Call him a limit breaker and you won’t be wrong because that is what he is.
Evidently, the excruciating financial incapacitation Cross River finds itself as a result of dwindling federal allocation has not stopped Governor Ben Ayade from accelerating the pace of infrastructure development.
With the loss of its 76 oil wells, Cross River lost its oil- producing status and with it came quantum loss of revenue in terms of federal allocation and the 13 percent derivation accruing to oil bearing states.
Right now, Cross River is the 2nd lowest in federal allocation.The situation has now become so debasing that the state got a paltry N800 million last month as allocation.
However, in the face of the above visctidutes, Ayade has in five years as a governor effectively deployed Cross River’s limited financial resources to reinventing the state.
Odama Emmanuel Odama’s experience at the Calabar- Odukpani road underscores this narrative.
Odama Emmanuel was a frequent traveller to Calabar. Well established in building materials business in the Northern Cross River axis, he was virtually visiting Calabar, the city of his birth and youth, every two weeks to fratenize with old friends and unwind.
However, this was to come to an abrupt end nearly a year ago when his 2012 Toyota Camry almost become a carcass after kissing a big pothole at the then single lane Tinapa- Odukpani axis of the Calabar- Itu highway. Odama was only lucky to escape with his life.
Pouring invenctives at the federal government for “neglecting an important federal road and planting death on the road by so doing”, Odama who survived the mishap by the wisckers vowed never to visit Calabar again “until something is done to that road”.
Last week, a pressing business matter compulsorily demanded his attention in Calabar and off, Odama set out but albeit with shivering trepidation about that portion of the road that almost consumed his life and car.
However, Odama’s initial trepidation dissolved into pleasant surprises as he approached the Tinapa- Odukpani axis of the road. Instead of big gullies, what stared at him was an ongoing asphalting of a dual carriageway.
Overwhelmed by curiosity and lost in the maze of thought, Odama screeched to a halt to have a proper view of the road.
As he was doing that, a motorist who noticed his perplexity came to his rescue; he slowed down and shouted in pidgin English: “Oga, na de handiwork of our digital governor Ayade you dey see so ooo”!
At that moment, Odama made a quick mental journey backward and taking control of the oasis of his memory, he realised he was indeed at the Tina- Odukpani axis of the road, and ironically the very spot his car became a wreck a year earlier! It was magical.
The dualisation of the Tinapa-Odukpani section of the Calabar highway is just one out of many life- changing projects Cross River state governor, Professor Ben Ayade has undertaken in five years of his governorship to alter the hitherto inelegant narratives about the state.
Before now, the road, a federal highway and a gateway to other parts of the country, was impassable, a death trap.But the governor insists that apart from the road being critical to Cross River’s economy,he would not fold his hands and wait for federal intervention while lives are lost there daily.
“This construction work is very critical for us because this is where you connect to Abuja, this is where you connect to the seaport, this is where you connect to Port Harcourt, the whole of the southern part, the northern part and up to the Cameroon. This is the only way, the gateway into Calabar. So it is our heartbeat, which is why we have focused on it as a priority”, he says.
Essentially, May 29, 2015 ushered in for Cross River an exhilarating dawn in the annals of its history. On that day, Ayade, a man imbued with fecuidity of ideas as to how to pull the state out of the doldrums took over the reins of government.
That day as he stood on the dais facing a mammoth crowd of cheering Cross Riverians at the U.J Esune stadium after taking the oath of office, he was clear on his mission and certain about his vision.
His eyes shone with hope and his face flushed with a glint of inward satisfaction and conviction having carefully designed a blueprint to jump start the reinvention of his dear state.
And as he made to address the people, he paused for a second and made a silent but solemn pledge: I will NOT disappoint my people.
Five years on, governor Ayade has largely delivered on his dream: Industries of different shades, built from the scratch, dot the landscape across Cross River, roads have been constructed across the state with the 147 kilometre Okuku/ Mfon/ Yala/Bekwara/ Obudu ring road liking the five local government areas in Northern Cross River as the largest of such construction ever undertaken by any state government besides the 274 kilometre Superhighway linking the state with Northern Nigeria currently under construction.
Ayade has also heavily invested in human capital development as can be gleaned from the engagement of youths in Agricultural value chain to prepare them to be self reliant, establishment of Construction and fabrication Academy to train middle level manpower for the state and the setting up of a world class Teachers Continous Training Institute at Biase to train and retrain teachers in the state.
It’s obvious that governor Ayade undertakes the socio-economic and infrastructural development of Cross River with clarity of mind. Clearly, the chain of feats he has achieved since emerging governor in 2015 and subsequent reelection in 2019 have indeed delivered him to history’s door post.
Tellingy, at the end Ayade’s tour of duty in 2023 history will firmly record that there was once a governor who started the process of decoupling Cross River from over dependence on the monthly federal allocation through massive investment in Agro- Industrialisation.
With about 32 majorly Agro- based industries-some completed and functioning and others at the various stages of completion- established in five years, Ayade’s zeal in remaking Cross River leaves one awe- struck.
Bearing bold testament to this are the undeniable presences of Africa’s first ever automated Rice seeds and seedlings factory, Garment factory, Calachika chicken processing plant, CalaNoddles factory among others at the Calabar industrial park.
Among the industries are also the ultra modern rice mill at Ogoja, the automated cocoa processing plant at Ikom and the tooth pick factory Yakurr.
The rice, garment and toothpick factories are already operational and generating income for the state while the rice mill and cocoa processing plants are expected to commence operation soon.
Ayade’s urbane nature, his civility, his welfarist and humanist bent verge on his political creed: Politics with ethics.This explains why he has no airs around him, is not magisterial and embraces everybody irrespective of political affiliation or ideology.
However, more importantly, this cerebral Professor of Environmental Microbiology seems also to richly apply John Mason’s philosophy in piloting the affairs of Cross River.
According to Mason “the true measure of a person is in his height of ideals, the breadth of his sympathy, the depth of his convictions and the length of his patience”.
Professor Ayade’s passion and empathy for the downtrodden and the vulnerable fits perfectly into Mason’s postulations as evidenced in his (governor Ayade) recent employment of 8,000 youths as part of COVID-19 palliatives, abolition of taxes and levies on small scale businesses and the provision of eye popping social housing scheme for Bakassi returnees who since the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon in 2006 have remained refugees in their fatherland.
In the words of Robert Green, “it’s better to win hearts, better to battle with hearts than with weapon”. Ayade has won hearts- beyond Cross River- with his superlative performance in five years as attested to by the avalanche of awards he has been bestowed on in recognition of his people oriented governance and purposeful leadership, most recent of which were the Independent Newspapers and Leadership Newspapers Man of the Year Awards on Industrialisation.