Professor Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade, better known simply as Ben Ayade, is a multi-disciplinary academic. He has a string of five degrees in various fields: a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in Microbiology and a Ph.D in Environmental Microbiology, all from the University of Ibadan, a Master of Business Administration from Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, Edo State, and a Law degree from Delta State University, Abraka. Wikipedia says that, from his work in groundwater remediation in Nigeria, Ayade invented a sewage treatment plant powered by solar energy. He grew to become a professor at Delta State University. This 52-year-old man doesn’t look it because his boyish mien and the sharp parting of his hair on the left side of his head ensures that we see him simply as a young man.
By the arrangement of our governance culture here, when you are a professor, then a senator and a two-term governor you are obviously a very big man. We can simply call Ayade PSG (Professor, Senator, Governor). As a politician, he has fellows who follow him like eager puppies. In contemporary Nigerian political lexicon, you may call them hailers. There are also those who have a river of grievances against him. You may call them wailers. But hailers and wailers must exist in the life of any politician because hailing and wailing are part of the territory of politics. They come with the job. None of them should be classified as an insult. They are functioning titles that belong to the Office of the Citizen. These two groups may clash from time to time so that the politician can stay on the straight and narrow path that can lead to a better society.
Ayade has been knocked by critics on a number of issues. One of them is the arrest and detention without bail of a journalist named Agba Jalingo for many months, allegedly for treasonable felony and terrorism.
Civil society groups and lawyers had to rise like one man to fight for Mr. Jalingo’s freedom before he was set free. The case of Justice Akon Ikpeme, the most senior judge of the Cross River State High Court, who should, by seniority, be made the Chief Judge of the state, is still hanging fire. The woman who was born in Akwa Ibom State but is married to a Cross Riverian and has been practising as a judge in Cross River State for years has been pushed aside for the wacky reason of ancestral origin. Constitutional experts and fairness activists have slammed Ayade, who is a lawyer, hard. But the House of Assembly that should have pushed for propriety and fairness and justice allegedly claimed that the lady would constitute a security risk. Wonderful! Even though her husband and her children are bonafide Cross Riverians and she, by marriage, a Cross Riverian too. Some people have called it judicial conundrum.
Another decision taken recently by Ayade, which some people consider controversial, is the announcement he made abolishing the payment of tax by small-scale entrepreneurs, artisans and civil servants whose salaries are below N100,000 a month. I fail to see why that decision should worry the elite because extremely poor people can become a danger to any society. An empty purse is bound to fill the face with wrinkles and these wrinkles may become an unanticipated wahala for society. In poverty, people lack power except the power to go after their oppressors out of a sense of desperation. During the Peasants’ Revolt in France, the rich were the target. On that count Ayade is right, if he chooses to ask the rich to pay more so that the poor can let them sleep in peace.
Some of his critics say that he cries too easily and too often. Why is that a problem?
The tears belong to him. Even Jesus Christ of Nazareth wept. If a leader is moved to tears because of the pain that his people are going through, we should respect his sensitivity except there is a valid evidence that such tears belong to the crocodile. In fact, there is a precedent in this matter. The governor of Imo State in the Second Republic, Chief Sam Mbakwe, was a regular performer in that department and he came to be nicknamed the Weeping Governor. Today, Imolites having had a basis for comparison with his successors and have come to rate him as one of the peak performers among those who had governed the state. So, Ayade’s proclivity for lachrymal exertions is nothing novel and should bother no one who has the soft part of humanity in their genes.
Not a few are either enthralled or appalled by the linguistic showboating exemplified by the grandiloquence of the captions of his state budgets. Look at them: His first budget in 2016 was christened the Budget of Deep Vision; In 2017, he called it the Budget of Infinite Transposition; In 2018, he named it the Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation; In 2019, it was titled The Budget of Quabalistic Densification, while this yaer’s budget was crowned the Budget of Olympotic Meristemasis. I don’t know what quality of dictionary you have.
You may or may not find these magnific, bombastic and fustian expressions in your dictionary but you cannot deny that Professor Ayade is a well-educated man. He has proved that he has a vividly inventive mind. The beauty of building this wall of grandiloquence around each of the budgets is that the members of the House of Assembly, not being members of Ayade’s faculty of linguistic circumlocution, are bound to approve the budget speedily. That will be evidence that they understand. That will also be evidence that Ayade has the nimble brain of a smart politician and that he is a shrewd political strategist.
In this matter of grandiloquence, Ayade is in good company. In contemporary Nigeria, there exists a man called Mr. Patrick Obahiagbon, who was the Chief of Staff to Governor Adams Oshiomhole in 2011.
He is a lawyer who also holds a master’s degree in Public Administration, International History and Diplomacy. He comes out once in a while with his version of oratorical bombast and everyone runs for cover. Many of us may not understand what he says but whatever he says is sumptuous entertainment. Before him, there was a Nigerian politician called Dr. K.O. Mbadiwe. He was the author of the expression, “men of timber, calibre and caterpillar” and when he thought he needed just one word to encapsulate that expression he found it: juggernaut. When he was angling for the position of vice presidential candidate to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, he told his supporters that he wanted the job in order to give the Igbos a “psychological glorification.” When he didn’t get it he rationalised it for the purpose of dissonance reduction thus: “The vice presidency is a repeater station of a major station and of microscopic consequence.”
In the United States, there was a humorist named Celett Burgess. His favourite pastime was word minting. In 1914, he published a book, “Burgess Unabridged: A new Dictionary of words you have always needed.” It was a compilation of his own manufacture. His collection has been labelled Burgessisms. That is perhaps the equivalent of what is called today gobbledegook. Over the ages, while fantabulous words (my own coinage) may thrill some people they may also tranquilize others to the point of irritation. The word gobbledegook got its fame during the Second World War. At that time, a former Texas Congressman called Maury Maverick was infuriated by the high-sounding, obscure and esoteric bureaucratese used by his colleagues. To show how much he detested the use of gobbledegook when explaining simple matters he wrote a memo in which he directed all members of his department to “Be short and say what you are talking about. Stop ‘pointing up’ programmes. No more ‘finalising,’ ‘effectuating’ or ‘dynamics.’ Anyone using the words ‘activation’ or ‘implementation’ will be shot.” The good thing is that his decree ended in his department so no one in Nigeria is forced to choose between plain talk and the firing squad.
If Professor Ayade is a master of gobbledegook, he knows where to draw the line. At the inauguration of a collection of two-bedroom houses of gleaming newness for Bakassi Internally Displaced Persons, he spoke simply, lovingly, with chin-jutting pride. These buildings are fully-furnished housing units. There is water, electricity, solar lightning and other amenities for their comfort. These Bakassi indigenes became displaced when the Nigerian government ceded the oil-rich peninsula to Cameroon in 2002. Since then, they have been living in decrepit condition at a primary school in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of the state. Senator Florence Ita-Giwa has been a tireless campaigner for their rehabilitation for years. That was how she acquired the sobriquet Mama Bakassi. At the commissioning, she was moved to tears as Governor Ayade handed over the keys of the houses to the displaced persons. They, the beneficiaries were also in tears, tears of joy. Ayade said movingly: “I feel a sense of fulfilment to see my sons, my aunties, my mothers and fathers who lived in a clustered accommodation in a primary school with mosquitoes feasting on them now moving into their new homes. Today is not just about the joy to the people of Bakassi; it is the supremacy of the governance of a sensitive people over the failure of the Federal Government to be responsible for the pain of the people of Bakassi.”
His words, simple, plain words, flowed like water from a spigot; he spoke from the heart and received a storm of applause from the crowd because he has opened a new horizon of hope for these hapless people. In 18 years, there have been four Presidents of Nigeria and none of them considered rehabilitation of these people a front-burner issue. Yet these people were not responsible for their displacement. They were merely victims of an ill-thought-out strategy by the Federal Government for resolving the Bakassi imbroglio.
Their neglect by the Federal Government was a tragedy of immense dimension, a cruel and unconscionable approach to governance, an unpardonable exhibition of insensitivity to people in distress. For 18 years, their tears flowed ceaselessly because the situation seemed to have deprived them of hope, and hope is the only assured wealth of the poor. On this day of the commissioning, they cried again but the tears were different. They were tears of joy, tears of hope restored, tears that indicated that their misery and pain had now expired and a new life was unfolding before their eyes. They were putting their refugee status behind them forever. There is a Roman satirist Juvenal who wrote Duas tantum res anxius optat panem et circenses (meaning that “the people long for two things, bread and circuses.” Juvenal thought that these were the palliatives that the people needed anywhere to starve off discontent). Ayade offered them both bread and circuses when the Federal Government failed, refused or neglected to do its duty. President Muhammadu Buhari still has an opportunity to rectify the situation by compensating the Cross River State government.
Well, no matter what may be Governor Ayade’s sins in the eyes of his critics, he is unerringly right on this one.