Sometime last year, I sat across from one of the Governors of Nigeria’s South South region, for an interactive session.
This Governor was elected on the platform of the PDP.
As we discussed Nigeria, politics and everything in between, this very vocal Governor made fun of his Cross River State counterpart, Ben Ayade.
Ayade’s Cross River is also a South South State.
Ayade is also of the PDP stock like the Governor who was now chuckling before me.
It is uncommon for one PDP Governor to deride the other in public.
But here we were.
“Look at that , a real joker. A very unserious man,” said this South South Governor between fits of uncontrolled laughter.
He was throwing his head backward as he laughed.
I was genuinely puzzled and curious.
It was the one time this Governor was laughing so unrestrained during our visit to his State.
Ever the inquisitive newsman, I asked the Governor who was the North Korean Governor of which he spoke.
“The Cross River Governor na”, arrived the answer….”can’t you see his hair cut? My question is, why would a President attend the ground laying ceremony of such a project? Wasn’t the President briefed before making the trip to Cross River?”
This South South Governor was referring to President Buhari’s attendance of the foundation laying ceremony of Ayade’s ambitious, ill-conceived superhighway project.
Critics say the superhighway is a pipe dream being pursued without an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The superhighway will clean out Cross River’s virgin forests and green cover, lay waste to farmlands and erode what is left of Nigeria’s fauna and flora.
Why construct a superhighway that will damage the means of livelihood of more than two million people when you can reconstruct or upgrade the existing Ogoja-Calabar highway?
How does Cross River intend to raise the N800B ($2.6B, 2.3B euro) required to fund the construction of the superhighway?
Ayade’s superhighway is typical of the man.
He talks big and delivers very little.
He is adept at erecting castles in thin air.
He promises the heavens and never delivers.
Ayade is the textbook definition of flamboyance without substance.
Since he was elected Cross River Governor in 2015, Ayade has promised the people bullet trains, power plants, a garment factory, a clean and green State, the heavens and… wait for it…he wants to legalise hawking!
Baba Isa, a legal practitioner based in Abuja with roots in Calabar, describes the hawking gimmick of the Governor this way:
“The objective of this law is to define and provide a regulatory framework for hawkers in the State which will enable them carry out their businesses in a legitimate manner while also protecting their rights.
“This sounds noble but the nobility is lost in the verbosity of the bill and some highly dangerous sections.
“Now, I hawked as a teen. In fact, I consider myself the only person in Africa who hawked palm wine. Hawking is certainly a legitimate way to survive. It has never been illegal. So, one will wonder why the State Government is in a hurry to "legalise" what was never illegal.
“Section 31 of the law states that hawking zones and centers will be created for hawkers.
“This doesn't make any sense to me. The sole purpose of hawking is for the hawker to take his wares to where the potential buyer is.
“Creating hawking centers is like creating markets where the hawkers will stay and wait for buyers to come to them. That's not regulating hawking, it's rather, technically, banning hawking.
“In a wild excitement to legalise hawking (whatever that means), the Cross River State Government has banned and criminalized it.
“Section 31 (3) makes it an offence punishable with imprisonment if anyone hawks outside the designated areas or centers. This is really dangerous. This will make every hawker on the street of Cross River State a potential ex-convict just because he is hawking, just because she is hustling to survive”.
Ayade has turned a Cross River State logo that depicts the rich tourism allure and hospitality of the State, on its head.
In its place is a sickening logo that has a raging bull charging out of a red blanket.
There’s nothing red about Cross River.
The State is a coastal one with swathes of green vegetation. Blue has always been its insignia for obvious reasons. Why change that for an offensive and repugnant red?
Is Cross River now a land of blood guzzling wizards and witches; as you are likely to infer from staring at that sea of red nonsense?
What the heck is a bull doing in a Cross River State logo?
Besides, the bull was lifted off an existing Red Bull (a widely consumed energy drink in Nigeria) logo.
The new Cross River State logo is the least creative and least imaginative thing you are likely to come across in 2017. It’s the definition of bland and meaningless.
As I type this, filth has returned to the streets of Calabar.
Famous for its ‘Clean and Green’ aesthetics, boulevards and well-manicured lawns, refuse heaps now welcome you into the ‘Canaan City’.
Ayade now taxes businesses for depleting the Ozone layer with their Generators, but rides around town in one of the longest convoys ever.
In 2016, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) picked up the Governor’s younger brother, Frank Ayade, over allegations bordering on a N2.7B fraud.
It is widely believed around Cross River that the senior Ayade uses his brother as a front to launder and loot.
Governor Ayade calls Frank the “co-Governor of Cross River”.
During State functions, Frank is often seen strutting alongside his elder sibling, like you would the deputy Governor of any other State in the country.
On Saturday, May 27, 2017, the Governor ordered police officers to disperse a crowd of protesters in Calabar with teargas canisters.
The protesters had taken to the streets to demand good governance and a restoration of the glory that Cross River State was once renowned for.
I spent a chunk of my adult life in Cross River--taking in the clean environment as I drove around with friends, watching the birds sing as I made my way to mom’s rice and cassava farms, sitting on tree stumps in Ekorinim at night time with all of Calabar subsumed in an envelope of street lights, fresh air and police patrol vans before me; and hopping into a bar at the oddest of hours for a beer or two--while clutching my books as I headed for the university library.
These days, Calabar is so unsafe for a little bit of fun and 'sin', residents say they lock themselves indoors as soon as the clock chimes 9pm.
Professor Ben Ayade is stripping Cross River of its glory and allure, one misplaced and wrongheaded policy at a time.
He is so clueless, Cross Riverians have been wondering what hit them the day they voted him in.
Donald Duke and past visionary Governors of this Tourist State would be fuming as Ayade dismantles all they strove to erect.
This ‘North Korean Governor’ has certainly become the biggest joke in the land.