At every juncture, tens of thousands of cheering supporters, defying the scorching sun, went into a frenzy at the sight of him. Security personnel were helpless. They had tough time fending off the ecstatic crowd from their principal. But how do you prevent a people from delivering to their son just three harmless but weighty messages: That “he is a goal”, that he has done well and that they will vote to retain him in power? Of course, it was quite impossible and so, the more the security personnel tried to maintain order, the more the crowd burgeoned, increasing in length and breadth, frantically surging forward to have physical contact with him, showering praises on him and pledging total support for his re-election.
It was tagged campaign rallies but at every stop, it was practically more of re-endorsements and reaffirmation of love and trust in a son in whom they are well pleased. Essentially, Between Tuesday, January 22, 2019 and Thursday, January 25, 2019, the entire landscape of Northern Cross River, with its breath-taking greenery and hilly scenery and beckoning rainforest stood head erect and shoulder high in an unapologetic obeisance and adulation of one of its own, governor Ben Ayade whom they say is a worthy son who has proven his mettle in the arduous task of piloting the affairs of the South South state in the last three and half a years.
Northern Cross River is made up of five local governments; namely Obudu, Obanliku, Bekwarra, Ogoja and Yala. At each of these councils, Ayade received a heroic welcome, overwhelmed by a monster crowd of jubilant supporters. Upon arriving each of the local government areas, the governor first held a meeting with the paramount rulers and the Council of Chiefs, explaining to them his quest for second term. After listening attentively, the monarchs gave their royal blessings and endorsements.
Ayade's campaign message was clear and succinct: That he has performed credibly in his first term to deserve a re-election, citing his government's massive industrialization drive and socio- economic and infrastructural development of the state aimed at creating jobs and decoupling Cross River from over dependence on monthly federal allocation.
Besides, the governor argued that the unwritten Cross River charter of equity be respected in the sense that Northern Cross River should be allowed to complete eight years in office the same manner Southern and Central Cross River represented by former governors Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke respectively held the governorship position for eight years each.
The campaign tour of Yala kicked off at Ukelle, a border town with Benue and Ebonyi states. The intimidating crowd at Ukelle roared with deafening cheers when the governor announced his government's determination to speedily complete the Ukele- Kastina Ala road and plans to build a mobile Police Barracks in the border with Ebonyi state to curb incessant clashes with Ebonyi communities over a piece of disputed land.
Chants of “Ayade is a goal”, “Ayade is our own”, “na Ayade we go follow” filled the breezy Ukelle air as the campaign train departed the rustic community and made its way to Okpoma, headquarters of Yala where banners and placards waving crowd went gaga on sighting the governor. Ayade had a hectic time wadding through the thick human traffic to get to the podium as sea of heads formed a ring at both flanks of the open field where the rally took place. An admixture of Ayade songs and waist-tasking dance steps-all eulogizing the governor combined to give the campaign rally a flavor of carnival. And then, the field became electrified when he mounted the podium.
More eye popping crowd, dramatic and electrifying scenes were also to confront the governor at Bekwara, Obanliku and Obudu, his home local government. For example, at Obanliku, undulating roads of the hilly town were seized by the residents who massed on both sides singing and dancing. Obalinku hosts a large Fulani community and members of this community utilized the opportunity the campaign tour provided to show their “Cross Riverness” and love for Ayade as many of them lined the roads too and cheered the governor endlessly in the local Obalinku dialect, pledging their votes for him.
At Sankwala, headquarters of Obanliku where the rally took place proper, overwhelming crowd made up of artisans, okada riders and market women lined up all roads leading to the venue to cheer Ayade as his campaign train made its way. A certain pregnant woman, no longer able to contain her joy in having Ayade in town, loudly declared that she was going to name her unborn baby Benedict, after the governor, if it is a boy and Linda, after the First Lady, if it is a girl.
The enthusiastic supporters danced and sang the governor's praises as they pledged to cast their votes for him and all PDP candidates in the coming elections.
When Ayade mounted the rostrum to speak, a deafening chant of "Ayade is a goal" rent the air, with the jubilant crowd surging forward to physically touch the governor and pledge their support for his reelection.
It took spirited efforts of security agents to keep the ecstatic crowd at bay when the governor mounted the rostrum and started addressing the people in impeccable Obanliku dialect. Hearing the governor speak in their tongue so effortlessly, it increased the tempo of the agitation of the frenzy crowd to have physical contact with him.
Speaking later in English, the evidently elated governor told the people of the council that Obanliku was strategic to the state as the council housing the famous Obudu Ranch Resort.
He promised speedy completion of the 147 Mfom-Okuku-Obudu ranch road project linking the five local government areas of Cross River Northern Senatorial Zone.
As a demonstration of the importance he attaches to the ranch, the governor disclosed that the Obudu/Obanliku axis of the road has already been asphalted in order to aid easy access to the facility.
The Cross River chief executive also pledged rapid urbanization of the council by transforming it into a modern town complete with modern infrastructure.
Said Prof Ayade: "l want to assure you all that as a proud son of the North, l won't fail you. Be rest assured that l am very committed to the welfare of our people and all the developmental projects we have started in the north will be completed in our quest to develop our zone in line with others.
Campaign tour at Bekwara provided a fertile ground for APC defectors as the Assistant Secretary of the party in the state; Sunday Omang led over 1,000 members to announce their cross over to the PDP at the rally. Standing beside governor Ayade, Omang told the massive crowd that no fair minded Cross Riverian will still be opposed to the governor after seeing his trail blazing achievements in three and a half years.
Obudu, the home local government of Ayade witnessed the mother of all crowds. The mini stadium, venue of the rally swarmed with thousands of excited supporters. Thousands more took over the recently asphalted Obudu axis of Mfon-Okuku-Obudu ranch road, drumming and singing. Accessing the rostrum was an uphill task for the governor. It took his security details over an hour to meander through the crowd to get him to the rostrum. It was solidarity songs and pledges of support all the way amidst intermittent burst of “he is our son”, “Ayade carry go”, “four more years”
Reacting to the mammoth crowd that thronged the governor's re-election rallies in Northern Cross River, his Chief of Staff, Mr. Martin Orim said: “It is only a governor who has completely captured the minds and hearts of the people with life-changing socio- economic and infrastructural projects in just three and a half years of assumption of office that can record the kind of heroic reception His Excellency got in the north where an overwhelming crowd of supporters in the five local government areas of zone locked down the councils to register their total support and determination to vote him back into office”
The Chief of Staff further said: ““His Excellency is a worthy son of Cross River, he is a worthy son of Northern Cross who has done his people proud by piloting the affairs of Cross admirably. His impressive report card has made the north proud. The north, just like the southern and central zones, is proud of this governor whose achievements in office in his first term remain unequalled. The massive and ecstatic crowds that trailed his re-election campaigns are metaphors for a pat on the back for a job well done”
A retired headmaster and an Obanlinku indigene who said he campaigned vigorously for the governor during his quest for the senate and in 2015 during his first term governorship campaign, is of the view that the massive love and support Ayade enjoy across the state is not just because of his achievements in office but also because of his humble, unassuming nature. His words: “This is a governor, who has no airs and exudes none; who is accessible to all Cross Riverians irrespective of status. I don't know of any governor in Nigeria today who is still maintaining his old mobile lines, who personally picks his calls and replies text messages, but Ayade does.”
The retired teacher further said: “Ayade's compassion for Cross Riverians knows no bounds. Here, we have a governor who stops his convoy to greet and interact with Cross Riverians wherever and whenever he sees a gathering of them. It is not a surprise therefore; that a sea of heads emptied into the ranch and lined up from there to Utanga to show love and support to him. It is not also surprising that our Digital governor came down from his convoy to personally greet them.”