Not every Cross Riverian will agree that we have had better leaders before the Governor Ben Ayade dispensation; but most people from Cross River or who have lived in Cross River since the onset of the Fourth Republic will agree that the State has seen more visionary leadership than the joke that currently prevails.
Different pundits hold diverse report cards and marking schemes for previous leaders in the State with some marking Donald Duke particularly high and Ayade’s predecessor, Liyel Imoke as slow but steady.
Donald Duke who became Governor in 1999 under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, started out with 11 Commissioners with a House of Assembly that was controlled by the opposition APP, then.
Though regarded as being high-handed and also intolerant, Duke’s cabinet members were always at loggerheads with the 25 State lawmakers over exco resolutions and extracts. The House of Assembly was able to commendably hold Duke to ransom on several occasions. Members like Hon. Cletus Obun and Hon. Mbeh Agbiji Mbeh, among a few others, stood out clearly as possessing the rare capacity and self confidence to be able to question the decisions of the Governor and his exco.
Exco meetings in turn were reputed to be not just very regular and intense but were also genuinely tasked with engaging the Governor in long drawn in-depth discussions and helping him in critical decision making. Some of the finest names in Cross River politics that still resonate, emerged from that dispensation.
Liyel Imoke took over in 2007 and started out with 15 Commissioners. Exco meetings during Imoke became more open to the public when journalists both from Government and private media organizations were granted access into the exco chambers.
Religiously, every Wednesday was reserved for exco meetings were some of the best brains in the Cross River State cabinet were allowed to openly disagree with the Governor on his policy direction. Imoke is fondly remembered as the Governor who made sure every exco member took turns and contributed something meaningful to every memo that came to the table, before resolutions could be reached.
The House of Assembly under Imoke wasn’t as vibrant as the previous one under Duke, but it had some members who still possessed the balls to challenge Executive decisions. Infact, after about 8 years, the Assembly again had a minority leader from the opposition APC, Hon. Alex Irek, who decamped from the PDP, following a disagreement with the Governor.
In 2015 when Governor Ben Ayade took over the reins of power, he started out with 28 Commissioners, the highest in the history of the State and the country at the time. The Governor immediately cancelled the weekly exco meetings, arguing that it wasn’t a priority and not so important as to deserve a day in every week. He announced that the weekly meetings will be replaced by a monthly interactive session in the exco chambers.
We can’t say for sure how often the monthly interactive sessions have held as the Governor is hardly always around for a complete month, without travelling to sign MoUs.
Even when he is around and any of the meetings is scheduled to hold, on many occasions, the Governor may not come out from his office to the chambers from 8am when the commissioners are told to be seated until late into evenings. Throughout this waiting, the commissioners are locked in there with their phones taken from them by the security operatives as they aren’t allowed to take their phones into exco. On one occasion, after such endless waiting, some of the commissioners began to sleep and the picture leaked to the media, a youth corper, the then Government House Correspondent of CrossRiverWatch and a third person were ordered arrested and taken to the Police command headquarters at Diamond Hill, Calabar.
And when he eventually emerges from his door into the chambers, there is a deluge of clapping and a bevy of panegyric lavishly poured on him by all and sundry. A typical meeting begins with further eulogies and pathetic, sycophantic praise singing from the few who are allowed to speak.
Memos are sometimes introduced but hardly ever debated intensely and after all the joke, like a headmaster to his pupils, he addresses his 28 minions and they take their leave.
Many of the 28 never had the opportunity to meet with him personally, talkless of getting him to treat their memos, till their tenures elapsed. Now the Governor has renamed most of them and increased the number to a record 39 Commissioners, including intended ministries like Defence, Foreign Affairs, Aviation, which are all on the exclusive list and Morality among others.
In a State where appointments have become a bait for maximum loyalty to the Emperor and not a call to service, some of the 39 minions will still be contented to be called commissioner for defence, commissioner for foreign affairs and commissioner for aviation, even when it is clear they will not have any tangible role to play in how the emperor makes his decisions.
Remember, at a retreat at the Obudu Ranch Resort in 2017, the Governor was reported to have told his aides including commissioners that he doesn’t need more than 5 percent of them to work while others were brought in to “put food on their tables.”
The twenty five rubber stamps in the present House of Assembly seem to be the worst the State has paraded since the inception of the Fourth Republic. These lot lack even the basic understanding of the empty, verbose and sometimes meaningless grammar the Governor throws around and they will require a reincarnation to be able to grow the balls to question anything Governor Ayade throws at them.
The danger that is lost on us essentially is that the Emperor is intended on running the entire State machinery alone without let or hinder. He must not be opposed or else, every vertical ember will be made horizontal.
But as the Emperor administers oath to his 39 minions, after their recent confirmation by the 25 rubber stamps in the Assembly, the civil society and those who still believe in the practice of liberal democracy, must rise up to take the bull by the horn and resist this autocratic stench that is relentlessly festering in the political firmament of Cross River State before the damage becomes irreversible.
Elias Ozikpu is a Cross Riverian from Amukwong in Obudu LGA and writes from Lagos.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Elias Ozikpu and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.