The Rage in Calabar, Referendum on Ayade?

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The Frontlines By Joseph Ushigiale

As a journalist, sometimes it is very difficult for me to comment on events unraveling in my home state. The reasons for this mindset are multiple. I have chosen to tow this path majorly because few people believe that you can not genuinely ventilate your views without anyone egging or paying you to do so.

Thus, if an article is written and it turns out to be critical of the government of the day: you have been hired by the opposition and so on and so forth. These people forget that the media have that watchdog role to play in guiding our elected and career officials who suprintend over our collective commonwealth to always do the right things that would benefit the general good rather than their personal interests.

In the aftermath of the avoidable rage that brought the good Old Calabar to its knees leaving huge ruins behind, I opted to take my time and gauge public opinion on what just befell our dear state capital that we all so treasured.
Well, while Calabar is the ancestral home to the Efiks, I remember Calabar with great nostalgia and deep reflection about a city that is a melting pot and home to all. Therefore, I can not imagine what may have gone wrong to provoke such unprecedented rage that has set the state back by so many years.

After the war, Calabar was lucky to have a military administrator in the person of Col. U. J Esuene. It is to his credit that a lot of infrastructural development that would later shape the future of Calaba were built. Succeeding military regimes lead by Ibim Princewill, Ernest Kizito Attah and others equally played their rightful parts according to their capacities.

However, it was in 1999, following the return to civil rule after several years of military rule that things started turning for good for the state. The election of Mr. Donald Duke as governor marked a turning point in the fortunes of the state. Duke, young, dashing and a man of ideas embraced the task before him with all amount of seriousness. From his choice of cabinet members to his style of governance including his work ethics, he left none in doubt that he was a man on a mission.

And with a formidable team of tested technocrats including a mix of some from the academia, private and public sectors, he was able to guide them to interpret his vision of a new Cross River state driven by commerce, tourism, agriculture and hope.
The legacies of eight years of thoughtful governance are quite manifest in the state. Evidently, Calabar and indeed Cross River state became a destination courtesy of Calabar Carnival. Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort in spite of the setbacks, remains one of the most iconic and breathtaking investments ever to be attempted by a state almost placed as the least in the monthly FAAC allocation.

His successor, Liyel Imoke also a thorough bred technocrat in his own right steered the state for another eight years impacting rural roads, education with emphasis on human capital development before capping it with an international conference Centre called the Summit Hill.
With these structures in place, it was therefore expected that the incoming administration of Governor Ben Ayade would simply plug in and hit the ground running. Right from his campaign trail leading up to his inauguration in 2015, Ayade gave all that cared to listen the impression that he was in sync and understood the state and what needed to be done.

Five years on, the jury is out. The attack on Calabar was without doubt a referendum on Ayade and his administration. In the history of the state, there has never been any form of destruction of private and public properties the magnitude of which took place in Calabar under the watch of a sitting governor.

After the dust from the rage had settled, I admitted that there was something fundamentally wrong with the state and that thing is not the people but the person on whose table the buck stops.
Governor Ayade is a very emotional man, at least that is how he portrays himself to be as can be seen severally in different fora where he openly sheds tears obviously for the love of his people. As a man who loves his people, it follows that the governor should care for his people providing and caring for them as part of the social contract.

If that was the case, how come warehouses full of palliatives donated by good spirited people and organisations were hoarded and shielded far away from the reach of hungry people who were already impoverished by the effects of COVID-19?
What manner of hypocritical tears is he always shedding to profess love for the same people whom he would prefer they starve to death while palliatives brought to cushion their sufferings and hunger are allowed to rot away in warehouses? Is this not greed and wickedness of unimaginable proportion?

It is my strong view that Ayade should take full responsibilities for the misfortune that visited Calabar because of his indiscretion.
For whatever reason, the governor failed to seize the moment by siding with the people in such a testy time as the pandemic. Worse still, he did not buy these foodstuff, his only job was only to distribute to the people and he chose to hoard them instead of making the people happy. Later he would be tearing up: Crocodile tears indeed.

The governor’s complicity should also be shared with the Cacovid palliatives committee too. It has to come clean and bring closure to certain questions: for instance why did it not publish or made public the quantity of palliatives accruing to each state, date of delivery and also publicly handed over the palliatives to the governor or his representative in a public ceremony witness by citizens of the state?
However, because that was not done, it opened a window of opportunity for rogue government officials to convert what should be for the people to their private use. Had these palliatives been publicly handed over to the states, no one would have hidden them and distribution would have began immediately and transparently and the violence and destruction that followed would have been avoided.

Why was there so much venom vented on Calabar? The immediate cause of the rage is attributed to the hoarding of palliatives by the Ayade administration in the face of biting hunger and suffering occasioned by the pandemic. However, the remote causes of the rage were largely because of his lack of transparency, dilapidated infrastructure, entrenchment of cronyism, break down of law and order, insecurity and hunger and suffering in the land.

Above all, the people have lost confidence and trust in the Ayade’s administration. People are angry at his style of leadership which is wrapped firmly around himself and members of his family. Those who know say that Ayade surrounds himself with his brothers, sisters, inlaws and relatives, these group form the crux of the Ayade administration. They enjoy government patronage, ride big cars, usurp government land like they did in Waterboard, build mansions on land belonging to government and for which they may have gotten either for free or paid peanuts.
He is accused of running an opaque government with almost zero per cent accountability. Ayade is accused of running the state as a sole proprietorship in which his brothers, sisters and relatives are stakeholders and he holds the finances of the state in a vice grip and dispensing favors only to those who do his biddings.

One major characteristics of the governor is his loquaciousness and penchant for playing to the gallery. Let us analyze the christening of his annual budgets since 2016. In 2016, his budget was of Deep Vision; 2017 – budget of Infinite Transposition; 2018 was budget of Kinetic Crystallization and in 2019 – budget of Qabalistic Densification.

This year, he announced a budget of Olympotic Meristemasis. However, few weeks ago, just after the melt down in Calabar, Ayade announced a budget that he called Blush and Bliss. The most baffling aspect of these budgets is that they are in trillions. For a state with less than N4b revenue from FAAC and a meagre internally generated revenue, where was he getting the shortfall from?

Which is why almost each time he announced his budget with such high sounding names, people regard him as a huge joke. It also underscores why people believe that he was ill prepared for the job and does not see governance as a serious business.
Before Ayade assumed office, Calabar was one of the most peaceful state in the South-south region where people preferred to come for leisure and business. All that has changed with the state being transformed to home for all manner of criminalities. Hardly would a week end without an incident of kidnapping, rape, armed robbery etc.

In addition to this, is the preponderance and menace of cult activities which has led to the proliferation of small arms all over the place. Now what is the role of security agencies in this mix? Of course they are there but not effectively guided by the person who is supposed to take charge as the chief security officer of the state – the governor.

Now let’s face it. Ayade is one lucky politician who, without any pedigree whatsoever, whether in business or politics, he literally swung to the exalted seat of power effortlessly. He had everything going for him when he took office in 2015: the people’s goodwill, past governors at his beck and call if he needed to be guided and some reputable technocrats and others who have proven themselves in the private sector to seek guidance. But no, he preferred to be the only cock that would crow in the state. He arrogated to himself the power of knowing it all.
Today, if the centre is crumbling all around him, he has all but himself to blame and no one else. Some people had thought that immediately after his inauguration, he would quickly settle down, pick a solid cabinet and set out to work for the people. People expected that his first port of intervention would have been to assess all the low hanging fruits like Tinapa, cattle ranch, summit hill, monorail, cattle ranch etc which are within his purview to pluck and move the state ahead.

Instead what did he do? He made himself the sole driver of investments to the state. So far, even with the countless worthless Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) he brandishes all over the place for those he care to listen, the state has recorded zero foreign direct investment according the the National Bureau of Statistics. He started out announcing that he was engaging in the building of his so-called signature projects: the building of a super highway from Calabar to Vandeikya and a deep seaport around Ikang axis.

With all the fanfare and razzmatazz that greeted the commissioning of the project by President Muhammadu Buhari, nothing has been heard as no progress has been recorded so far. What he is bandying about now is his call on the federal government to take over the project off the state.
So what happened to Ayade’s much vaunted foreign investors who, according to him, were standing by with financing to invest in these projects? Why did he have to resort to the state issuing an irrevocable standing payment order in favour of his company that is constructing the so called super highway when he already boasted that there were investors standing by with the money? These are classic examples of how the governor is high on promises and very poor on matching his words with actions.

Within Calabar metropolis itself, the roads are an apology and just relics of their glorious past. In terms of utilities, electricity and water supplies are appalling, even his so called independent power plant is dead on arrival. In some communities including the governor’s and mine, he unilaterally disconnected them from the national grid. In the last five years, on the guise that he was installing independent power plants which turned out to be diesel guzzling generators, people in these communities have been in darkness. The model was however abandoned when they discovered that it was not sustainable. As you read this piece, these communities are still in darkness and the governor is not bothered.
Having said all these, while the governor evidently abdicated his core duty as the chief security officer of the state, I must condemn the wanton destruction of both government and private citizens properties and threat to lives such as was displayed during the rage.

As it stands, majority of the infrastructure destroyed during these days of madness provide services more to the people than the elites in our society. Invariably, what has happened amounts to shooting yourselves on your feet because take for example the WAEC office that was razed to dust. The authorities just announced that candidates would now be attended to in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. The governor doesn’t write WAEC does he? It is the same thing with the medical facilities etc. Therefore, in future, angry people should at all times listen to the voice of reason and put Cross River first in every action that is being contemplated. This is not directed at Cross Riverians alone but also to people residing in the state who have become part of the system. They must embrace and think Cross River first and nothing more.

Going forward, I believe Ayade can still make good and end well. It is not too late, he still has time to make amends, rally the state behind him and end in a blaze of glory. I have heard some arguing that Ayade collects the least allocation from FAAC and is burdened by huge debt profile.
Those bandying such a position are very economical with the truth. Ayade may be collecting the least allocation from FAAC but he is not alone. Duke was collecting about N800m to N1.2b on a very good month. Yet, Duke saved N50m monthly in a legacy fund, built infrastructure and left the legacies he left behind. He paid salaries, pensions and gratuities as and when due for eight years.

Another example is the Ebonyi state governor, Engr Dave Umahi, a very silent achiever who has transformed Ebonyi state from a sleepy Guinea worm infested state to Eldorado. He is least indebted, paying the new minimum wage and currently building an ultra modern international airport airport approved by the federal government. Just this week, the federal government also approved Ebonyi as a free trade zone without fanfare.
Now to the specifics: the state collects about N3b from FAAC but this governor has gotten far more money than both Imoke and Duke got put together. Under his administration, the federal government gave bailouts, there were also several tranches of Paris refunds to the state and just recently the federal government again released several billions to the state for road intervention. Now where are all these moneys?