The Glorious Days Of Cross River Have Gone, Ayade Turned Governance Into Comedy – Mba Ukweni, SAN

In Breaking News, Opinion, Politics

Being text of an address presented by Ntufam Mba E. Ukweni, SAN on behalf of the body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria at the occasion of the special Court session held on Monday, the 20th day of September 2021 to mark the official opening of the 2021/2022 legal year of the High Court of Cross River State.

My Lords,

1. Today’s ceremony marks the official opening of the 2021/2022 Legal Year of the High Court of Cross River State ably spearheaded and presided over by my Lord, The Honorable, Justice Akon Bassey Ikpeme, The Honorable Chief Judge of Cross River State in a substantive capacity.

2. Last year, 2020, there was no ceremony of this nature because of the problem brought in by the Governor of Cross River State in collusion with the Cross River State House of Assembly in his attempt to subvert the laid down constitutional provision for the appointment of a Chief Judge of a State as set out in Section 271 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). We are happy that we have put that ugly scenario effectively behind us and the judiciary in the State has continued to perform its constitutional and statutory duties of dispensing justice to all and sundry, without fear or favor, affection or ill-will.

3. That is not what I am going to talk about today. I want to talk about current happenings in the society and to specifically draw the attention of the Executive arm of Government in Cross River State headed by His Excellency, Sen. Ben Ayade to the fact that Cross River State is in the South-South Geo-political zone of the country, it is in Southern Nigeria as well. It is not an isolated State and it cannot exist as an island. It cannot stand on its own without the support and cooperation of others. There is no level of sycophancy of socketing to the center that will insulate Cross River State from whatever plague that may befall the other Southern States or even the other States in the country. My worry is that, our Governor appears not to be concerned with good governance, the feelings of Cross Riverians, interstate cooperation and coordination; but with the use of force, manipulative tendencies and intimidation even in a democracy. He operates as if Cross River State is an island. He does not attend meetings of Southern Governors’ Forum and those of the South-South Governors. He is not concern with what is going on in the Geo-political Zone. If he takes any action, it is in the reverse direction of progression. Why should we be following the opposite direction in the conduct of the affairs of governance? Why are Government Ministries, Parastatals, Boards and Commissions not functioning as they used to function? We no longer have water in Cross River State. The tourism potentials of Cross River State that was attracting all and sundry into the State have been completely bastardized. Social amenities in the State are in very poor conditions. Security in the State that was a heaven to all has now become very porous. All the things that were taken for granted in the State have now become challenges.

4. I ask again, why have we not keyed into the quest by other Southern Governors for a true federalism? Why is the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) happening as if it is strange to us in Cross River State? I see the revolutionary constitutional interpretation approach being pursued by the Governors of Ondo, Rivers and Lagos States as the gateway to attaining true federalism in the country. It is my view that the restructuring of the country being clamoured for, can be achieved through judicial interpretation of basic constitutional provisions in that respect as it is being done now with the issue of VAT and the various States and Regional Security Networks. Why is it that other States are passing the Anti-grazing law, yet, our Governor will be quoted as saying thus:

“Fulani Herdsmen have the right to move from one place to the other with their cattle.” – Ben Ayade. [You may visit].

5. His Excellency, the Governor of Cross River State, Senator Ben Ayade, made that declaration, not minding the effect it will have and has been having on the people. The declaration is, to say the least, illegal. It is against the law and Biblical precepts.

See Exodus 22:5 (KJV), which admonishes that: “If a man shall cause a field or a vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man’s field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.”

The Gideon International Version appears to me clearer than the King James Version above quoted. It reprimands thus: “If a man causes a field or a vineyard to be grazed, and lets loose his animals, and it feeds in another man’s field, he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard.”

6. Even during the Colonial era, street or stray animals were arrested, quarantined and fines imposed on the owners. The ban on open grazing is not a recent issue. It was given a judicial stamp of authority as far back as April, 1969. That is 52 years ago. Hon. Justice Adewale Thompson of the Abeokuta Judicial Division of the High Court of Ogun State made the following notable and prophetic pronouncement in his judgment in Suit No. AB/26/66, delivered on the 17th day of April, 1969, thus:
“I do not accept the contention of the Defendants that a custom exists which imposes an obligation on the owner of farm to fence his farm whilst the owner of cattle allows his cattle to wander like pests and cause damage. Such a custom if it exists, is unreasonable and I hold that it is repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience and therefore unenforceable … in that it is highly unreasonable to impose the burden of fencing a farm, on the farmer without the corresponding obligation on the cattle owner to fence his cattle. Sequence to that I ban open grazing for it is inimical to peace and tranquility and the cattle owners must fence or ranch their animal for peace to reign in these Communities.”

7. My Lords, it can be seen that it was since 1969 that the Court gave a direction as to how the present problem that has now engulfed the entire country could be resolved, that is, by “fencing or ranching”. The solution is not for our Governor to plant “the king cattle grass” for Cattle rearers in the State and invite others to invade our territory.

8. If we try what our Governor is proposing, we would find ourselves in the situation Kaduna State is having today. In 1987, the Kaduna State Government introduced a program called “RUGA Settlement” and approved land measuring about 30,000 hectares, which was taken away from the natives in Zango and Kachia Local Government Areas of Southern Kaduna and created a grazing reserved called “Kachia Grazing Reserved”. By 1990, it was changed to “Ladduga Grazing Reserved” without compensation whatsoever. Ladduga is a Fulani word. Up till this moment, the indigenes who own the land cannot enter there to know what is happening with their land. The landmass has today been surreptitiously increased from 30,000 hectares to over 70,000 hectares and huge developments have been going on there to the detriment of the natives.

The intention is to replicate this Ladduga model all over the nation, thereby changing the political, social, economic and cultural demography of the people and to colonize every place in Nigeria – the main factor behind the incessant and needless deadly farmers and herdsmen clashes nationwide. Nobody prays for such a thing to happen in Cross River State.

9. I do not want to use the words of a Social Commentator, Clinton Amang, who described the approach of our Governor as “ineptitude and barrenness in governance capacity …” We may however take benefit of his view on other points and be guided accordingly. These were the views he expressed:

“If Governor Ben Ayade is sincere in his module grass planting that will be sufficient to feed the herds of the Fulani invading State, why has he not adopted his lofty ideas long before his defection to the APC?

“We can clearly see sycophants in their game, just like his counterparts in Ebonyi who said the country needs another President in 2023 who will be like Buhari or the Imo who said the farmers and the herders have entered into an MOU and therefore, there is no need for anti-open grazing law in Imo State. The idea in the minds of Governors, is simply to attract love from Buhari who has suddenly become their god.

“If it is not for the violent disposition of these armed Fulani herdsmen, who often attack, kill and rape farmers in the bush, no State in the Southern Nigeria which is within the tropical rain forest, needs to grow any grass to feed cows. Governor Ayade is engaging in media hypes with all these faulty and clueless policies to misapply State funds to his pecuniary interest.

“How can he begin to plant grass to feed the cows of certain herders from other States, when farmers in CRS can’t get subvention or subsidy or grants to boost their farming? Is there any reason or logic behind that?

“Nigerians who have carefully studied the policies of this regime, have identified “land grabbing” as the sole aim of the conflict between farmers and herders. The Fulani wants to establish their strongholds in every part of this country, so that their claim that they own this country can be verifiable. This is the reason why pragmatic Governors in the South agreed to enact laws against open grazing, in a meeting that Ayade blatantly refused to attend. Governor Ayade is not more an APC Governor than Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State, who is on his feet to ensure that Fulani herders don’t graze their cattle openly in his State.

“In the days, weeks, months and years to come, if the Fulani are encouraged by this “Ayade grass” and they flood the length and breadth of CRS with their cows, because they are pushed away from the Benue valley, I hope Ayade will be there to salvage the State from their menaces. The crises in the Plateau should open our eyes and teach us lessons not to give an inch to the enemy because he will take a yard, if you give him a yard, he will take a mile. That’s what the Fulani race are.

“Those of us celebrating Ayade for this his ‘grass for cow’ planting project it’s not yet Uhuru.”

10. My Lords, I have reproduced the above quote not as a ridicule but to buttress the “conspiracy theory which abound when leadership, as we have, is seen pursuing policies that are contrary to the will and aspirations of the people.” Cross River State nay Calabar is next to Lagos on the effect and impact of the END SARS Protest which engulfed the entire country last year, 2020. Our Governor, as those of other States, set up a Panel of Inquiry to look into the issues arising therefrom. That Panel was headed by no less a person, than the former Chief Judge of the State, The Honourable Justice Michael Edem. I told His Lordship and others present at the inaugural sitting of that Panel, that the Panel will not be given the opportunity to function. I did not say so because I did not want the Panel to function, but because I know the antecedents of the current leadership in the State. Very unfortunately, that my prophesy has come true. The Panel in other States have done their work very successfully and admirably; others that have not concluded their assignments are still working. Compensations have been recommended for victims of Police brutality and other incidents associated therewith. We have heard nothing about our own END SARS Panel. Cross Riverians and many others who suffered from these Police brutality, and other forms of human rights abuses, have been denied the benefits and opportunity that the Panel would have provided for remedies to reach out to them to assuage the wrongs done to them. Ours has not function because the Governor has refused to allow it to function in the same way as he has refused to allow other Government Departments and Parastatals to function.

11. Another worrisome aspect of the outcome of the END SARS Protest is the fact that, except the properties that belong to the Governor and his immediate family members, no other property that was affected by that protest has been renovated, including Government offices that were affected. I will give homely examples; the premises of the Cross River State Newspaper Corporation along Barracks Road, Calabar is there for all to see in its decaying state. Ministry of Works at Ekorinim, the Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort, the International Conference Centre where he took his oath of office on 29th of May, 2015, the WAEC Office, amongst several others, have been left to continue decaying. The renovation that was done to portions of the High Court premises affected by the END SARS Protest, was personal efforts of your Lordships, the Judges of the High Court of Cross River State taken from your imprest and the little assistance that the Elders’ Forum of the Bar provided.

12. My Lords, it is sad to note that, all the projects embarked upon by the present Governor remained concluded on bill boards and social media. Even the signature projects of super highway, the deep sea port and the much advertised spaghetti flyover, the multiple industries of a dreamed industrialized Cross River State, have remained in the dream of the conceiver, the Governor. They are all unrealizable conceptualization. We pray that with the 20 months remaining (Citizen Agba Jalingo counts in hours now), His Excellency should at least actualize one of those projects, so that the description given to him by Umezurike Desmond-Cruz (who wrote from the swamps of Osopong in Obubra Local Government Area) as “a veteran of many battles, the conqueror of none” should not be the truth.

13. The glorious days of Cross River State have gone. Making a mockery of our situation, Tonnie Iredia, former Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), in his paper titled “Governor Ayade’s Theory of Political Nomadism – May 21st 2021” has this to say: “… This view point is premised on a sworn declaration once made by the Governor that if after four years in office he was unable to complete his two legacy projects consisting of a 275 Km supper highway at a cost of N648 billion and a $2billion Bakassi deep sea port, no one should recognize him any more as Ben Ayade. With those projects still undone, should anyone bother about the change of party instead of demanding accountability? There are many more reasons why Ayade should be made to account for his stewardship.

Between 2015 and today, Ayade turned governance into comedy captioning his annual budget differently without substantive progress in the fortunes of the State. Many would indeed remember him as a man with the budgets of deep visions; infinite transposition; kinetic crystallization, qabalistic densification and olimpotic meristemasis. Wait a minute, let recall that today’s article actually concerns the same Cross River State that Donald Duke between 1999 and 2007 fancifully inserted into the new map of the rising world economic order.

O yes those golden years of the authentic Calabar Carnivals; the innovative and colossal Tinapa free zone and resort valued at N60 billion. Those were years of tangible economic gains when several flights indicated boom. Today, the world former largest forest reserved is no more; in its place are theatrical projects like the Spaghetti Flyover and Calas Vegas, a new city that was to become the center of tourism in Nigeria. Let us hope and pray that APC turns Ayade around.”

14. My Lords, this is the level to which Cross River State has been reduced to by Governor Ben Ayade. Before I take my seat, let me say a word or two, on the recent invitation of Chief Judges of certain States where exparte orders were made in certain political matters, including the Judges who made those orders. While I commend the National Judicial Council (NJC) in rising up to its responsibilities at ensuring that there is rectitude on the Bench and in the legal Profession in the country, three points I want to make on the approach adopted by the NJC. The first is that, there is a procedure for the discipline of Judges. It is not opened to Media and Political promptings, which could be very dangerous. Let us not be understood as saying that Judges who have done wrong should not be reprimanded. The NJC should follow its procedures. We are advocates of due process. The approach of condemning Judges in the press and social media before the actual trial, cannot be said to be in accordance with the procedure laid down for the discipline of Judges. The second point of note is that, exparte procedure/orders are part of our law. They have not been abolished. Let us not give the impression that it is outlandish and not part of our law, but let us advocate that it should be applied in appropriate cases. Again, why is this condemnation so prevalent in political matters? Are other cases where exparte orders are abused not important? Thirdly, it is my view that Judges should not be exposed to undue intimidations in the process of doing their work; and we as leaders in the legal profession should not be seen to be encouraging the undue intimidation of Judges in the course of doing their works, otherwise, the society will be the worst for it and we would be the receivers of the blame because occasions have arisen where Judges have started resorting to what the incumbent President of the National Industrial Court, Hon. Justice Benedict B. Kanyip, refers to as “defensive adjudication”.

15. On this note, we wish your Lordships and all our learned colleagues, a happy, rewarding and productive 2021/2022 legal year. May God bless you all.

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