Resplendent in "Ishiagu" (Igbo traditional wear) top and milk coloured trousers, with a red cap sitting beautifully on his head and a medium size white elephant tusk in his right hand, he looked every inch an "Ozo" title holder taking his dignifed place in the gathering of umunna ( fellow kindreds).
From the crowd wafted a mesmerising and melodious music supplied by a flutist who seemed to be urging him to action.The flutist was adept at his art as the soulful rendation of eulogy from his flute drowned the air. And like the epic wrestling contest between Amalinze the cat and Okonkwo of Umuofia in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, every one held their breathe: "Will this "Nze"(revered Igbo traditional title holder) address umu Igbo (Igbo sons and daughters) in English language, in an Igbo event that bore purely Igbo imprimatur?
The suspense did not last a life time for when he mounted the rostrum to speak, with a clinched fist, he bellowed "Igbo Kwenu"three times; waving his fist in different directions at each occasion.
His decision to greet the gathering in Igbo language sent the ecstatic crowd into a frenzy.
But more electrifying moments were to come when he started addressing the crowd in spotless, impeccable Igbo language!. That was Professor (Senator) Ben Ayade, the Digital Governor of Cross River State and the event was the Ohanaeze Ndigbo cultural day celebration held at the University of Calabar Stadium on Saturday, November 24, 2018.
Commentators who often describe Professor Ayade as a detribalized Nigerian are right.This is a governor who is at home with every culture and every ethnic nationality.
It was therefore, not a huge surprise that the Igbo community described Ayade as "a friend of Ndigbo" at the Igbo cultural Day and pledged to support his 2019 re-election bid.
They were also full of praises for the governor for the strident effort to pull Cross River from economic stagnation through his industrialization drive.
And in recognition of his sterling performance in office so far, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization in Cross River state also conferred a prestigious award on Governor Ayade.
Speaking at the occassion, Ochigbo Cross River (Leader of the Igbo in Cross River), Eze(Sir) E.A Ezenwenyi, who was also being celebrated at the event for his 28 years of unblemished, selfless service to the Igbo community in the state, described the Cross River State governor as a good friend of the Igbos and pledged the community's continued support for his administration.While wishing the governor " a successful second term in office", Ezenwenyi appealed to him to recognise the relevance of Igbos in the state and treat them as "beautiful brides."
Cross River Ohanaeze Ndigbo President, Barrister Ugorji Nwabueze who presented the award to the governor said that the honour was in recognition of Ayade's landmark achievements in the area of industrialization.
"This award from the five Eastern states is in recognition of your achievement and contributions to the growth of Cross River especially in areas of industrialization," Nwabueze said, adding that "it is also in appreciation of your good performance while exhibiting good strength to the Igbos."
An elated Ayade said he was humbled by the honour.
He poured encomiums on the Igbos, saying he has a lot of respect for their dexterity, values, capacity, integrity, industry, honour, intelligence as well as the philosophy of hard work which according to him, Igbos epitomise.
On the series of demands made by Ohanaeze Ndigbo, including a request for carving out a land as Igbo settlement in the state capital, Governor Ayade said: "If we have given land to have Nasarrawa and Bogobiri areas, it is also important for us to have an Igbo city. The Igbos are indeed the real blood that drives our economy, so to not make a special provision for them is to neglect the realities of the times."
He therefore, directed the state commissioner for lands to make land available to the socio-cultural organisation.
"I will want Ohaneze Ndigbo Cross River branch to liaise with my Commissioner for Land, he will take you to three locations, make a choice of one, we will allocate it as Igbo city," Professor Ayade said, amidst thunderous applause and chant of "na Ayade we know, na Ayade we go follow, na Ayade we go vote for" from the enthusiastic crowd.
Describing the Igbo as "the great Israelites of Africa," the Cross River state governor stated that "the security and social calmness that we enjoy today in Cross River is because the Igbo people have continuously supported us with mercantile activities, creating jobs and so many opportunities that have allowed us to have peace."
In his determination to carry Igbo industrialists along in his industrialization drive, the governor announced the alotment of five plots of land, free of charge, to Igbo businessmen in the newly established Ayade Industrial Park.
"The industrial Park that we have set up has over 42 industrial plots with water, electricity and road provided, whether you come by the instrumentality of a collective whole or as an individual, once you are Igbo with the capacity to set up a factory, we shall give you a piece of land to commence the construction of your factory at no cost to you at all."
He further pointed out that "in Ayade industrial park, I assure that the Igbos will have five major plots, free of charge to commence construction of factories provided each of the factories can employ at least 20 people of which at least 10 will be Cross Riverians," adding that "once you make that provision for me, please come over, take your piece of land, start construction, we will issue you a certificate of occupancy but you must start construction within three months."
To ensure that the Igbo city project is translated into reality, the Cross River State governor announced a donation of N20 million to the Igbo community in the state for the foundation laying of the city.
* Ita is Chief Press Secretary to the Cross River State governor