RICHARD NDOMA, Calabar
Elections have come and gone with winners jubilating and finding their ways overseas to cool their nerves. On the other hand, losers have remained undaunted heading for the court with the hope to recover their mandates which they feel had been stolen; strategising on what next to do as they head to the Election Petition Tribunal.
Going by what played out before the polls, many who had grievances against the Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade’s style of governance vowed to stop him from walking close to the gate of the National Assembly. To them, they would go the extra mile to ensure that he lost the senate poll. To this category of individuals, their major occupation was to ensure that he failed the election and retire compulsorily from politics.
Despite the apportioning of blame to the governor for what opponents regard as abysmal performance, there are some strides recorded by the governor. Those who are in full support of the administration have continued to shower encomiums on the governor saying that if not for Ayade, poverty would have still remained the order of the day.
Apart from the ‘food on the table policy which the outgoing governor initiated months after he came on board, where over ten thousand youths were placed on the state government’s payroll, the aggressive agro-industrialisation programme and several other people-oriented policies which he initiated upon assumption of office have acted as a boost to the Ayade-led administration.
According to the governor, the policy initiative was to lift many from the shackles of poverty, and drastically reduce the rate of unemployment known to be responsible for the high criminality rate and several other social malaise in the state.
As good as the Ayade policy initiative may have been, critics of his administration alleged that he goofed especially in the area of executing basic infrastructure projects that would have been for the betterment of the people. Among such basic infrastructure that his critics alleged that he goofed leading to immense hatred for the governor are the long overdue ‘Spaghetti’ flyover which is supposed to connect Calabar-Ikom highway and Calabar Itu Road that would allow vehicles to and fro the state capital via Odukpani Junction.
Other issues which increased the hatred for the governor are the street lights that used to illuminate Calabar metropolis but suddenly shut down throwing the state capital in total darkness, a development that has triggered the resentment of residents of the city and led to Ayade’s popularity waning. These and many others prompted the people to vent their anger on the state governor during the senatorial polls which he lost out to Senator Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe who is currently the senator representing Cross River North Senatorial district (Ayade’s Senatorial district).
The inability of the state government to manage the issue of the refuse spilling over in some areas of the metropolis has also remained a huge embarrassment to the state government. This is one thing that would baffle anyone who once lived in the state capital years ago when Ayade’s predecessors were in power. They won’t hesitate to ask if the governor’s appointees are really up to their responsibilities, otherwise the state wouldn’t wear the dirty looks it’s wearing today. Social commentators have continued to ask if the appointees aren’t paid or whether the government is not really releasing the funds budgeted for this need. Others wonder if his appointees have appropriated the funds meant to tackle the refuse issue and keep the city clean.
The city of Calabar already has a culture of maintaining a clean and serene environment. The state has a reputation of being known for its serenity, cleanliness and greeny nature.
As if that wasn’t enough, multiple potholes have emerged in Calabar making it impossible for motorists to drive without constantly visiting the mechanics’ workshop. This has also remained a topical issue which sparked up the electorate’s anger against Professor Ayade.
Despite the numerous appointments, residents of the state rated the performance of the APC-led government as awful when the administration is placed on scale for evaluation.
In Cross River, it is difficult to see any family whose family member isn’t in Ayade’s government. Such appointments are evenly distributed. The appointments cut across all major ethnic lines. Ayade’s appointments are made irrespective of ethnic background. His administration has Ibos, Hausas and Yorubas, even among Cross Riverians, no Ejagam, Efik, Obudu speaking person can accuse Gov Ayade of sidelining his or her kinsmen in terms of appointments. Appointments of many into government should have been an added advantage for his political career, especially as he was jostling to go to the senate, unfortunately the reverse is the case as he ended up losing to the candidate of opposition PDP, Senator Jarigbe.
The anger of the people played out during voting. The people came out enmasse and vented their anger, notwithstanding claims of the APC that the victory of the PDP in the senatorial elections was aided and abetted by what the APC state chairman in Cross River state, Barr Alphonsus Ogar described as ‘failed General of the North Senatorial district of the state’ whom he alleged assisted the PDP to win the senatorial election.
Lack of potable water within the Calabar metropolis is also said to have been responsible for what caused the failure of the Ayade administration to send the state governor to the senate. According to the Bureau of Statistics in 2022, Cross River State is said to have a density of 4,406,200. Out of the figure, about 1.5 to 2 million persons are said to be residing in the state capital, either because they live and work there or they are just residing in the state capital probably because there are better opportunities there.
It’s natural that people have their individual scale that they used to weigh the performance of the Ayade administration which according to his critics impacted negatively during the senatorial elections.
One would have expected the APC government under Ayade to sweep the polls as far as the election for Cross River North was concerned given the number of appointees from the north. One question that has remained unanswered is, didn’t the political appointees work towards delivery of their candidate? Could it be that they compromised or they just didn’t work hard to win? All these are questions that have been begging for answers.
The issue of betrayal also played a significant role in that election. Most people who got Ayade’s appointments were not really sincere and loyal to the government of the day. It was a case of APC members in the afternoon but at night, the same members attend nocturnal meetings with the PDP. Watchers have said that this may have accounted for why the state leadership of the APC under Barr Alphonsus Eba Ogar had emphasized on scrutinizing the credibility of its members, with a warning that those found culpable of playing anti-party politics be sanctioned.
Stagnation in the civil service also worked against the victory of the APC especially in Cross River North Senatorial district where the governor lost out to candidate of his former party, the PDP.
In Cross River State, it is common to hear that civil servants were promoted, yet what he or she receives as remuneration won’t be commensurate to what is being collected by his counterparts in sister states. On a daily basis, there are instances where civil servants cry out that their promotions were yet to be implemented even when they are parading long promotion letters that bear high salary grade level.
The confiscation of private parcels of land for on-going construction of the cargo airport, a capital project undertaken by the state governor also impacted negatively in the elections.
Failure of the government to make the tourism sector thrive remains one of the greatest minus to the Ayade administration. Cross River State is one of the states in Nigeria that had been known for its rich tourism potentials but for any administration to allow the tourism asset established with huge amount of money by previous governments to go off the drain, it’s natural that such administration would naturally become unpopular. Allowing the tourism sector to rot away would naturally be a minus to such administration.
Assets worth billions of naira, like the cable car in Obudu ranch resort, have remained permanently underutilised. The abandonment of the mono-rail, sited around the Tinapa Resort, vandalised by the EndSARS protesters, without effort of the government in power to get these assets bounce back remains a great minus to the Prof Ben Ayade-led administration.
The collapse of the tourism sector which used to be among the money spinners to many doing business in the state is enough reason for the electorate to vent their anger on the government of the day as they did during the election for Cross River North Senatorial district where the governor lost.
The initiation of what critics of the administration described as too many uncompleted projects was also responsible for what analysts alleged were white elephant projects. The agro-industrialisation project initiated by the state governor remains one of the best among the programmes as it is people-oriented and could have tackled hunger and starvation but that it is uncompleted remains a challenge.
Projects initiated by the Ayade administration including Nostradamus, Centricut and Calasvegas were good at the conception stage but couldn’t see the light of the day. By their conception, these projects were supposed to add value to the state tourism sector. Unfortunately, none saw the light of the day. The Inability of the administration to commission these lofty projects gave rise to justification by his critics that the projects were nothing but a scam. All these worked against the victory of Ayade at the poll.
This is not to say that the administration failed woefully in all ramifications. His ‘food on the table programme’ where he expanded government and provided opportunity remained the best policy that Ayade would ever be remembered for even after he quits office at the expiration of his tenure.
Though the state pension chairman of five local government areas of Akpabuyo, Bakassi, Calabar South and Calabar Municipal LGAs, one Dr Eyo claimed in an interview with journalists early last year that Ayade was never owing retirees any pension, the issue of gratuity remains a major issue which couldn’t be swept under the carpet during the elections. Many used that to gauge if the administration of Gov Ayade was doing well or not. That issue impacted negatively during the senatorial election.
Ayade’s inability to clear all backlogs of arrears of gratuities of retirees worked against his election that would have again taken him to the senate.
However, those watching the political activities in the state have continued to ask, “What next for the APC government and Ayade as far as Cross River State is concerned?” According to the APC state chairman, Barr Ogar, APC had performed marvelously by lifting the state from the shackles of poverty.
To Ogar, the administration is one of the administrations that have broken records in terms of youth empowerment. According to him, the track record is yet to be beaten by any administration.
Speaking on the strides achieved by the APC and the state governor, a resident of the state, John Egbe, who claimed not to be among Ayade’s retinue of staff or a food on the table beneficiary, said, “despite the criticism in several quotas that Ayade failed the people due to the bogus projects that he initiated with some completed with several others not commissioned, he has tried his best.”
On the contrary, a critic of the Ayade administration, Philip Elemi is of the opinion that the state governor and the APC have nothing to show despite the number of years spent at government house describing it as “wasted years on the saddle” without doing anything tangible for the state.
Whereas many who believe so much in Gov Ayade boasted that Ayade is still young to return home to his Ipong village, Obudu LGA of Cross River State at the end of his tenure stressing that as a professor, Ayade may return to the classroom to continue with his work as university lecturer especially if he fails to find favour in the incoming administration of Ahmed Bola Tinubu which would be Inaugurated on May 29.