post Office and NITEL buildings were avoidable property belonging to Federal institutions in the LGA which were wantonly demolished without recourse to the Federal Government and the NITEL building was looted in broad day light. All over the world buildings such as post office buildings are listed buildings, that is they are protected and preserved for historical purposes, one wonders why our dear Governor who is widely traveled did not see anything wrong with the demolition that was again clearly avoidable.

Damage to Property and Compensation Paid by Government: Owners of property along the route of this road especially in Obudu are still counting their loses from the road project. One will expect that the Governor should have been sympathetic and enough to ensure that those who lived or owned property along this route were well documented and adequately compensated to enable them seek alternative accommodation or replace their property, this was not the case; the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development was engaged to enumerate property along the route and identify those to be demolished, evaluate and determine the appropriate compensation for the affected persons. They carried out the assignment to the best of their professional knowledge as required, however when it was time to pay out the compensation the Ministry of lands and Urban Development was set aside and the compensation funds was released (either in part or full) to the Commissioner for Works Mr. Dan. Osim Asu and his Permanent Secretary Mrs Ehot Achu to pay compensation to the people. They arrived Obudu and started holding negotiation meetings with people and asking them to understand why they cannot pay them as the people were expecting, blackmailing them that their brother means well and should be encouraged to construct the road and deceiving them that the road was going to be completed before elections. These tactics were deployed by the Commissioner and Permanent Secretary to swindle the people, and they got away with the tricks by paying people according to how their spirit directed them.

The funny thing was that despite peaceful protest which was carried out by the affected people to the Governor’s residence in Obudu to complain to his siblings at home because the people assumed that it was as good as writing or following the Governor to Calabar to complain, nothing was heard of the shabby style of compensation payment by Dan Osim Asu/Ehot Achu again till today. One begins to wonder what our dear Governor thinks of his public image in all these obvious display or corrupt tendencies by his aids.

We must not fail to acknowledge the Governor however for the successful installation of 3 working traffic lights at Obudu town located at; T. Boy Junction along Ogoja Ranch road by Ogoja road Junction and Hospital road by Bishiri road (aka Animal) Junction.

It is worthy to note that their sight is very spectacular at day and night in the non-existent traffic but a sure sign and show of digital foresight and vision of development and heavy traffic to come.

Cargo and Passenger Airport Project: Too much has already been written about airport transportation and its viability in the State as a whole and the dwindling fortunes of the Margaret Ekpo International Airport in Calabar not to talk of a new Airport in Obudu LGA, 20 minutes away from the Bebi Air (Strip) port which was upgraded by the Donald Duke administration to take light aircrafts needed to shuttle to the Obudu Mountain Resort (Cattle Ranch) and other parts of Nigeria. The decision of the Governor to construct another airport in Obudu was not only sudden but hurriedly taken for a yet to be identified cause, this is so because for a Governor who just came out of an election which he was struggling to convince people why the Super Highway and the Deep Seaport were yet to achieve any significant level of work to be showcased to Cross Riverians among other projects abandoned or active at various level of completion; it was shocking to his political associates and the public why such a project will be embarked upon and most especially at this time.

While his associates and the public was still processing the information, the Governor ordered his demolition squad to commence with immediate effect bush clearing and preparation of the site for the Airport project to commence. The squad led by Eric Akpo with Joseph Adie (Jungle Joe) and a certain tout called Paul Anake obviously saw an opportunity to do business with the State Government and commenced a self-styled consultation and compensation payment for the farms and plantations to be destroyed. Neither Joseph Adie or Eric Akpo who have a professional body affiliate to the title they bear remember to impress on His Excellency the Governor to deploy the relevant MDAs to follow due process of land acquisition and payment of compensation to the people before the bulldozers enter the farm lands, they deployed the machines and themselves at the same time to start the work side by side with the consultation (after all, what is the cost of diesel? and the bulldozers are available in the “direct labour equipment yard”).

Work commenced one month before the publication of the expression of interest for consultants who may be interested to undertake the feasibility study, designs and construction of the Airport and even the date for the publication was back dated behind the published date. As the Communities began to raise concern on why the hurry and lack of due process in the land acquisition and compensation before the commencement of the project, the demolition squad intensified their desperation to clear the land more and to ensure that they achieved an open sky to the horizon as the perceived suitable with the choice of the site for the airport according to Eric Akpo’s letter to the Communities.

No one cared who owned which land, their language was come and collect money let us clear the land and while all these is going on; the implementing Ministries for gigantic Government project are watching from the sidelines as Eric Akpo and his desperadoes read the riot act to pitiable farm owners and continue to clear their land. Today, it is almost 4 months since the Airport project commenced destruction of farms and vegetation of the lands of Atiekpe, Ikwomikwu and Okambi and suddenly the Governor realizes that the Federal Ministry of Environment ought to be consulted to produce the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) among other things and work has been suspended on the site while some of these prerequisite activities are retrofitted into the project execution plan.

These 4 months should have been used to complete the feasibility study, determine the actual design scope and land requirements as well as ascertain the buffer zone required and delineate the survey plan for upon which the land acquisition shall be based on, for the concerned Ministry to treat. It is now suspected that the demolition squad may have cleared the lands far into the wrong direction or need for the project and the government in a pathetic gesture went and obtained sprouting palm nuts and to distribute to the communities to nurse and replant where they shall be informed in the future, which area or land free for planting, perhaps after their Chinese partners/consultants gives them direction on where they can replant, which will indicate which side was cleared in error.

The question now is how will the Atiekpe, Ikwomikwu and Okambi Communities ever recover from the damage done to their farm lands? How will they identify their boundaries if all the land is not used for the Airport project again as it is beginning to show from the palm nursery seeds show of shame? How will those whose farms were forcefully cleared by the demolition squad ever get fair compensation as there was no enumeration of cash crops and measurement of land holding?

Conspicuously evident in this land acquisition and compensation payment again is a scenario similar to the Dan Osim Asu payment for the road projects affected property owners.

There is an unknown Government budget for compensation for the project. There is an unverifiable payment claim of payment by the Team of Government agents on ground that they say they have paid out to affected farmers, and there is an actual and unverifiable payment sum received by the farmers and land owners. Interestingly, all these 3 listed above are irreconcilable and not documented in any of appropriate MDAs that ought to be responsible for this activity for future references or verification.

This particular reason is responsible and has created a business opportunity for the demolition squad and this makes the project now more passionate to the squad than the Governor himself, to the extent that the tout Project Manager (Paul Obi Anake) engages and fund violent youths as body guards to attack and intimidate anyone who shows resistance to their ambition to clear the whole village so that they can pay compensation as described above rather than for the interest of the actual project.

Governor Ben Ayade, have mercy on your people and think twice before you start your projects. Being digital means that you can process all necessary information to take good decisions faster and more accurately and not acting according to self-conceived ideas without recourse to any damage that may be caused to people or the costly mistakes that have become recurrent and associated with the projects implementation for your own people.

Please note that those who cheer you at all public gatherings and occasion by shouting digital! digital!!, digital!!! mock you when they are away from you in places where you are discussed and sometimes even ridicule you. Your aids speak openly about your inability to listen to anyone else apart from your brother and how they are just following you to survive till your regime is over.

History and posterity will judge and compare you with other Governors before you from other parts of Cross River as well as other Nigerian States.
Take your name out of the news for the wrong reason!

Adie Adugba is a native of Obudu and writes from Calabar.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Adie Adugba, and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.

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