By Jonathan Ugbal
Governor Ben Ayade returned to Calabar, the Cross River State capital after days in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory aboard a Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft operated by the Nigerian Air Force six days after departing the city.
He was received by his deputy, Professor Ivara Esu, Chief of Staff, Martins Orim and other media aides at the Air Force wing of the Margaret Ekpo International Airpor on Monday afternoon.
The business jet manufactured by french aviation company, Dassault Aviation was delivered in 2010 and was added to the Presidential Air Fleet with registration number 5N-FGU.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration had announced it will sell off the 11.6 year old jet with serial number 090 whose unit cost is over USD52 million in October 2016 to fulfill its campaign promise.
An advertorial was put up on Thisday Newspapers by the office of the National Securiry Adviser, but flight logs shows the jet remained in active service and has logged over 20 hours in the past week flying to Lagos, Lome in Togo, Kano and Calabar.
The Dassault Falcon 7X is the first business jet with a digital flight control system with an impressive range of over 11,000 kilometers. The one Mr. Ayade flew in was designed to seat 16 persons and three crew.
It is unclear what kept Mr. Ayade in Abuja as he failed to attend the meeting of the Southern Governor’s Forum in Lagos earlier today with his itinerary showing he was free.
However, during his stay in Abuja, Mr. Ayade attended a food summit and met with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
At the National Consolidatory Dialogue on the United Nations Food Summit 2021 held on Tuesday, June 30th 2021, Mr. Ayade said for Nigeria to overcome the unpleasant challenge of stunted growth among her citizenry, the objective of the food system should go beyond financing and include nutrient content of food which entails food fortification – a system he described as precision technology.
He averred that government must deliberately sponsor researches that would help improve food system in Nigeria like the Chinese did after the second world war having discovered that her people experienced stunted growth due to poor quality of food.
“Again, there is a direct relationship between hunger and anger. When people became hungry, anger sets in. This anger often finds expression in restiveness and all sorts of crimes. So, food sufficiency is critical but food quality is twice as critical. All tiers of government have the responsibility to ensure that technology is made available to farmers to help improve our food system”, the governor inferred.
Ayade who chaired the event on behalf of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, maintained that the 21st century agriculture was driven by technology with focus on knowledge engineering, arguing that small-holders farming as presently practiced in the country was old-fashioned.
“In Thailand for instance, it is the responsibility of the government to provide irrigation, inputs, extension services and off takers. The responsibility of the farmer is to nurse his crops. We still practice 20th century agriculture system in Nigeria. We must entrench technology driven agriculture with focus on knowledge engineering”, Ayade said.
On financing, he stated that: “It’s always very challenging for sub nationals whose federal allocation is not even enough to pay salaries to begin to focus on agriculture. If I was to speak at any forum, I would speak on food security, food system, theory and practice. In practice, most of the advice and suggestions given during the dialogue session are underpinned by financing. When there is no finance, there is very little you can do. The problems are known, the solutions are well articulated but the reality is that there is inadequate financing to drive the process to expected ends.
“The federal government has a responsibility beyond budgetary provision, to take an extra step in collaboration with the United Nations in order to fully achieve the objectives of her agriculture revolution. It is sad that Nigeria is number 2 in the statistics of stunted growth in the world. We must be very committed to addressing issues at sub national level. One of my key focus is agriculture. I have set up agro-based industries in every senatorial districts of the state. Our investment in agriculture is massive. We are the largest producers of cassava in Nigeria. In Obubra, we have set up a cassava processing plant, that will produce commercial starch. We are fortifying our variety to produce quality cassava flour as alternative to wheat flour. You have to have a combination of knowledge and funding to be able to bring value otherwise we will continue to remain at the academic level”.
At his meeting with Mr. Mustapha, Mr. Ayade, according to a statement by his aides, sought support for the Superhighway project of his administration, nearly six years after the President promised such.
“One of the key things I discussed with the SGF was the superhighway. The superhighway is a policy thrust to take Atlantic Ocean closer to Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is blessed with so much solid minerals. Crude oil is a thing of the past because by 2030, there might be an end to fossil fuel driven cars and petrol may equally come to an end. The world is shifting towards solid minerals. You must have access to the Atlantic Ocean to enable you the opportunity to do export in order to have the full beneficiation of the solid minerals deposit in the North. The superhighway creates that catalytic harmony that allows the North to enjoy the privilege of their natural deposit, with unhindered access to the deep seaport that allows them to export,” Ayade said.
On the deep seaport, a controversial project of his administration, he averred that; “The superhighway starts from the Bakassi deep seaport and ends in Northern Nigeria. There is huge coal deposit in North-central that is unharvested. South Africa today is having problem of power because their coal mines have gone too deep and keep collapsing. All their power plants are based on coal. So, they want to come to Nigeria and export coal. They need the coal deposit which we have in excess in the North. Unfortunately, you can’t harvest the coal when you don’t have access to a maritime domain or corridor. Definitely, the superhighway and the deep seaport is the way to go.”
Politics was not kept out of the meeting as Mr. Mustapha commented on the Governor’s defection from the People’s Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress.
“The PDP was just a platform. He has always been a progressive. If you followed his trend even as a PDP governor, he had a progressive mindset. He has taken Cross River to greater heights. I had the privilege of visiting Calabar two years ago, I visited the rice seeds and seedlings complex, I visited the garment factory and saw the work that was being done there. I also saw the poultry plant. That is the way to go,” Mr. Mustapha said.
On the Federal Government approach to partnering the State on the signature projects, Mr. Mustapha seemed to have deflected the question as the statement shared by Mr. Ayade’s aides quoted him as saying: “now is the time to really facilitate the development of SMEs for job creation so we can set our people on a trajectory of sustainable growth. We need a lot of SMEs to enable us lift a hundred million people out of poverty. SMEs development is a driving force for economic growth and job creation and governor Ayade is equally committed to this”.
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