Professor Benedict Ayade, governor of Cross River State, knows how to mesmerise with words. He has an unusual oratory prowess. If you allow him, he can talk for hours on end. He does not even mind standing on the road to grant an interview for hours. He knows how to handle almost every subject. But he would be at his best if he is talking about his signature projects.
That was what happened when our publisher, OFONIME UMANAH encountered him at the Calabar Rice City. Ayade was at his best as he spoke about his campaign promises, his achievements in the last three years and his dream for the state.
Your Excellency, you are three years old in office. How have you impacted Cross Riverians in the past three years?
So far, so good. God has touched our lives so much and has given me the opportunity to fulfil some of my dreams. He has given us the opportunity for prosperity and progress. We have cultivated unity to see how we can create a better horizon. I thank God that I have lived to see my third year in office.
At what point in your life did you start nursing the ambition to be governor?
I was 12 years old. At that my tender age, I had an ambition. I had 12 projects in my head. Amongst them, I wanted to be governor, I wanted to be professor, I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be married to a doctor, I wanted to be a farmer, I wanted to be rich…. Everything I ever wanted to be I have met. All my 12-point ambitions have been met.
Where did you get that inspiration from, at 12?
I had two inspirations. One was that I just thought that I should make a difference in my life, in my family life in particular, particularly when I look at my own background and as a little, young son, my father used to tell me “I see a great future in you. My father inspired me to feel that I was going to be the main man that will make a difference in the Ayade family. At that tender age, I didn't have to be told to wait. My father inspired me to take care of the family when he is gone. And I am not the first son, I am not the second son. My father gave me the inspiration and I am happy that today, even though he is gone, I am making him proud.
Between the age of 12 and when you actually became governor, what went through your mind about the possibility of realizing those dreams?
I had no fears at all. I have never set my eye on anything and I have failed. Even the governorship ambition is not an exception. I was driven by the inspiration, the strength of God. I have always known that if you wish people good, good things will come your way. I have never fought an enemy. I have never set forth to fight any battle. Even God himself is slow to anger. So, I leave things and take them in my stride. Every single challenge for me is a springboard. Every challenge is a potential. It is a great opportunity for me to rise. And so with the principle in mind that you must only imbibe goodness and kindness of heart, forgiveness of heart and setting your ambition, setting your target above the carrying capacity of your shoulders, then you will make it. Never be limited by anybody.
Your critics see you as somebody who talks and doesn't do…
I don't have such critics… What have I said that I have not done? Tell me one.
For instance, they talk about the big dreams that you have for Cross River State which they have not seen or seem to have seen. They have talked about the super highway for example, which is a tall dream which they say has not materialized for now…
Let me pardon you for your innocence. What is the duration for a design of a super highway? What is the duration you need to get an EIA approval? I have worked for Shell and it took me six years to get an approval for an EIA for a project not as complex as the super highway. Today, we have a super highway EIA completed. Just two weeks ago, we awarded a contract of N640 million, certificate for EIA approved. In two years plus? Today is my third year. You don't see that? Because there is a lack of exposure. It's just like saying you have an MoU. Somebody thinks MoU today means work tomorrow. It is because of the level of ignorance, I am sorry to say it, it is so huge or it is either, people know and they don't talk. How would you imagine a virgin road, do you know what it takes to survey a 275km road through a virgin soil? And do you understand what it is for 80 international petitions facilitated by my own people in my own state? Partnering with enemies of the state and frustrating every step on the way? Are you aware that the federal government took us to court for constructing the super highway? Do you know what it takes to now win in court to get the EIA approved? In two years plus? Jesus Christ! The problem is that people finish in UNICAL and work in Calabar. So they have no idea. A memorandum of understanding is just an agreement that you and I have met and have agreed that we will collaborate and work on a particular project if the terms of agreement become acceptable. The more MoUs you have, the more international partners you have been able to discuss with. Some will crystallize, some will not. But it shows a commitment. Now they are not talking. Each of these factories you are having is a product of an MoU.
In all of this, like the super high way you are talking about, I do know that the revenue for Cross River State is very small. How are you planning to complete this, let us say in 8 years?
Let me ask you a question. What I am paying as salary does the state have the capacity to pay it? With almost 4,000 appointees, did anyone believe I will be able to pay their salaries? This factory you are standing on now, does this state have the capacity to build it? The garment factory you are seeing, the pharmaceutical company, these are not stories. You are right here on the site. The industrial park you are seeing now, does the state have the money? I don't believe in money. I believe in my intellect. The issue of whether the super highway will finish in eight years is no issue at all. Don't allow me go beyond this point. The Ibadan/Lagos expressway is 97km. Just recently, they did some little adjustment to 103km. It started under Obasanjo, through Yar'Adua, through Jonathan, now it's Buhari. Just to do dualization. Cross River State is doing 148km dualization from Yala to Obudu Cattle Ranch and it is almost ready. When we awarded the contract, where will Cross River get thirty something billion naira? Meanwhile, 103km was awarded for N107b and Cross River is awarding 138km for N31b. And the job is being done, not by a small contractor; the same contractor that is working on Eko Atlantic. That is the intellectual capacity of Governor Ayade. Look at Tinapa Junction to Odukpani roundabout, you will see the work going on there. You will see the Turkish company that is building the first spaghetti flyover in Nigeria. They are already on site. The site clearing is done. They are moving in equipment. They are there. I am not telling you what I am planning to do. Does the state have the money? Why do you Africans limit yourselves to money? We have become prisoners of money and allowed the brain take the back stage. And that is why you look at government for money, money, money. Why am I passing a law to prohibit people from asking for tax? As long as I know that its enforcement has been challenged because of abuse, but as a government, we have a policy thrust. We have such a wicked politics that somebody would imagine that I will choose to, as a billionaire and oil and gas consultant, as a sitting governor, I will cut trees and sell on a straight line. That is how wicked. You need to see the petitions in the ministry of environment against the super highway. You will just ask whether people have conscience. I go to India to seek partners that will be our cotton farmers because India has the best cotton. We are cultivating cotton in Yala to be able to feed the garment factory. And then somebody says I am in the hospital in India. People destroy themselves by setting into the elemental atmosphere negativistic thoughts and thinking it is politics. You are destroying your soul, you are destroying your body. You are destroying your temple of God. Every human being is a reflection of God. You are migrating from God to Satan. You just sit down and create a story that somebody was seen with $20 million. And you think God will leave you to go? You construct lies on people and satanitically present it without mentioning names to suggest a particular person and you think that God will let you go? He won't. You will pay the price at the fullness of time. And it is clear in the Bible. If you don't pay it, your own generation will pay it. You don't destroy people. That is not politics. Politics is the social engineering of persuading somebody to see a thing in your own side, it is an act of persuasion. It is not an act of blackmail, destruction, character assassination, cannibalistic approach to politics. Like you said, I have been talking much without doing. Ask yourself, what have I said that I have not done? If you are a journalist, you should have known the various stages and steps you need to take to arrive at a construction phase. Cross Riverians are good at petition writing, a state that knows that what we earn is not equivalent to our salary, somebody is still imagining that I have $20 million. Cross River State has about N6 billion….It's ridiculous. That shows mental hara-kiri. The person has gone mad. And I sympathize with them, because 2019 will soon come and go. Any way it turns out, I am a winner. I have fulfilled my dreams in my three years. In the privacy of your bedroom, you will know that Ayade is a magician indeed, because, I don't want to discuss what I met. I know where we are now. This state is one out of the three states that was banned from taking any loan. I have not taken any loan, besides intermediate financing. I am not owing any bank. I can't even borrow. Before I came into office, Cross River State, Zamfara and Osun states were prohibited from taking any loan. The rural access mobility programme for rural roads, Cross River couldn't get approval because we were already over indebted. Tinapa, all those loans have crystallized on me. And they are deducting the money at source. Good intentioned people, even Cross Riverians, and I must be fair, Cross Riverians are highly appreciative. I must not judge Cross River based on deliberate, cheap enemies who just use blackmail because social media is free. Have you not asked yourself, 'do you see this man as not being committed to this state?' The year before last, we had challenges with cultism. Today it is fixed. Nobody knows. I came in and met Skolombo Boys. Cross River does not have oil. The federal government pushed everything, all the army to the Niger Delta, except Cross River State. I went to Abuja and shouted. There was no Cross Riverian who joined me to say stop this, why are you giving security to all the states except Cross River state? Because Cross River didn't have Operation Delta Safe, all the bad boys and the militants moved from other parts of the Niger Delta and came and lived in Calabar. So, that brought this high level of kidnapping. Kidnapping had been in the state before I came into office. In fact, during the tenure of Senator Liyel Imoke, there was the case of the kidnapping of a Korean whose eyes were plucked. Kidnapping had been there but very skeletal. It went a bit high at a time Bayelsa was blocked along with Delta, Akwa Ibom, Edo. Cross River doesn't have oil so we don't have oil pipelines. You saw me in military uniform appealing to the federal government that you have protected other Niger Delta states and left Cross River vulnerable because we don't have oil, that you cannot value oil over blood. Nobody saw that the increase in kidnapping was occasioned by federal government's efforts to protect oil pipelines. I now had to set up Mainland Security at an extra security cost to the state which has done a lot. You don't see it. I have never seen a state like Cross River. If I recount what happens in other states on a daily basis, if I have a very small incident in Cross River, Cross Riverians themselves everywhere will celebrate it. I was in Singapore for a meeting and the guy called me and said 'look, this is what is happening in your state'. Who was posting it? They claim they are opposition. You destroy your home state. And you turn back and say he is not working and you are spending your time trying to stop the construction of the super highway. You accuse him of being interested in the trees. You stop the job. You write petitions, you go to court and you turn back and say he is talking and not doing. You can't do that and God is watching you. I am sure that those people are not candidates for heaven. I don't judge. It is God that judges. But you can't see human beings go so extreme. Over what? Even if it is four years, it will soon come and pass. If God says it is your turn, you don't have to destroy in attempt to make a point.
Let's go back to the super highway stuff. I asked about the financing. What is the plan about raising the money?
I have told you we don't need money. Do the bit that money can do. Whatever money cannot do, the intellect can do. I have said that. Watch out. I ask you, do you think Cross River can fix this amount of project with the amount of money we earn? Let me just conclude by mentioning to you. We have this Rice City, Agro industrial park, we have the seedling factory, we have the organic fertilizer production plant, we have the cosmetic factory which is going on, we have the garment factory, we have the pharmaceutical factory, we have the 21MW power plant. We have the tooth pick factory. We have the banana plantation. I am not telling you what we are planning to do. I am telling you what is existing. Today, being the third year, there is a cocoa processing plant, rice mill. These are not things that I am planning. They are things already done. Do you think we have the money? I have expanded government. Everybody who was due to be permanent secretary that has stagnated for the last 15 years, I have promoted all of them. In one fell swoop, 33 permanent secretaries. I have taken all the excess contract staff they have in the Ministry of Water Resources, Water Board and converted them to staff, took people from CRGIA converted them to permanent staff, took away unemployment from the streets, created an opportunity for additional 9,000, authorized SUBEB to employ 1,000 teachers. Where is the money to pay them? Now people keep their mouths shut. Cross River State is the number one state in salary payment. I am a child of a civil servant. My father worked in water board and retired in water board. So, I know what this small salary is. So, I have never pretended about my parental upbringing. I come from a humble background. I have seen the contrast between wealth and poverty. I am the first person to be the navigator and engineer at this point. I think that is why God brought me at the toughest period of Cross River State.
There is still no water in Cross River from the water Board…
There are two things to it. The bigger challenge for water board today is power because PHED cut off their electricity. PHEDC cut off their electricity because of excess charge. So, what we have done is by putting an acting MD and I will be surprised if water is not flowing by now because the last time I spoke to him, all have been fixed. And we have just simply signed a new agreement with PHEDC. PHEDC charges water board N5m to N7m a month, charges state government N20m a month. So, why will I be paying N27m to N30m a month to PHEDC and every commissioner is complaining that there is no power and they provide their own power with diesel? In my house, in my residence as governor, I am on diesel all the time. So, we had a very huge issue of tariff. So, tariff is a great challenge. It is not the water itself. Now that it is rainy season, it is good for us to pump and treat. It is occasionally that you have problems with the management as it then was. But we are re-organising. That is why the sub-divisions are now given general managers. So, very soon you will hear that Obudu division has its own general manager. Ikom water board has its general manager. Itigidi water board has its general manager, therefore break the monopoly of an MD sitting in Calabar and over controlling and destroying the system. This way I am able to separate them and therefore create a healthy competition between them.
In the next one year, where do you think Cross River would be?
I think I should leave that for you to judge, because the question you asked has been so much about the super highway that not much has been done. I am sure that you know that it is your colleague journalists who like to expose everything that makes it impossible for the super highway to start. And because I give an audacious pronouncement, so the nature of what I have seen among those who call themselves modern day opposition, which is solely limited to this group, is to hear that Ayade says he is going to do this. As soon as I bring the people, the press interviews them and puts their names on the screen, they google them, source their emails, they start writing all sorts to the people to discourage them. I had a team that came in to assist Cross River. They appeared on TV, granted an interview. By the time they left, there were so many pictures and stories and emails from our people discouraging them from coming. So, if you ask me where would we be in four years, I should ask you, where were we when we started and where we are now? I can give you an idea of where we will be, because the more you tell these people what you want to do, the more…..By now they should have known my secrets. The more they criticize me, the more I think I am doing it right. You see that super highway, the shame they will have is the shame they will have in all this industrialization I am doing. The shame they will have is the same shame they will have when they said I appointed so many people and gave me one month, saying very soon I won't be able to pay them.Where is the Rice City factory? The factory never worked. That was six months ago. The shame they have that this is working today, that is the shame they will have in four years' time. But I bet you, judge Cross River state income, number 35 out of 36 and tell me which state has a bigger vision, which governor uses his funds better. You don't understand the state I run. I run a state where the people are good and kind, nice. Such a wonderful people. A small, elitist opposition creates a bad impression of Cross River state and journalists think that that is public opinion. That is not public opinion. If you want to know public opinion, follow me, let me step out of my car in any street, then you will know that that steady salary is magic. You will know that this street sweeping that has kept Calabar clean, do you know the number of people who have entered Calabar since I came into office? Now look at our statistics. Out of almost 4,000 appointees, more than 2,000 of them are now living in Calabar. Go and see the amount of construction work going on in Calabar. I know there are leakages in government but also I hold a Masters in Business Administration. My specialty was developing economics. It is not every hole you must plug. You must allow some leakages. I have done everything to curb leakages. Let's assume my income is as big as that of Lagos state, judge me with Lagos, judge me with other states. Don't judge me with the income. As I was talking, I didn't even mention garment factory. You don't know dredging is going on at the deep seaport. Land reclamation….you just sit down and just talk. The EIA of the deep seaport…. You are from Akwa Ibom. Your port started under who? Victor Attah. Today Cross River is in the field constructing. The deep seaport concept started in Etinan. The only outstanding project that has come to my lips that I have not done is Cali Air. Tell me, did I tell you that I was going to build a rice city in my campaigns? Go and check my records. Did I tell you that I was going to dualize Odukpani Road? Check my records. Did I tell you that I was going to do the banana plantation in Odupkani? Check. Did I tell you I was going to do the pharmaceutical factory? The deep seaport and the super highway were in my inaugural speech, not in my campaign. My campaign rally was entertainment, drama. So, I have done more than I am permitted to.
How about Tinapa? It is dead.
It is not dead. Have you seen dead people there? Tinapa is a subject for another story…. Ask yourself, where in the south-south do you have that kind of factory, apart from Ibadan and Lagos?