He is 51 today and looking back,the birthday boy has indeed lived an impactful and salutary life. His life journey, the philosophies he espouses and the whole gamut of his intellect are case studies in humanism, welfarism and scientific exposé.
The year was 1968 and Nigeria was in the middle of a civil war. As bombs and shells rained on the then Eastern Region, families lived in morbid fear of their safety but in Takum in today’s Obudu local government area of Cross River state, an event that would mitigate the pangs of the bloody combat was about to happen to a family.
On March 2 that year while arsenals of war rained down, unspeakable joy rained and reigned supreme in the Ayade family with the arrival of baby Benedict.51 years later, the March baby has a compendium of inspiring feats in his kitty. In the 51 years of his life, he has marched from one greatness into another, leaving on his trail, many firsts. The icing on the cake came on May 29, 2015 when he was sworn-in as the fourth democratically elected governor of Cross River state. He was the first person from Northern Cross River to occupy that exalted position. And come March 9, 2019, he will record another milestone as he marches back to that office for second term.
Esteemed readers, the subject of this piece is His Excellency, Professor (Senator) Ben Bengioushuye Ayade, the Governor of Cross River state. He is 51 today and therefore, a birthday boy! This is a reflection on his thought-provoking life. Ayade’s rustic but humble beginning shaped his approach to life and relation with fellow citizens. Born without any spoon at all in his mouth-whether golden, silver, bronze or even wooden-by sheer doggedness, hard work and abiding fate in God, Ayade overcame the vagaries of life. His philanthropic bend therefore has its locale from this. He is a giver who asks for nothing in return. His greatest passion is serving God and humanity.
Ayade is a humanist with welfarist leaning who believes that one’s life story should be written not with pen but with actions-impactful actions. According to an American philosopher, “the true measure of a person is in his height of ideas, the breadth of his sympathy, the depth of his convictions and the length of his patience.” Ayade encapsulates all these. He is the only Governor in Nigeria who has not sacked any appointee since assuming office. Rather than sack, he expanded the frontier of government with the appointment of more aides.
Not that he needs such burgeoning number of aides but Ayade is a modulator between two classical economic theorists; Adam Smith and Thomas Keyness. He believes that expanding and retaining the frontiers of government is a way of helping to put food on the table of indigent families. Like Keyness, the governor believes that when an economy shrinks, it is the duty of government to spend in order to reflate the economy by engaging more people and encouraging them to spend; and by so doing the economy makes a rebound.
This March baby does not play to the gallery. His pro-people orientation is ingrained in his character trait. For example as a Senator of the 7th Senate, Ayade set up a “Food Bank” where indigent members of his constituency, that is, Cross River North, came to eat three square meals every day. An erudite scholar himself, hundreds of students across the state are on Professor Ayade’s personal scholarship. His rise as governor in 2015 has brought about magical re-invention of Cross River with the erection of solid signature projects, including industrialization drive –establishing more than 13 industries in less than four years-, an uncommon achievement that has firmly established the state an industry hub.
Here is man who has power and wealth but does not wield them. Rather than do so, he chooses to be unassuming. He has no airs around him and is accessible. Even as governor, Ayade holds his phones; refuses to change his old phone number and personally answers his calls and replies text message. His simplicity and sterling performance in his first term have cooperated to greatly endear Ayade to the people so much so that wherever he goes the chant of “governor pass governor” rents the air.
Odey Oyama, an environmentalist, is a trenchant Ayade critic, especially as regard the 274km super Highway, but in spite of his criticisms, Mr Oyama concedes that the governor has performed better than all his predecessors in their first terms. Such testimonies pour in daily.
A Professor of Environmental Microbiology, Ayade perfectly fits into the kind of personality the Igbo would describe as “Ochinanwata” (he who achieves leadership or greatness at a young age). At 20 in 1988, Ayade became a graduate of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma.Six years later in 1994, then aged 26, he obtained his PhD from the University of Ibadan, winning the best Doctorial Dissertation Award in Environmental Microbiology.
At 43 in 2011 Ayade became a Senator of the Federal Republic and four years later in 2015, he ascended a higher political ladder when he became the number citizen of Cross River state. He was 47.
Though a young scholar, Ayade carries with him the wisdom of a 70 year old. Every session with him is like going back to the classroom for the lecturer in him readily comes calling. His fecundity of ideas, academic and scientific prowesses are intimidating. For example, from his work in groundwater remediation in Nigeria, Professor Ayade invented a sewage treatment plant powered by solar energy. This Ayade-made technology is currently being used off-shore by oil companies in Nigeria.
Surly, this icon deserves 51 beautiful bouquets! Happy birthday, Your Excellency, the Digital one!
––Chidi Onyemaizu is SA Media to Governor Ayade