Governor Liyel Imoke
Bassey Ita writes that at 51, the life of the Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke is one deepened in the drive for change
Anyone who sees the Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, might be caught first by his impressionable height. And then, his amazing looks. Next might be his tightly drilled urbane deportment and his striking self-effacing nature. But in all is a stirring contradiction for an astute political leader whose career cuts across the major rungs of leadership. Thus, when next you come across the charismatic governor, don’t be stupefied by his looks and his seemingly soft human touches. Look beyond that façade for a man whose amber-surface perfectly covers a solid human and material achievement.
Since he assumed the reigns of leadership in his beloved Cross River State, Governor Imoke has continued to shine like a metaphorical beacon atop the peak of Obudu hills, guiding the feet of wary investors and adventurers to the plenitude of endowments that Cross River State is famous for. The beauty of Liyel’s achievements may not necessarily be in the number of projects executed. It just might be in the subtle and peculiar finesse that he brings to bear on his achievements; his methodic and thorough approach and his unassuming disposition to feats that would drive some less gifted leaders to the rooftop with a megaphone.
This, perhaps, explains the mild response that followed his clearly defined roadmap for rapid evolution of Cross River State in the early months of his administration. In the truest traditions of most philosopher kings in history, Imoke’s first reaction to the challenge of effective leadership in Cross River State was to articulate a realistic Economic Blueprint and swiftly distil it into a Seven-Point Agenda. The Seven-Point Agenda revolves around Health, Education, Tourism, Agriculture, Environment, Infrastructure and Private Sector growth. These seven sectors pose the greatest challenge to governance in Cross River State.
Chiseling these ideas, Imoke took a hard look at Agriculture in the state and envisaged that it could become more productive and rewarding to farmers if his administration devised a more friendly and effective way of encouraging them to adopt agricultural best practices and ensured that its investment in the sector was strategic and responsive to change. He also figured out that it was unwise to assume that Cross River had become synonymous with tourism in Nigeria and that the industry would grow bigger if new sites were developed and existing ones maintained while effective security is provided to guarantee the safety of tourists in the state.
Imoke also showed some farsightedness when prefigured that making quality education and social services affordable to the state’s teeming population of youths would provide them the relevant skills to compete in the fast emerging knowledge economy. He knew that health was wealth and ensured the provision of a Primary Health Care Delivery System with a robust structure that meets the growing demands in the rural and urban communities.
He thought highly of the imperatives of raising the standard of living for his people, so, he made the building and maintenance of basic infrastructure in the state a priority, to enhance the electricity supply, water supply, road transportation and communication. Cross River’s magnificent landscape and picturesque environment also got a good attention from his deft initiatives aimed at preserving it and maintaining the delicate ecological balance of the region.
A recent fact-finding trip by a team of journalists to the state to ascertain the veracity of Imoke’s gospel of change turned up some fascinating discoveries. It discovered for instance that in the health care delivery sector, the Imoke administration had strengthened Primary healthcare in view of its role as the foundation upon which secondary and tertiary Medicare programmes rest.
Consequently, it constructed 66 new Primary Healthcare Centers and upgraded the 130 centers that are already in existence. Six new general hospitals were built while 16 existing ones were renovated. The government has also concluded plans for the building of a state-of-the-art specialist hospital that would introduce a new health angle to the booming tourism industry. Imoke is not given to half measures. The establishment of the Dr. Lawrence Henshaw Memorial Hospital and Specialist Centre, with a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Laboratory, the second of such effort in Africa gives inkling into the audacity of his thinking. The centre provides treatment for tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.
A common trait among high achievers is that they can never afford to pause for too long in celebration of their last achievement. This peculiar bug is also Imoke’s constant companion. At a time Africa is still caught up in the frenzy of discovering Cross River as black Africa’s emerging answer to the wonder of Dubai, Governor Liyel Imoke has perfected plans on how to shore up the state’s investment appeal to the world. Part of Imoke’s masterstroke was the engineering of critical legislations to wet the ground with juicy tax waivers and the removal of the usual bureaucratic bottlenecks to investment through the establishment of the Cross River State One-Stop-Investment Center (OSIC).
This revolutionary center is in constant liaison with the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) and the Abuja One-Stop Investment Center to fast track the establishment of businesses in the state. This was further deepened by the establishment of Micro-finance and Enterprise Development Agency (MEDA), to provide financial support to local enterprise. The presence of the Tinapa Free Trade Zone, Calabar Export Free Zone, Public Private Partnership (PPP) legislation, and a Privatisation Council has also made the loudest statement of intent for the state government. With these initiatives, Cross River is fast becoming the easiest place to start a new business in Nigeria.
The result of these, today, is that Cross River State has become a haven for investors. This is evident in the number of new businesses being registered in the State. This number grew remarkably from 187 in 2007, to 868 in 2009. Some others, like University of Liverpool, (University Campus) ABG India (Shipyard) Nagarjuna, India (Fertilizer) and Film Power International (Solar Panel) are concluding the process of settling into this new and exciting haven.
It is certainly interesting to see that Cross River State under Imoke is not relenting on its determination to redefine Nigeria through tourism. Tourists have been offered even more attractive options with the recent addition of a Water Park, and Amusement Arcade to the multifarious offerings while a Theme Park will soon be added to the Tinapa wonderland. The Calabar Six flags Theme Park, a World Class Project to be operated and managed by the Six Flags Incorporated from the United States, will provide theme rides, attractions and shows for all generations in celebration of the spirit and culture of the sub-region.
Perhaps, what would serve as the real icing on Cross River’s tourism cake is The Riviera Club, a water front resort, conceived as the ultimate hideaway for Africa’s rich and famous. This highly exclusive piece of real estate will be located along the waterfront of the Calabar River and provide a never-land feel to investors who want to live their dream to the fullest. On completion, the Centre is expected to provide a new dimension to the overall appeal of Cross River as the one-stop destination for business and pleasure.
Among Imoke’s many priorities is his avowed drive for educational revolution of the sort that is only seen in a people who are impatient for change. The government’s determination to revamp and position this sector for excellence is underscored by a new definition of the “Cross River State Standard” for academic benchmark.
Under this initiative, 60 Secondary Schools, and 125 Primary Schools are undergoing comprehensive renovation and to give a sharper edge to Imoke’s quest for rapid educational rebirth, scholarships have been awarded to 177 post-graduate students, 485 undergraduate students and 52 overseas students.
Cross River is a very large state with the kind of diversity that you would normally expect to see in five disparate states. Calabar, Ugep, Ikom, Ogoja and Obudu are the five development centers in the state with large swathes of rural population. For effective coverage of the state in the pursuit of the government’s rural agenda, three agencies were established. They include the Rural Development Agency (RUDA), State Electrification Agency (SEA) and the Border Communities Development Agency (BORDERCOM)- each with defining responsibilities geared towards the development of the state with keen synergy.
It follows that what was considered good for the rural dwellers was also thought to be good enough for their urban counterparts. With the emergence of Calabar as one of Nigeria’s most livable city, the Imoke administration has perfected plans to replicate the magic of Calabar in all the five development centers in the state. The streets of Calabar present an amazing spectacle at night with over 47 kilometers of street lights which are currently being extended to Calabar South and other centres to enhance their aesthetics and draw tourists and investors.
In all, Cross River has seen a huge developmental paradigm shift in Imoke’s suave and surefooted approach to development. The Governor’s achievements are transcendental, spanning the symbolic, the metaphorical and the revolutionary.
Evidently, what has continued to astonish Imoke’s observers is how he has risen to the challenges that have defined his era in government. While some believe that history has unwittingly presented him the short end of the stick with the sudden loss of the oil revenue that had been accruing from the confiscated oil wells that were decreed to Akwa Ibom State, others would argue that the adversity gave him the impetus to rise to his full height to etch his name in history through a highly innovative approach to governance that lays emphasis on the wisdom of looking inwards for new strengths.
To Imoke’s close friends and admirers, his achievements are hardly surprising. This is because anyone who is close enough would know that the amiable Cross River Governor is just an intellectual in the government house. Imoke’s is reputed to be one of the few governors in the country today with a profound reading thirst and an over aching desire for knowledge. His closest friends are usually the eclectic type, the high-minded and prodigious achievers in business, the arts, and in government.
It is often whispered that Imoke’s rather eclectic touch is already causing some ripples in Nollywood as the recent filming of the motion picture version of the world famous novel “Half of a Yellow Sun” in Calabar indicates. The movie was handled by a rare cast of Nigeria’s best brains in an unusual collaboration with some renowned British movie makers with a robust support from the government of Cross River State.
Imoke holds the honour as one of the governors who have given Nollywood the widest sky to spread its wings. It is therefore not unlikely that when the movie begins to premier around the globe, the world will subtly enjoy the emotional product of this exhilarating love between a governor and his state.
This is why at 51, there is the justification for Imoke to raise his head high and beat his chest in confidence of a change that has just begun to unearth in Cross River.