Last week, the governor of Cross River State, Prof Ben Ayade met with journalists in Calabar where he spoke on issues, including the Calabar carnival, the controversial super highway project and his many overseas trips.
TNN reproduces his comments, as was recorded by our correspondent in Calabar, GODWIN AJOM.
I will like to say this meeting is not formal; just in a little time, we will be done. It is very, very important for me to recognize the fact that we are planning to have a fulfilled friendship always.
We had scheduled to have very important meetings today- the traditional rulers, the house of assembly, the local government chairmen- but when I looked at the time, there is one group that represents all of these, which is members of the fourth estate of the realm.
I see some persons write some things about Cross River that didn’t even exist. And I think obviously what the local correspondent is doing and how those stories get into their papers without his or verification. Sometimes people announce that I have plans to change party to APC. Sometimes I read when they say I’m planning to go back to the PDP and some of you work directly here from governor’s office.
There are so many means where by you can verify information. So, I think if your paper puts up a story about this state, you are in charge of that paper in the state; always verify if the information is true. It is important that we finish strong. Most times when people get to this stage in their government, they fail to recognize this syndrome. At this time, there is so much to do and you no longer have time for anything, and then it does appear as if you are losing grip. I am very strong and better equipped and very focused, I know where I am coming from and where I am going to.
I came into a state that was basically a civil servants’ state and the only thing we can do here is organize a dance party on the streets, a primary economy and I see your faces as you introduce yourselves one by one. I see brilliant people who are supposed to have a bright future, but how will that bright future come to Cross River State when, year in year out, we live on salary. Experience has shown that the amount of money you spend organizing the carnival is far far more than the money the carnival brings into the state, which is an instrumentality of poverty and so I made a plan that if this money used for carnival, I use it to distribute across the state, I am sure people will have more money.
As a state, we have no business with poverty, we are a border state. Given our geographical location, we have no business with poverty. Given the kind of land we have, our agric reserves and fertility of our soil, we have no business with being civil servants. We ought to be business men and women. But unfortunately, it is very difficult for somebody to see the big dream of the governor because I did not come strong, because in psychology, any leader who has a dream that is achievable within a life time is not within his strength. If you have an ambition, that is achievable within your life time, that means that your ambition was not big enough.
“A real leader’s vision is something you should achieve in hundred years. Look at the story of Dubai, when somebody had and started a dream of achieving a seaport in a dry desert. Nobody imagined it was possible. Today, Dubai is one of the business hubs. Big dreams is what makes the difference. Patching potholes, planting grasses, holding carnivals, paying salaries, those things are just that everybody thinks we can’t do it.
“Today, Cally air is a reality. We have watched this state, by your own pen, either by your own inaction, and allow one or two negative elements who think, who take gains on manipulating stories and extortion money from people in government for a living.
You allow their voice to become stronger than the voices of all of you. So somebody calls the governor a night before and asked favour, and if the governor doesn’t see the favour, the next day you see a very strong, wild news and you forward it and forward it. By your own hand you are setting your own state ablaze.
When we started the super highway, by 2016, we had already gotten all the investments all worked out, approved already and I got back to Nigeria from Germany and Switzerland and they forwarded to me a large chunk of e-mails coming out from Cross River State, how the superhighway was not real, and how they were wasting their money; this was in 2016.
And this was how that project folded back. But it was just write ups from people who don’t know that that is economic sabotage. But for them it is just a business. It is your responsibility to correct that, because when you allow somebody enter into your own profession and misinform the public, it won’t affect you as a person, but it can affect your child or your child’s child.
For me, it is always batter for to think big and fail in the process of a big dream, than to set a small target and meet it. And my wife would ask me, why don’t you keep this your ambition to yourself? And I say, when you don’t say it, you never would do it.
Can you tell me as journalists, how much does this state earn? Can you also tell me the deductions on this state based on the inherited loans? I am sure if you guys have a clear idea, you will understand why they call me magician. Have you all forgotten in this state, that tomorrow everybody is going to get December salary? Next year will make it my seventh year without owing salary and pension. We all forget the history of Cross River state because I come from a circumstance and background that is quit humble. I understand that salary is like a billion dollar to a civil servant, the wife and the children. So I place a premium on it.
I rather give my right eye than to owe salaries and that’s why I was so heart-broken when labour decided to go on strike in a state that we are not owing salary or pension, while we have states where half salary is being paid and we have states where salary is owed eight to ten months, they are not on strike, but in Cross River promotion became an issue, if you promote somebody in a stagnant economy where there is no swift productivity, you promote for simply passage of time. Sometimes I manifest foolishness to see that things work.
I think society don’t like a soft hearted and a good natured person, they like a stiff, difficult person. But God will give them somebody who will meet them with their style, because I am not violent. I got rich so early that I know it does not come by my efforts, but is so sad that you allow people to infiltrate your profession.
We are building a 27 megawatts power plant in Tinapa. I know most of you are not aware of it. I went for the inspection overseas, and I was told that oh Ayade went because he had a brain tumour. And I am just surprised why the men here decided not to teach those persons a lesson and say no, you can’t blackmail the governor. I am just wondering, you blackmail the governor just to make money.
It becomes somehow, such that young people are now being trained and groomed on this blackmail journalism. I think it is your responsibility as a chapel to say no to anybody who is blackmailing the state for a living.
Yesterday, I had to show somebody our budget just to explain what we are going through as a state, but inside this same state, how many of you know that the pharmaceutical factory we have is working day and night? If you go to Calachika, you have no idea what is going on there. Just take your time and go there you will soon all the factories working.
But as a government, in a struggling third world economy, my specialty is catalyzing a third world economy into a first world. Government has no business with business. All things being equal, but because all things are never equal, government has a core business doing business. But then, government’s role is just to facilitate the atmosphere to do business for the private sector. So government now builds factories, because no single individual has the money to be able to set up these factories.
Most of us here are Cross Riverians, I don’t know one Cross Riverian that has come to me to indicate interest that I have sought technical partners and I want to take up this factory and run it. So Ayade thinks out of the box, finds the funding because I cannot borrow as the state has exceeded its borrowing limits, builds the factory, finish setting up the factory, he is looking for raw materials. How could a state be so unfair to itself?
“Today you have an airline, today you have a pharmaceutical factory, garment factory, instant noodles factory, frozen chicken processing factory, rice mill, cocoa processing plant, vegetable oil factory, it’s on and on and on. All of these, Ayade needs to know who is running it, who is producing what is produced and who is producing what. It is not my role, that is the private sector role.
“In this country, whoever has the funding to put up these factories, take away government’s intervention. It will collapse. Even in UK, up till 1984, they were still building factories until they started selling those factories to the private sector. That was when they started having the benefits.
America took over 250 years to have a private sector. The real solution to our economy has just started in Ayade’s administration, to find an alternative to salary earnings.
Any man whose life depends only on salary is a slave, a 21st century illiterate. He is not somebody who cannot read and write but a man who has refused to add value. It is only a man beneath you who can criticize you, if he is higher than you, he doesn’t need to come under you to criticize you. And somebody criticises because he is a 21st century illiterate. If not, he should be thinking of how to add value. It is not the criticism that works, it is the advice that will work. If your advice cannot reach the governor, it will reach someone that is close to someone that is close to the governor.
“Sometimes, you don’t ever understand what we go through. I don’t think I have ever slept up to five hours in a day since the last six years and more. I used to be happier, richer and more generous, used to be known for generosity. But now, no matter what I give, it’s never enough. I took that from my father.
I have had the highest political victory in Cross River history, without ever spilling blood or targeting somebody. It is good to be refined and polished. We have a tradition of peaceful politics. When the south had it, the central and then the north, it is natural that it will come back to the south. And then you were there in 2019, you quoted me to say vote for me in the south, support me, and I will support you and then you want me to chew my words? How will I even feel to do that? So there is moral conscience. What is fair is fair. I am an Obudu man because I was born into Obudu, I could have come from Calabar south.
So it is your duty to educate the people. You are the moral conscience. That is why I said even if I did not meet with any other people, I will meet you today. You are the social parameter that will measure the education, social and moral standing of the Cross River populace. Your story will over shadow any person’s story. You have all the newspapers. You have all the news agency at your finger tips.
We just need to come together, we have started a programme like this, way back in 2016, when we had a very good working relationship, until somebody came in and started asking some questions that are unacceptable. But in the spirit of the season and forgiveness, I have forgiven. So, I do forgive. So that there will be a strong relationship.
I need forty thousand farmers for soya beans alone. Maize farmers, I need forty thousand, poultry I need almost two hundred thousand, can you imagine the jobs that that factory alone has created?
So where are the new generations of technocrats? Where are the new Ayades who are known for innovative inventions? My first million naira was from intellectual works. So where are those young people who are doing research? I share in that dream, because as a professor, I should have no business with politics.
You don’t need to fight yourselves. You set up a platform, you say it is a group of Obudu union and start attacking yourselves. Meanwhile, you have a factory there lacking raw materials. It is your responsibility to educate and tell them. Sometime, they don’t even know, I have never seen such backwardness.
If all of you can join me because you have the people, I took some of them to the chicken factory to see because they never believed. Then I was in PDP. Their whole shirts were wet because they never exercise. If you don’t know, don’t talk.
If you alone can stand with me, I don’t care about what others say. My achievements I have achieved in Cross River State, if you go to northern Cross River, a dual carriage road, no state government in Nigeria’s history has done that length of dualization. I am not making noise about it because a true quality of a leader is when your people see your works and appreciate them. I won’t go spending money to publicise it. That money I should spend on television, I rather use it to pay salaries.
I beg all of you to see that the projects we have achieved, the dualization of Calabar to Odukpani road and if you have set your mind, you should see that work has commenced on the superhighway. By ending of February next year, the superhighway and the spaghetti flyover will fully be functional. By the same next year, the section between Benue to Gakem, into Bekwara will be ready, because the same length of work is going on, on both sides. Silently, nobody knew that the superhighway was going to work, after spending three years in court, fighting against the governor, fighting against the deep seaport.