Cross River State has been without a Chief Judge since September 2, 2020. In this interview, Ntufam Mba Ukweni, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN is angry that the Cross River governor, Prof. Ben Ayade is trying to cripple the judiciary in the state as he has crippled other arms of the government. He re-echoed that governance in the state has collapsed.
What is your rating of governance of Cross River by Prof. Ben Ayade?
(Bursts into laughter) I have stated my position severally that governance in Cross River state has collapsed. We don’t have governance in Cross River state. I’ve stated so. As far as I’m concerned, there is no governance in Cross River state. Governance has collapsed. Everybody knows that there is no governance in Cross River state. Go to the governor’s office, you open their toilet whether you will be able to ease yourself there. Go to the governor’s office, if the governor is not in the office, there cannot be electricity. I said it and I have experienced it that my elder brother, the deputy governor, Prof. Ivara Esu used paper to fan himself in the office. When we went for the swearing in of Justice Michael Edem on the 18th of October 2017 as the substantive Chief Judge of cross River State, it was a very embarrassing situation and I had to cry out, that things do not happen like this. Any person that has an opportunity to come into the executive council chambers, it is like entering heaven; that was what I said. So let me tell you what happened. We had all entered the executive council chambers, including the deputy governor, there was no electricity. The place was stuffy, it was hot and everybody was fanning himself with a handkerchief or a piece of paper and I said how did we get to this point? It was 2 to 3 minutes when the governor was about to come in that they had to power the generator to turn on the air air-conditions in the executive council chambers. Do you look down on people to that extent? That is the debasement of people. It is not proper and I said so that it is not proper. So it is only the governor that should enjoy electricity and air-conditioners in the executive council chambers?
Is there any government ministry that is working? Go to the government ministry, the commissioners that are being appointed, most of them do not have offices and they are doing nothing. At the end of the month, they receive alerts for doing nothing. Eighty percent of the appointments that have been made in the state are useless appointments; not productive in any way. The governance itself is not productive. Move through our streets, there are potholes everywhere; what we had not experienced for quite a long time in the state. All the things we took for granted are becoming challenges in the state. I said so; water is now a major challenge, we all know in Cross River that during the time of Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. We took water for granted, I had no reason for sinking a borehole, and it was during the time of Ayade that I had to sink borehole because I returned from court one day to go and have a little rest and I found that my children were going to fetch water from a borehole. So that was when my wife said okay,’ it has dawned on you; I have been hammering on this point that we should sink a borehole.’ I immediately had to call people to come and sink the borehole. So that is the level we have degenerated to. Things we took for granted are now challenges.
The governor promised a deep seaport, where is deep seaport? People drive their vehicles and then when they enter into potholes on the roads they say those are the deep seaports. He promised a superhighway, where is the superhighway? What about the place he said is spaghetti flyover at Odukpani? I passed there the other day and I had to stop. I stopped at the point and the people were looking at me what I was coming to do; I told them, got o Ebonyi state where the man is doing flyover. Are they working with head pans and shovels? So that is what we see there. The dualisation he said he was going to do from Calabar to Odukpani, have you not seen the form in which it is? Is that how roads are tarred? The man just looks down on everybody and feels that he shouldn’t give a quality thing to the people. The only thing he feels to do is to pack our money and be doing his personal business. Governance is done with certain fear in mind. Even if you have to steal you steal with respect not brazenly. It’s not done that way. So it’s just a question of the fact that the man looks down at everybody. He has no respect for any person. So governance has failed. There’s nothing, tell me any of the ministries that is functioning, that is working as a ministry should work. And I said maybe it’s because he has succeeded in crippling all the other arms that is why he wants to ensure that the judiciary is crippled and we said, we will not allow him to cripple the judiciary. Whatever he wants to do politically, he can do them. If he concentrates there and does not come to our area, we will not disturb ourselves about it. Our present anger is that the handshake has gone beyond the elbow. It is like now coming to ensure that nothing, even where we should earn our livelihood is completely destroyed and that is why you are seeing these reactions from us.
There are other things the governor started working and are currently working; like the garment, toothpick factories, etc. Are you saying that those do not have value because the deep seaport, superhighway and spaghetti flyover have not been put in place yet?
Let me put this before I’ll answer your question. We’re too experienced to be deceived by somebody you know better than and in an area you know better. I heard the attorney general making the announcement that Akon Ikpeme is to be moved to the court of appeal and I asked the question; I said, Chief Judge is what is in his hands to do, court of appeal, federal high court; Supreme Court is not in his hands. The one you have in your hands to give to a person you have refused to give it, it’s the one that is in another person’s hands that you are now promising the person. Does it make sense to you? It makes sense that the person is well intentioned. It can’t be well intentioned. The Court of appeal, Supreme Court, federal high court is entirely between the Judicial Council and President. It is the state that concerns the governor, so if he cannot give you what is in the state, is it what is in another person’s hand that he wants to give to you.
We have heard a lot about the garment factory so what impact has the garment factory made? Let me ask you. The rice seedling, how many bags of rice have you seen in the market? We should see the impact, he should not just come to roll a few things and you said you are exporting when you don’t have the one you should eat in your house. You cannot feed your children, you cannot feed your own home but you are now concerned about exporting. There is no rice planted anywhere to be able to feed any person, you know that. How many clothes are being produced in the garment factory? We were told that immediately the garment factory starts functioning, the entire Nigeria, everybody, the clothes will be produced there. When you go to industries that are functioning you know they are functioning. Let’s leave those orchestrations of bringing people and bringing TV, you people in the press to come and do some showmanship. We want practical things. You know very well that there is nothing of value going on there that will have impact. When they said they were bringing nose masks to schools how many did they give? Were they even able to give up to 100 students in any school? The man just came to deceive people and I say so without fear because that is what I have come to discover. Toothpick let us start having the impact. Let him focus on one thing and do it very successfully let us know that this has had some level of impact in Cross River state.
When they said they were going to employ people the COVID; people are running away from the virus then you pack thousands of people because you know that once you talk of employment people will come. How many did he employ? The fund they said they were going to distribute to people, we all saw it. So who are you deceiving? He doesn’t intend well for us and he will not do well. It’s like rewarding failure. Somebody does not fail in governance and you go and repeat. People’s lives are dependent on it. This man was my client and I have read his psychology. I know he does not intend well. Let him prove me wrong that he can do well. That is my position in this second term. Of course he can’t prove us right because you must have the capacity and character to do a proper thing before you can do it.