Governor Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade of Cross River State is a very passionate man. He puts all his energy into whatever he desires to do. Off-stage he is a very jovial personality; on stage, he plays the emotional character, almost comedic. Compassion hits his tear glands easily causing torrential drops, often with the vibration of the torso. A skilled showman, he attracts accolades from his fans when the theatre comes alive.
He is a man of mild colours in formal situations, but embraces shouting colours when poised to hit the theatre. Check out when he launched the face masks; when he talked about remedies for COVID 19; and when he toured the borders of his state to ensure they were sealed against incursion of the virus from outside, among others.
There was no doubt from the outset that the youthful governor would be a cynosure in government. A man who entered Government House displaying the Shoki dance steps would attract nothing less. His fancy foot-works on the dance floor is mesmerising; and our man would spare no efforts in sustaining applause while on stage, formal or informal. Apart from informal scenes, Ayade wowed the international audience also during the opening ceremonies of the 2016 edition of the Calabar Carnival. He did it again during the swearing-in activities of his second coming as governor. And has been doing so again and again! So, Ayade is neither new to, nor tired of, the stage.
While his colleagues spend sleepless nights and tons of funds strategising on how to market themselves and their activities, Ayade is a self-selling product. Attracting attention to his activities is as simple as ABC. His audience evolves and expands on its own. Just an act on stage and a short video to boot, the message spirals from social media platforms to the bowels of the mainstream media and to the off-line discussion arenas.
Ayade had been under the klieg lights when he mooted the idea of a trans-Cross River highway, building a settlement for Bakassi returnees and setting up a world-class garment factory; but he attracted a wider audience to his famed theatrics when he not only introduced a new dimension to budget titles, but broke Nigeria’s state budget record by crossing the one trillion naira mark. Apart from the 2016 and 2017 budgets, the rest of his state’s budgets carry figures above the one trillion naira mark. The 2016 budget had a title which words could be found in the ordinary dictionary, but the rest required a word-search machine to make meaning.
The 2016 budget with a modest figure of N350 billion was titled the Budget of Deep Vision; the 2017 budget with a slightly scaled down figure of N301 billion kick-started the era of “bombastic explosion” in the coinage of budget titles. It was christened Budget of Infinite Transposition.
Suddenly it occurred to him that both he and his deputy are university professors; so why would a budget of a state run by professors be limited to a few numerical digits. To him, whenever a man’s ability is limited by his financial muscle it becomes obvious that his brain has failed. That would never be their portion, for it would be a thing of monumental disgrace and eternal shame for professors to produce a budget based just on the state’s envelope size.
With that crystallisation in his brain, he prepared a 2018 package of N1.3 trillion and aptly christened it Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation. This was to crystallise whatever the state had achieved in 2016 and 2017. As was in 2017, the 2019 budget was scaled down to N1.043 trillion, because it was to achieve a Qabalistic Densification. By 2020 the budget went slightly up to N1.1 trillion because it was time for Olimpotic Meristemasis.
It is however not certain whether anyone ever bothered to find out the levels of implementation of those budgets because, ab initio, it was obvious that the man was just attempting to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with bare hands and feet. Nonetheless, it was never his bother whether anyone cared, the man was just enjoying himself, living in his make-believe world.
The ordinary dictionary does not seem to be Ayade-friendly; the contents are not enough for our man of phonetic sounds. He lives in the search machine. Google is his friend. He prefers Kinglish to English. His grammatical junket is not limited to the public stage; it also finds space in exclusive meetings that he attends, including Council meetings at state and national levels.
It would have been safer for the governor to restrict himself to the stage of political theatrics, maybe the ovation would be louder and more enduring than the momentary euphoria it has always turned out to be. Like a masquerade carried away by the frenetic beats of a skilled drummer, Ayade would saunter into the exclusive professional arenas and get pummelled by the experts. But just as budget failures would never deter him from scaling up; a narrow escape from pummelling in one professional zone would not deter him from twerking into another whenever a bazaar hugs the crescendo.
When serious concerns were expressed about the seeming invincibility of COVID 19, Ayade said it was because the world has been chasing shadows. He said social distancing was never a hindrance to the spread of the disease. Then he touched the raw nerves of experts when he faulted the testing method for the virus. He offered an “exposition” which he acknowledged may sound controversial but insisted he was “talking from a sound scientific and intellectual background”.
Ayade said the remedy for the raging virus was not vaccine but healthy living. If he had stopped there, probably he would have gotten away with it; but like a possessed masquerade, he ventured further to say that the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method used in testing for the virus was unreliable. That it is not for diagnostic purposes but for genomic sequencing. He said the whole thing was as simple as taking serum from recovered patients, conducting electrophoresis and synthesis and then mass producing a vaccine to deal with the virus. That’s all!
The social media went agog. Quick responders raced towards him with garlands hailing his brilliance. They upbraided the Federal Government and others for being so dumb as not to have thought of something as simple as what the intellectual scientist from the far eastern end of the country had conceptualised with so much ease. While the euphoria was rising into a huge flame of fame, Dr Nura Alkali, a consultant neurologist and university teacher, swaggered in and poured cold water on his flaming prescriptions.
Alkali wondered how a professor of science and an expert in immunology would not know the difference between serum therapy and vaccines. Such an expert “should be the last to confuse and conflate the two with pompous jingoism.” After going through the scientific correlations in respect of the issues Ayade raised, Alkali said “I don’t know how else to explain to a professor of immunology claiming that PCR methods are only good for viral sequencing but unreliable for diagnostic purposes.” Following this, the ever wobbly social media community turned against the box office governor, with some making him look like a tragic hero.
While that hysteria was yet to fully abate, Ayade cried again. The tempo of this pastime depends on the intensity of the situation. If it has to do with ordinary state matters, he sobs; but when it affects the vulnerable, he weeps; and if not immediately condoled, he wails uncontrollably. He has done that a number of times. It is gradually defining his nature. The recent one was when he derided cruelty against the peasants. While inaugurating the anti-taxation committee he broke down in tears. The act smoked out those who had earlier taken cover after the Alkali missile. They returned with songs of praise and adoration for a compassionate leader.
Why on God’s green earth would a fellow human being ask the poor to pay tax, Ayade wondered. On this same matter he had cried in 2017, but the heartless tax people would not heed his call for restraint. Why would people show so much lack of love and unfeeling towards fellow human beings. If you cannot help them, why magnify their woes! It was such a moving elegy for the vulnerable. He burst into tears and those in the hall and even on social media platforms joined – notwithstanding the essence of the tears.
From time immemorial the tax man has always been a pest. They used to scare our great grand fathers into the forest. They used to be a menace, notwithstanding the fact that our people were and still are habitual tax dodgers. It is rather surprising that Ayade did not know about this nature of the taxman when, in 2017, he gave them that responsibility of ‘touch not my vulnerable’. Not surprising though, if the man did not know that some people in his state are still living in thatched houses five years into his tenure as governor, how then would he have known of the hard-heartedness of the taxman. He must have grown up in an environment where taxes are paid voluntarily.
Before now, the taxman must have been an irrelevant quantity in his calculations. Now he knows! Probably that was why he decided to set up an independent committee largely populated by the clergy, to stop the menace of taxing the peasants. Let’s just hope that the clergymen in the committee, like our Lord Jesus Christ, would not be confronted with the poser whether it is proper to pay tax to Caesar (government); because in his citation, Ayade seems to have jumbled levies and taxes in a manner that drew diverse comments from knowledgeable quarters. They claim some of the areas indicated are statutory and cannot be wiped away with tears. The governor received massive accolades nonetheless.
For example, in one of the university alumni WhatsApp platforms, a guy from one of the South East states excitedly proclaimed: “Ayade is right in exempting the wretched from taxation”. He went on to praise his high sense of compassion; but a Cross Riverian responded: “This our governor, if it were professional football we would have given him on loan to your state. When I tried to find out from my people back home why they are only just letting our governor know that people still live in thatched houses, they told me Ayade is a showman, and they are used to his weeping”.
No doubt, Ayade has his crowd. Once he is on stage, his clan erupts with plaudits. The eulogy that follows is basically because a good number of people are emotional in their appreciation; they hardly interrogate issues and therefore celebrate illusions.
Does that mean Ayade is all theatrics? Definitely no! He delivered on the garment factory and has completed the houses he promised the Bakassi returnees. But let him not forget that when a masquerade remains for too long in the arena, it becomes a human being. If care is not taken, Ayade the intellectual scientist might end up being remembered more for his tears than works.
James Akpandem, a communications consultant, lives in Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org).
NOTE: Opinions expressed in this article are strictly attributable to the author, James Akpandem and do not represent the opinion of CrossRiverWatch or any other organization the author works for/with.
Culled from The Cable.
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