He came as a leader whose fate was inextricably intertwined with the displaced and dispossessed people of Bakassi.
At every forum, Governor Ben Ayade wrenched quite a volume of tears enough to form a lake or drown a community, while speaking about the level of crass insensitivity on the part of the federal authorities who orchestrated the destitution, despair and abandonment of the Bakassi people who were for 18 harrowing years rendered refugees in their own country.
Mindlessly decoupled from their ancestral land by the overlord central government, the people of Bakassi were left to their fate, to live a life only akin to that of the pastoral nomads.
With a fishing community rendered homeless for over 18 solid years, a future shortcircuted, and countless thousands of people including widows, the aged, children mowed down like a field of grain, by hungervirus, considered deadlier than Coronavirus and with abject compunction from those before him, Ayade could ill-afford any numbness to the horrors and miseries of the Bakassi people.
Ayade cried when they cried and oftentimes much more than the “bereaved”. He railed at the atrociousness of the conspirators, tugged at their heartstrings and hurled stinging reprimand at the manner in which an entire commune was ceded, culminating in children being sundered from their parents as well as wives being severed from their breadwinners.
He wore their shoes, felt their pains and shared amply from their cries.
In 2017, as a mark of solidarity with the displaced Bakassi people, Ayade, while marking his 49th birthday, had to relocate to Ikpa Nkanya village, Ikot Eyo ward, where the returnees were camped.
He feted, dined and celebrated with them.
The governor had told a vast concourse of the gathering then that; “The Bakassi people have been dislocated from their ancestral homes, denied the pleasure of worship and decent accommodation, reduced in want and in spirit just because they are not strong enough to fight back. I come as a child from that humble beginning to say that we must all come together to make a difference and that difference must start now.”
Ayade’s cries and such other palpable emotions would no sooner form the soundtrack on which an upscale 52 unit 2-bedroom housing estate was delivered on Friday, May 29, as he clocked five years in office as governor.
Delivered devoid of the traditional fanfare and banality which usually characterize such grandiose events, the project which began barely a year ago is no doubt a bold statement of what representative leadership is all about. It loudly demonstrated what a servant leader is. That it must be people-centered.
When Governor Ayade made the solemn pledge early in the life of his administration to build the Bakassi returnees shelter, many thought it was impossible, or at best one of the hollow political promises that hardly see the light of day, given the state’s parlous economy. But Ayade as he is wont to assure, “I will give my left eye to keep my words”, indeed walked his talk.
For a leader who had severally voiced such epithets as “giving my right eye to keep my words”, “I give, not because I have so much but because I care so much”, “The true African anthropology is the one that says that you must provide a shoulder for your weaker brother to lean on”, Governor Ayade would no sooner set sail with this handful of epithets as a guide and steer a steady course, like an emigrant to the islands of the blest.
Situated at Ifiang Ayong area of Bakassi Local Government Area, the fully furnished estate has come as a long awaited welcome intervention in the harrowing experience of homelessness by the refugees who have been living in squalor, having converted a primary school in Akpabuyo Council Area of the state to their home.
For once, a leader with a milk of human kindness emerged on the scene and remembered that there indeed existed victims of societal cruelty who must be clawed back from sub human existence and from a life of slum.
The gift of a decent housing estate for the hitherto forgotten people of Bakassi is therefore obviously an enduring lesson that a true leader is one who understands that leadership is not about oneself but about those you serve. It is not about exalting oneself but about lifting others up.
And for once, the returnees will long remember that there was a leader in the person of Ayade who showed them love, care and concern.
The first of its kind anywhere around, the governor was aware that giving the Bakassi people shelter, was not going to be enough, he gave them a home, promising to expand it.
It is indeed a home by any standard. It has amenities like power – public power, standby generator, solar lighting, water system and such other utilities that guarantee decent living and comfort.
Located in nature’s pampering hands, the estate could pass for an upscale home, well appointed and comes with tastefully interior design and quality furnishings.
Indeed, if that was the reward for being a refugee, the sheer elegance of the estate is more than enough to compel anyone to want to assume the status of a refugee, just to own one.
In fact, what makes the estate spectacularly unique is that it is a social housing which ownership is held in perpetuity, where the property is the owners’ to keep forever.
As part of ensuring that the returnees do not luxuriate in the wonderful comfort of their new home, and forget their mainstay, which is fishing, Governor Ayade went a notch higher by acquiring a fishing boat to enable them sustain themselves while in the estate.
What’s more, with the governor’s announcement of a N50 million donation as well as other economic stimulus package, life could not be any more promising as the returnees now begin what could be described as a refreshing start to life from what was once a slum existence characterised by gloom and doom.
But on this day, May 29, Ayade did not only put a new song in their mouth with the provision of exotic roofs over their heads, but he also put a future in their hands as they can now own their lives and begin to control their destinies.
For a people who had always made crying a soothing balm to their pain and anguish since they were severed from their ancestral home and left in the cold, their cry on this day they were taking custody of their houses was one of joy and fulfillment, and fulfillment that their long years of misery and wondering in wilderness has come to a screeching end, as a redeemer in Governor Ayade finally showed up and made a telling difference in their once abject lives.
Linus Obogo is Deputy Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade.
NB: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, Linus Obogo and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
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