By Efiom Attoe
May 29, 2023 is fast approaching and by then, Governor Ben Ayade will end his second term in office as Cross River State governor. It is therefore not too soon to raise the question of how he will be viewed thereafter.
History would probably judge Governor Ben Ayade as a Cross River State Governor who left the State worse than he met it.
I must say that Governor Ben Ayade has formulated some good policies like the ban on taxation of small income earners like taxi drivers, barbers, petty traders etc. This, along with a few other well meaning policies and projects, have however achieved very little success due to poor implementation and inadequate supervision.
But these and any other achievements are dwarfed by what Ayade got wrong. For me, two failures in particular stand out. The first is his failure to stop the indiscriminate and wanton pillaging and destruction of the tropical rainforests of Cross River State which make up most of what is left of Nigeria’s tropical rainforests.
The importance of these rainforests and biodiversity hotspots were demonstrated when in 2011, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forests Degradation programme (REDD+), a $10Billion global initiative to save the world’s rainforests, chose Nigeria as one of the pilot countries to benefit from the initiative. That year, Nigeria received a $4million REDD+ readiness grant from the UNREDD, plus $3.6million from the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. Nigeria also received technical and financial support from the California-led Governors’ Climate and Forests Taskforce. All due to the successful efforts made by the then Governor Liyel Imoke in preserving Cross River’s rainforests which accounted for 60% of Nigeria’s total.
Sadly, the start of Governor Ben Ayade’s administration saw in a dramatic surge in illegal logging and wanton destruction of the forests by criminal networks allegedly in connivance with government officials and Anti-deforestation Taskforce officials.
Hundreds of lorries continue to empty the forests of Boki and its environs daily. And it’s safe to say that Cross River State will lose a major portion of its tropical rainforests by the time Governor Ben Ayade leaves office.
Another legacy-defining failure of Governor Ayade is his failure to sustain the hitherto strong tourism sector of the state that was developed by his predecessors. Tourism was fast becoming the mainstay of the Cross River State economy during the Duke and Imoke era. The Obudu Ranch resort with its cable cars, Afi canopy walkway, the Marina resort, the Obudu Mountain Race, Leboku New Yam Festival and many more attractions drew in millions of visitors into the state. This led to massive investment into the sector by private sector players thereby creating thousands of jobs for the people.
By 2015 tourism in Cross River was relegated and wasn’t considered a priority. Also the Clean and Green campaign, security, critical infrastructure like roads, street lights, regular water supply and other important factors that helped the tourism sector to succeed were neglected.
This undermined Cross River’s position as Nigeria’s most preferred tourist destination and allowed key competitors to “Destination Cross River” like Lagos, Akwa Ibom, Rivers etc successfully take over.
Sustaining the Cross River tourism sector should have been a top priority while still pursuing his signature projects namely the Bakassi Deep seaport and the 275km superhighway, both of which have sadly failed to make meaningful progress after six years and huge resources spent.
The bottom line is that at the end of his two terms in office, Governor Ben Ayade will be handing over a state in far worse condition than he inherited. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair this damage when he eventually leaves. That is his distressing legacy.