His herald in 2015 as governor of Cross River State was akin to the ascension of the biblical redeemer, as foretold by John the Baptist. He would make every crooked path straight. Others before him literally cleared the way and heralded his coming as a system purifier, one who would create the pathway to an economic Eldorado by recalibrating the economic architecture of the state through rapid industrialisation.
While others saw what was unachievable, Governor Ben Ayade came as one who saw the invisible, striving to achieve the impossible from what was hitherto unattainable. And like a man on a redemption mission, Ayade, since his assumption of office as governor, has been levelling knolls and filling valleys across the state, all in a bid to alter the ugly economic landscape of the past.
From the rocky mountain of Obudu to the rain forest of Ikom down to the creeks of Bakassi are unrelenting beehive of industrialization activities. Call him an eager beaver, if you like, and you won’t be wrong, ever in a hurry to deliver on his democratic promises to his people.
From the garment factory, Rice seeds and seedlings multiplication factory, Calabar Pharmaceutical factory, the 21 megawatts power plant, the Yakurr toothpick factory, the cocoa processing factory in Ikom, the ultramodern vitaminized rice mill in Ogoja, the state-of –the-art British/Canadian school in Obudu, the West Africa Teachers’ Teachers’ Continuing Training Institute at advanced stages of completion in Biase are several of Ayade’s huge strides in walking his talk.
In what is akin to squeezing water from a rock, Governor Ayade, in spite of the shoestring finances of the state, is soldiering on with projects that could only have been contemplated by states with deep pockets and humongous allocations.
Obviously punching above his weight in an effort to put the future in the hands of his people, having put money in their pockets in his first term, huge capital projects continue to dot the landscape, raising questions as to the source of funding for such undertakings. Such projects as to the 143kilometer Mfum-Yala-Bekwarra-Obudu-Obanliku ranch dual carriage road, the dualization of the 15kilometre Calabar Odukpani federal road; the ongoing construction of 6000 birds per day chicken processing plant called Calachika, the noodles plant also under construction, among others remain the undeniable imprimatur of a thinking and visionary leader.
While these legacy projects may not have gone unnoticed locally, resonances of the governor’s unremitting effort at making Cross River an industrial hub continue to send deafening echoes beyond the shores. During his courtesy visit to Governor Ayade in June, awestruck United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Regional Director to ECOWAS and Nigerian regional office, Dr. Jean Bakole, could hardly veil his excitement at the industrial revolution happening in Cross River, a boom in industrialisation with an impending boon for the citizenry. The UNIDO chief who is not a known cheerleader had more than an encouraging and inspiring word for the governor, describing his industrialization policy as a model for Africa.
Bakole who has trotted the continent evangelizing African leaders on industrialization, besides his impression of what Ayade is doing to etch an economic future for Cross Riverians, said the governor’s vision was in tandem with that of UNIDO for Africa.
“I think I have been to 44 African countries and my last posting was in Ethiopia. What I saw here in Cross River is exactly what the Ethiopian government is doing. Two years ago, I went to the garment factory in Ethiopia and what I saw at the Ethiopian garment factory is exactly what the Governor is doing here,” he said.
Committed, focused and dedicated leadership sure begets success. And if success is not a mere abstraction, but something measurable and tangible, then Bakole could not be more unsparing of accolades for a governor who has made ‘Digital’ his moniker for his rare feats and determination in diversifying the state’s economy through industrialization.
“We just visited a number of industrial initiatives, including the garment factory, integrated Agro industries, pharmaceutical factory. It is absolutely impressive to see this kind of innovative projects which shows clearly that when a leader is committed, everything can be done.”
Like a lone voice wailing stridently in the wilderness, Bakole wondered why the federal government dallies in handholding the governor in his pursuit of economic liberation for not just the people of Cross River, but for other Nigerians residing in the state who will benefit from several of his initiatives. While vowing UNIDO’s readiness to partner and support the state, the Regional Director threw a challenge to the federal government: “If the Governor continues like this, and gets the support at the federal level, this state is going to be the mirror of innovative industrial development activity in the country.”
In order that the state achieves its mirror and a reflection of innovative industrial development, Bakole volunteered UNIDO’s commitment: “I will like to encourage it and I will like to on behalf of UNIDO clearly indicate that we are going to partner with the governor, we are going to support him, we are going to mobilize a number of investors because to do this kind of investment, we have to recognize that without it, we cannot move ahead but we need a very good management and I think His Excellency shows that he has a vision.” Insisting that Ayade was already on the way to achieving one of the goals of Sustainable Development Goals, the UNIDO Regional Director was no doubt prognostic that his industrialization policy will go a long way in addressing issues of poverty and unemployment.
“I can see his commitment to move ahead with the development agenda of the state to address the issues of poverty, to provide jobs for youths and ensure better life for the people of Cross River and also to support the development of the entire nation of Nigeria,” he said.
On the state’s special economic zone, the Ayade Industrial Park, still awaiting the federal government’s official certification, Bakole had this to say: I told to my staff if I go to Calabar and I don’t have the opportunity to visit the Calabar special economic zone, it means my mission has no relevance. I have to go that special economic zone and know if it is the state’s initiative.
I said we must come to Calabar and see why they decided to set up this big special economic zone initiative.
“The industrial park development which I see is a new model. That is what I call eco-industrial park. we want to check the challenges and opportunities available and like I told His Excellency to also see how we can use the industrial initiative, design it in a way that will ensure that we move ahead together with the state to actualize your vision.” Lauded as peerless in ideas, innovations and vision, Ayade’s quest to make Cross River a leading light in the comity of states in Nigeria is poised for cross pollination from UNIDO following the commitment from the Regional Director. “I’m here to thank the commitment of your government and that we are here to support you, support your vision to make the state one of the best, most industrialized in the country and I if this is the way you are moving, already a step ahead, you are exactly what everybody should do now in the country. This is the time of the industrial point zero because we are in the first stage of industrial revolution.”
While Governor Ayade may not have had a whiff of the UNIDO roadmap launched in 2015 for an industrialized Africa, he had long begun its implementation without knowing it from the first day he was sworn in. This, however, did not go unnoticed by Jean Bakole. “What you are doing is in line with the road map we launched in 2015 for Africa and I can say that you are on the right path.
Obogo is Deputy Chief Press Secretary/Speech writer to Governor Ayade