For the people of the Northern Senatorial Zone, that make up the five local government areas of Cross River State, a huge infrastructural light finally came flaming after several months of high hopes and great expectations that were nearly ruptured by 17 months of waiting, despair, frustration and cynicism.
It was a week that Governor Ben Ayade’s developmental train made an impactful stop at Obanliku, Bekwarra, Ogoja and Yala Local Government Areas of the state.
For the people of the zone, it was a refreshing homecoming of a worthy son returning with plenty of game and also one that signaled the arrival of a hamper of goodies.
On November 2, the waiting game was over as despair turned to hope, cynicism to optimism and frustration to a sense of fulfillment. On this day, the governor’s message was astoundingly clear and reassuring- they were not forgotten in the industrialisation hurricane sweeping across the state; and while this might have taken a little while in coming, it was neither a rejection nor denial of the zone of the share of the largesse.
In a carnival-like procession, a vast concourse from different walks of life, the young and the aged, men and women, including students poured out in their thousands to receive the august visitor and his convoy. This was not one of the everyday visitors they have seen come and go. This particular visitor held something special.
With a uniquely different package for each of the five local councils in the Northern Senatorial Zone, Ayade, on arrival, immediately swung into action by unveiling what would arguably be a an exceptional gift for the people of Obanliku and Bekwarra Local Council Areas with the official inauguration and inspection by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele of 30,000 and 20,000 hectares of rice farms in Obanliku and Bekwarra respectively, with the former belonging to the governor.
As good entrepreneur and CEO of the state, an administrative model he has brought to bear on running the state, Governor Ayade has exhibited great skills at seeing prospects and going after them. He identifies needs and understands exactly how to translate them into results.
An adherent apostle of President Muhammadu Buhari’s policy on self-sufficiency in rice production, Governor Ayade’s decision to venture into rice farming is a clear demonstration of his leadership by example.
In what could be described as rousing the rice revolution in the state, the governor’s audacious venture is now a galvanising tonic as nearly everyone is now sleeping, thinking and doing rice.
As an impetus to bolstering the ongoing rampage in rice production, the governor, took advantage of the CBN governor’s unwavering support for the scheme by issuing a marching order to his commissioners as well as all political appointees to acquire not less than 18,000 hectares of land for the cultivation of rice across the state.
One of the earlier promises he made to the people even before his swearing-in on May 29, 2015, was his open declaration to put an end to the misnomer of seeing Ogoja rice processed in Abakiliki and rechristened “Abakiliki Rice”.
In giving oxygen to his declaration and ensuring that he walked his talk, Governor Ayade, during the course of his one week of delivering his hampers to the zone, performed the groundbreaking of a multimillion naira ultra-modern rice mill in Ogoja.
In his inspiring message at the groundbreaking, the governor had this to say: “The people of Ogoja are traditionally the number one rice growing people in the South-south of Nigeria, all the rice cultivated in Ogoja ends up in other states.
“Indeed, it is our rice and we have come to put an end from taking our rice from Cross River to somewhere else and adding to the rice cultivation statistics of other state.”
In that impassioned rhetoric, Ayade has no doubt stoked a rice frenzy capable of morphing into a contagion. He assured that the product which would be called “Ogoja Rice” will be packaged to reflect the identity of the people so as to distinguish it from other products when it gets into the market.
There cannot be any nationalistic fervor than this. In demonstration of this feeding frenzy, youths of farming age from Bekwarra, Obanliku and Ogoja, defied the sweltering sun in show of commitment to their governor’s rice farming initiative.
As if to underscore the significance of the programme, Kebbi State Governor and Chairman, Presidential Committee on Rice and Wheat, Atiku Bagudu, who slummed it along with the CBN governor, through the crater-riddle Enugu-Abakiliki-Ogoja-Bekwarra road, commended Governor Ayade for his pragmatic roles demonstrated in ensuring the country is self-sufficient in rice production, an effort he noted, had midwifed over 73 cooperative groups and 2,183 farmers already mobilised in the northern part of the state for dry season farming.
In similar vein, Emefiele, disclosed that CBN had spent over N3 billion in the programme in the state so far, assuring that once there was evidence of achieved success, the bank was ready and willing to bring in more money to the state.
While commending Governor Ayade for his unflinching commitment towards the programme, the CBN governor was optimistic that his effort would serve as a motivation to Cross Riverians who were yet to key into the scheme to think of owning their personal farms and start growing rice and other essential produce.
With the excitement on display, the journey to self-sufficiency in rice production may have not only begun in the state, but also points the way to its destination in no distant future, given the governor’s infectious enthusiasm.
Having unfolded the package for Bekwarra and Obanliku, it was now the turn of the people of Yala Local Government Area where a mammoth crowd was on hand to receive their digital governor who came to deliver some of the dividends of his one and a half years in office.
For a community that had been native to perpetual darkness for ages, Ayade’s visit was indeed a welcome relief and a final goodbye to the nightmare that had been something of a permanent feature in their lives.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Imaje/Ekpirinyi electrification project, the governor lamented the long neglect of the over 10 beneficiary communities and assured that never again would any community suffer such abject treatment which had cut them off from civilisation. The governor who said the inauguration of the electrification project was the beginning of the many dividends of democracy that were coming, promised to extend similar gesture to several other communities there still in darkness.
While thanking Ayade for rescuing them from what he described as the cloak of darkness, Clan Head of Imaje, His Royal Highness, Ogamode Edema Ipuole, said the governor had done what others before him had either forgotten or failed to do, even as he called for corporate prayers for peace and good governance in the state.
Shortly before the official lighting of the Imaje/Ekpirinyi communities, Governor Ayade had carried out the biggest ritual ever performed in the lives of the people in the last 40 years and one for which the five local council areas will forever be grateful.
As early as 7:am, the Mfom-Ogoja Junction was literally barricaded as 30,000 people, including paramount rulers, chiefs, elders, men and women, drawn from the five local government councils of the northern part of the state poured out to witness the groundbreaking/flag off of the dualisation of Mfom-Ogoja-Yala-Bekwarra federal road being undertaken by the state government.
Since its 40 years of existence, the road has gone through severe dilapidation as a result of lack of maintenance. And because the road, over the years, has become seriously famished, it has gulped as much blood as it has experienced commuters.
Worryingly, the entire north has been cut off from socio-economic intercourse with the rest of it brothers and sister from the central and southern part of the state.
But in a bid to re-energise, reactivate the tempo of economic activities and increase footfalls into the famous Obudu ranch resort, Governor Ayade again, showed up as he is wont to do to flag off the construction work on the 133 kilometres Mfom-Okpoma-Imaje-Bekwarra- Obudu-Obanliku dual carriage road.
The construction of the Federal road which will traverse the five local government areas that constitute the Northern Senatorial District of the state is estimated at N31 billion and it is expected to be completed in 30 months.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony that was attended by his deputy, Prof Ivara Esu, House of Representatives members from the five local government areas, the five paramount rulers as well as a huge crowd of indigenes from the five local government areas of Bekwarra, Yala, Ogoja, Obudu and Obanliku, Ayade said the milestone was the beginning of a new journey in the history of the Northern Senatorial District which for 45 years has been denied the luxury of driving on good roads occasioned by the challenges of the times and circumstances not occasioned by the people of the zone.
The governor lamented that the people are totally disconnected from the point of mercantile, social interactions and indeed all prospects that give people dignity.
With tears welled up in his eyes, Ayade sobbed: “Our economic life is completely gone, our large farms that fed the entire South-south and South-east is gone. Our educational institutions and all that united us have gone as a result of perpetual neglect and bad roads, but God has brought us again to take our destiny into our own hands that we shall be reconnected and be united.”
In an optimism laden note, the former senator-turned governor declared: “We will succeed because I know the trying moments of my people, the difficulty in gaining access to farm lands, locating streams, coupled with harsh weather condition is over. We toil so much, pray so hard struggle so much but earn so little. God cannot forsake us at this point.”
On the economic viability of the road, Ayade noted that “the road is not driven by ambition nor childhood propensity to achieve what you have set, but it is a thorough reflection of the yearnings and needs of our people.
“I believe that this road is the beginning of prosperity and in the words of the Paramount Ruler of Obudu, it is clear that it is one thing that is going to build us again as a team and as a people and l believe that the people of the Northern Senatorial District are totally united in solidarity with this road.”
According to the governor, “it is an opportunity to attract the desired traffic from the eastern flank of the country to access our facilities at the Obudu, return back to our bustling Okuku Market once again and most importantly rewrite the Ogoja’s name in our country’s map.
“This project is anchored on a promise of decoupling our people from over dependence on government because road is a major infrastructure in the socio-economic development of our state.”
Speaking on behalf of the Traditional Rulers in the area, Paramount Ruler of Obudu, Uti Joseph-Davies Agba, described the road as an umbilical cord that will bind and unite the people again, even as he thanked Ayade for his pragmatism in ensuring that he brings back life to Ogoja, the oldest and most neglected local government in Nigeria.
On his part, the Federal Controller of Works, Federal Ministry of Works, Engr. Agbara promised to support the state in its effort at constructing the road, assuring that the ministry will be on site to ensure that contractors keep to the scope, design and specification during construction.
For the people of Bekwarra, Obanliku, Obudu, Ogoja and Yala council areas, it was weep not, my brothers, weep not, my sisters, weep not, my fathers, but with these visit, let me remove your tears, as the ravening clouds which for long dotted your skyline shall no longer be victorious, because the digital governor came calling with a hamper full of goodies.
Adeyemi wrote in from Lagos