The governor of Cross River state, Prof Ben Ayade did not labour to lay bare his achievements in the last three years he has been calling the shots as the number one citizen of the state. He took his time to tell journalists in the state all he has done and why his focus is on industrialization of the state and job creation.
His engagement with journalists was at the exco chamber in his office on Wednesday. The last time such an engagement took place was over two years ago and this time, the governor seized the moment to explain how he has been running the state with what he calls intellectual money in the face of the lean resources available to the state.
He answered all the questions journalists threw at him, laying bare facts and figures and capping his score sheet with a confident remark that his re-election for a second term in 2019 was a foregone conclusion.
On The State's Finances
He said the state was 17 months deep into recession when he took over, adding that in the face of dwindling revenue accruing to the state, he was able to pay salaries and gratuities regularly.
“God brought me at the right time. Salaries that I pay are magical, knowing the income of the state. Cross River is the richest state in the country, best located. Almost any crop can grow in Cross River State. It is only natural that an adventurous governor is governing the state.
“I inherited domestic and foreign debts. Cross River, Zamfara and Osun states cannot borrow because of the loans they are repaying. That was where I started from. So, I had to create a brand new source of income through my industrialization drive.
“The seaport in Lagos is the state's biggest income earner, so why can't Cross River have a seaport? The dredging of the Calabar port is going to cost billions of naira and there is an issue between the concessionaire and the Federal Government that is why the project has not made any headway for over 15 years now.”
The governor said macro-economic factors were affecting Tinapa, the business and leisure hub in Calabar, to the extent that it had become a huge drain pipe, with his efforts to revive it frustrated by the absence of three key components of the project, namely the dualization of the Aba-Calabar road, the dredging of Calabar port and the expansion of the airport. All these were designed to facilitate the evacuation of goods from the place.
Besides, Tinapa is not connected to the national grid. So the place runs on electricity generators throughout and the governor said it costs the state government N100 million to fuel the generators monthly, adding that his desire was to turn the place into a medical university. He also said the monorail running from Tinapa to CICC was not profitable.
Governor Ayade said he spent millions to revive the cable car and pay the expatriates running it at the Obudu Ranch Resort and the place was only able to generate about N85,000 as people preferred to go to the ranch by car or on motorcycle.
According to him, tourism is not the way to go because of the low purchasing power of the people. “My industrialization drive is to support tourism which is not generating much income for the state. For any business to succeed, 70 per cent of patronage must be local. So, we need to support tourism with industry that is why the choice of industrialization comes in.”
On His Projects
He spoke about progress of his projects such as the deep seaport where he said work had started and in 18 months' time, there would be a skeletal port; the N8 billion Calasvagas; the power plant which he said would supply 24-hour electricity to Calabar; the super highway, saying after 80 petitions, the EIA has been finally approved and that the 276km super highway has been split into 50km each to enable investors take portions they could execute and collect toll from motorists after completion to recoup their investment.
“I have a picture of my dream for Cross River state. I have to start industries that will feed the deep seaport. I need to invest my intellect, my all to actualise my projects. The 276 km super highway seems impossible when you rely on your brain. I have my limitations, but money is not one of them. I have intellectual money. We are on a journey that will change the course of our state.”
Ayade also said Sri Lankans had arrived Calabar to train workers at the garment factory to improve the quality of fabric produced there so that it could be exported to America. In addition, he said all equipment for the biofertizer plant had arrived and after they are installed the people of Calabar will be selling their trash for cash and the trash will be converted to fertilizer.
Other Issues And 2019 Election
He announced that he increased the subvention of Cross River University of Technology from N160m to over N200m to prevent students who could not pay fees from being sent out of examination halls.
Speaking on why there is a lull in electioneering campaigns in the state, Ayade said: “Elections are two months away and Cross River is not feeling anything because there is no opposition.
“I am not worried about election. In 2019, I am a winner.”
The governor stated that with all his achievements and employment of over 6,000 aides and still counting, he believes he will be re-elected in 2019.
“I am not campaigning because I am concentrating on the projects I am executing,” he said.
He said he plays politics with ethics and valued his father's name than the office of governor he occupies.
The governor said he inherited Calabar South in darkness but has paid for its electrification, adding that the residents of the area should hold those who collected the money responsible if the project had not been implemented.
On a lighter note, he said more marriages had taken place in three years that he has been governor than in 15 years before he became governor and attributed this to the massive employment he has created which has empowered many financially.