Cross River State sits precariously on the periphery of safety under incumbent Governor Ben Ayade. Ayade’s ascension to power after the gubernatorial contest of 2015 was perceived as a moment of liberation for oppressed Cross Riverians. Curiously, and for the umpteenth time, Cross Riverians hopes of a humane leadership have been dashed after a period of two decades that have produced a chain of disastrous governors, whose only visible effort is the extent of pervasive decrepitude in the State.
But more disturbing is the fact that Ayade will go down the infamy as Cross River’s most catastrophic governor. The Governor’s recent move is one which is primarily aimed at crippling the State under the pretext of constructing what he termed a “super highway”. According to him, the budget for the proposed “super highway” is, just wait for it: N648, 870,730,739.23 (Six Hundred and Forty-eight Billion, Eight Hundred and Seventy Million, Seven Hundred and Thirty Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty-nine Naira, Twenty-three Kobo). The super highway is to be funded through an Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) fund that will cost the State to pay back N300 million every month. This simply means Cross River will cough out N3, 600,000,000 (Three Billion, Six Hundred Million Naira) annually for 180 years – approximately two centuries! From the foregoing, it is evident that Governor Ayade is on the verge of heaping a monumental debt on about six generations of Cross Riverians before leaving office in 2023! This is permanently unacceptable!
In fact, it is the Governor’s insistence to proceed with the fraudulent “super highway”, against public outcry, that raises the eyebrows and even questions the veracity of the project.
It is my sustained argument that Ayade’s proposed “super highway” is a super scam in every facet. After four years in office, roads inside of Cross River have remained in a shambolic condition, yet the Governor has looked the other way and now he is determined to heap a debt on more than six generations over a “super highway” that one cannot explicitly point out how it will benefit indigent people of the State whom Ayade and his unscrupulous predecessors have impoverished for an uninterrupted period of twenty years.
In 2018, Ayade was on the wrong side of history as he became Nigeria’s first governor to propose a trillion Naira budget when he presented a N1.306 trillion budget to the Cross River House of Assembly for the 2018 fiscal year. It is a curious thing that Cross River’s budget should be competing with a well-industrialised state like Lagos, which boasts of a very robust Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
As if the 2018 mammoth budget was not enough, Ayade’s budget for 2019 is N1.043 trillion. One cannot easily decipher how Cross River arrived at such a perilous place, full of uncertainty and hopelessness. And now, the people of Cross River must make a decision over the dark cloud hovering over them or risk sinking without the faintest hope of redemption.
What must be said also is that Governor Ben Ayade is a major threat that Cross Riverians must issue a strong reproof. His overly ambitious “super highway” is superfluous, anti-people, a misplaced priority and a fraudulent adventure. It is a deliberate ploy to enrich himself and his cohorts at the State Assembly where all 25 seats are occupied by the PDP.
Cross River is one of the most poorly governed states in the world. It is replete with mass illiteracy, poverty, dilapidated school structures, a collapsed healthcare system, bad roads, etc. In all of this, the Governor and other state politicians cart away with billions of Naira every month at the detriment of the people and the State. This has been the tradition for the past twenty years, yet the extent of their greed is so unquenchable that they now plot to ruin several generations yet unborn. But Cross Riverians have an opportunity to give an unequivocal response to this grand conspiracy of fraud against humanity. They have an opportunity to rise, to ask questions, to chart a new course and to forthwith reject criminal politicians who come to feast only on the people’s flesh and blood then disappear when only the bones are left.
Elias Ozikpu is an activist and a professional playwright, novelist, essayist and polemicist.