On May 29, 2015, he came. He saw and he is still 'seeing' and still conquering! On the cusp of re-election on March 9, 2019, for second term in office, the above pun is a flowery summary of Professor Ben Ayade's almost four years trajectory in Cross River state as its democratically elected governor. Inheriting a state with meager federal allocation; one laying prostrate to debts as the second most indebted state in Nigeria, and Nigeria's economy almost immediately slipping into unmitigated recession, the story of governor Ayade's ascension to office on May 2015 and his subsequent dogged efforts at decoupling Cross River's economy and deepening its economic growth within the stated period through relentless industrialization drive and job creation is thought-provoking and scintillating just as it is inspiring. Thousands of enthusiastic Cross Riverians that thronged his re-election campaign rallies in all the 18 local governments of the state to pledge their unalloyed support says it all.
At every juncture, the people of the state made it clear that Ayade “is a goal”, meaning that his re-election on March 9, 2019 is fait accompli. A broad spectrum of Cross Riverians are agreed that the only way to show appreciation to their governor for re-inventing the state is by returning him to office for a second term. As Hon.Martin Orim, Chief of Staff to the governor succinctly puts it: “One superlative term deserves a second term”
Indeed, every chapter of Professor Ayade's tour of duty in Cross River state contains elegant testimony of this young academic who is imbued with uncommon intellect, zeal and refreshing strategy as to how to alter the inelegant narratives of his state which, before his coming, wore like a medal, the sobering sobriquet of “civil servant state”, a disquietening euphemism for being a consumer state instead of a producer state, lack of industry, over dependence on monthly federal allocation ,stagnating economy and near zero Internally Generated Revenue, IGR . That Ayade, within three and half years, was able to re-write Cross River's story owes largely to tenacity of purpose and fecundity of ideas that he exudes.
And when, after taking the reins of government in 2015, he immediately started sowing the seeds that would soon germinate and mature into what has become today, Nigeria's first ever industrial revolution undertaken by any state, cynics wrote Ayade off as embarking on a fruitless voyage to nowhere. It was however, not long before the Calabar Garment Factory and the Calabar Rice factory, Africa's first ever automated Rice Seeds and Seedlings factory came on board and became the manifest products of that “voyage”.
Within the Ayade Industrial park, Calabar, where the factories are situated are also the Calabar Pharmaecutical factory, the CalaChicka ultramodern poultry processing plant and CalaNoddles factory- all under various stages of completion.
On a visit to Cross River Garment Factory recently, smiles danced endlessly on Governor Ayade's cherubic face. At every juncture, in the course of the facility tour, the governor exuded satisfaction and glowed with satiation. When shown the latest products from the factory designated for export, Professor Ayade, like a child who has just won a trophy, demonstratively leaped for joy. Any leader in Ayade's shoes, would express such emotion for crystallization of dreams-positive and impactful dreams- warms the heart with joy and decorate the face with smiles. That was indeed the governor's lot at the Garment Factory that day. Evidently, his administration's industrialization policy is rapidly remaking Cross River and changing the economic narratives of the state.
Not only that the Garment factory's products are now being exported, the factory also has created jobs for over 2,000 Cross Riverians, especially women, who are on its employ.
Few years back, who would have believed that Cross River, “the civil servant state”, will one day be an exporter of Made-in- Calabar products? Before Ayade happened on the state as governor, such feat was a distant dream. Cross River produced almost nothing nothing.
And if anyone thinks the governor is sentimentally attached to the Garment factory, such person may not be wrong. The Cross River Garment factory and the world class automated Cross River Rice Seeds and Seedlings factory are the flagships of this administration's industrialization drive. The two factories came on board and at a time when doubting Thomases were still insisting on “touching the wound” before believing.
Almost four year in the driver's seat of Cross River's destiny, Professor Ayade is living out Peter Strople's postulation: “Legacy is not leaving something for people, its leaving something in people”. Indeed, by the time his tour of duty ends in 2023, Ayade's philosophy of Cross River of tomorrow would have sunk deep into the consciousness of the people as he will not only be leaving a legacy of solid economy, industrialized state and sound infrastructures, he will also be leaving in the minds and hearts of Cross Riverians, the philosophy of self-worth and can do spirit.
Essentially, it was practically unthinkable few years back that Cross River, the “civil servant state” will, in one giant leap, rise like a phoenix, from ground zero to claim a place among the comity of industrialized states in Nigeria. Apart from the cluster of industries-fully completed and operational, and under construction-at the Industrial park in Calabar, there are also the undeniable presence of other Ayade-inspired industries and infrastructural developments in other parts of the state.
For example, in Ikom, a 30,000 per annum ultramodern Cocoa processing plant is nearing completion and an automated Rice Mill at Ogoja is about 60 percent completed. At Ekori in Yakurr local government area, the Cross River state Toothpick processing plant is operational.
There are also the cotton farms in Woda, Yala local government, Cross River state Banana plantation in Odukpani and Yellow maize farm in Obubra.
The 274km super highway linking Cross River to the Northern part of the country, the 147km Mfon-Okuku-Ogoja-Obudu-road construction linking the five local government areas of Northern Cross River, the largest undertaken by any state government in Nigeria, and the Calabar mega power plant are all some of the signature infrastructural projects of the Ayade Administration.
The wonder of the Ayade magic is that the capital intensive industrialization and infrastructural blitz of the administration do not in any way harm his commitment to Cross River workers. Cross River state is one of the few states in Nigeria where civil servants receive their salaries before 25th of every month, a situation that made workers in the state to nickname him “Mr. Salary”. How Professor Ayade strikes this delicate balance in the face of meager financial resources beats the imagination.
John Mason seemed to have Professor Ayade in mind when he said that “the world is divided into people who do things and people who talk about doing things”. Four years down the lane, this 51 year old Professor of Environmental Microbiology has established himself as a “doer”; in Mason's categorization, Ayade belongs to the club of people who do things. And Cross River is better for it. And the people are appreciative; and are eagerly waiting for March 9 to reciprocate!
*Onyemaizu is SA Media to Governor Ayade