Leadership Governor of the year 2019: Prof Ben Ayade of Cross River state

For igniting an industrial revolution that has positioned Cross River State on the pedestal of sustainable economic growth, for building factories with zonal spread across the state, providing job opportunities for youths and women, rebuilding the state’s decrepit infrastructure, as well as empowering his people economically with his agricultural transformation agenda, Prof Benedict Ayade is Leadership Governor of the Year 2019.

Fondly referred to as the ‘digital governor’ by his admirers, every step taken by Governor Benedict Bengioushuye Ayade validated the pivotal role education and exposure play in the governance system in the 21st century knowledge-driven economy. Ever sassy and focused, he has redefined what scientific and deliberate leadership is all about.

Since he assumed office on May 29, 2015 he has never taken any policy decision without targeted aims and objectives. For instance, while it has become customary in our clime for governors to dish out yearly ritual of budgeting circle without its impact on developmental strides, Governor Ayade will not be part of such routing. His annual appropriation bills are deliberate and targeted at sectors that will have lineal benefits to other sectors.

Hate him or like him, the Cross River State helmsman is in a class of his own, especially with the manner in which he deploys scientific and technological terms in christening his annual appropriation bills. For 2018, it was “Budget of Kinetic Crystalisation”; in 2019, it crystalised into a “Budget of Qabalistic Densification” and most recently, the 2020 budget he presented before the state legislature sent most Nigerians doffing their hats for the governor. The 2020 fiscal document densified into something more concrete: “Budget of Olimpotic Meristemasis.”

The cumulative effect of Ayade’s scientific and calculated approach to governance has, indeed, crystalised into an industrial revolution that is gradually redirecting Cross River State to the path of sustainable economic growth in the last five years. What Governor Ayade has turned Cross River to today bears eloquent testimony of what is possible when a combination of education, determination and dint of hard work is encapsulated in one man.

If there is any governor in the South South geopolitical zone of Nigeria who has been able to match words with action, it is Ayade. On the day of his inauguration, he told the people of the state that after being sworn into office for a second term he will have nothing to do within the cozy confines of his office, as he would be spending most of his time in the field playing the role of a project manager and supervisor, while his deputy, Prof. Ivara Ejemot Esu, takes charge of official matters in the office.

As part of his undustrialisation drive, the governor landscaped the vast marshy area around the Jonathan By-pass in Calabar where he erected an imposing structure of 5000sqm floor space Garment Factory. The clothing plant has provided employment opportunity for over three thousand unemployed youths and widows, hence reducing the number of young people roaming the streets of the state.

This transformation and industrialisation drive has earned the governor accolades both locally and internationally. President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Oshinbajo, American Ambassador to Nigeria, Service Chiefs and other international dignitaries, upon visiting Cross River, all spoke impressively about his industrial development in the state.

Ayade’s efforts to create an industrialised economy for his state received a huge boost recently when the Nigerian Air Force announced that it was partnering the state government for the production of uniforms for its personnel at the state garment factory. In appreciation of the governor’s giant strides, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, announced during a courtesy visit to the governor that the Air force will purchase uniforms locally from the Calabar garment factory, a decision he said was in line with President Buhari’s directive to the Nigerian Armed Forces to lay more emphasis on local content.

Apart from the garment factory, which has created jobs for the teeming youths and women in the state, Governor Ayade constructed Africa’s first ever vitaminised automated rice seeds and seedlings factory at the Calabar industrial park where rice seedlings of improved variety are raised for rice farmers across the three senatorial districts of the state. With the rice seedlings factory in Calabar and a world class automated rice mill in Ogoja, the Ayade rice revolution resonates beyond the shores of the state.

The massive Calabar ultra-modern rice factory which was commissioned June last year by President Buhari has already commenced production. The state is projected to generate N70 billion annually from the factory. The federal government through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) recently placed a N3 billion order for the state to supply rice seedlings to all the states in the southern part of the country. The Ogoja rice mill is also Africa’s first automated vitaminised rice mill. About 90 per cent completed with virtually all the equipment installed, the mill parades the latest technology and promises to turn Cross River into Nigeria’s rice hub.

To sustain his industrialization drive, the governor also embarked on construction of a pharmaceutical company called Calapharm at the industrial park around Jonathan By-pass which he has already handed over to experts from Europe to aggressively begin the manufacturing and production of pharmaceutical and cosmetics products to check capital flights to countries of Europe and America on daily basis. Work is currently ongoing for the Calabar pharmaceutical company, with investors scrambling for a space in the already charged investment climate of the state.
Also, the ultra-modern automated Cocoa processing plant at Ikom is 98 per cent completed with an installed capacity of over 50,000 tons. The plant is wired to process cocoa beans into chocolate bars. Over 5million cocoa seedlings have already been raced to ensure that the plant does not lack produce. The plant is designed to generate $100million annually for the state.
Governor Ayade initiated a poultry and livestock policy in line with his commitment to broadening the frontiers of state’s economy, leading to the establishment of the Cross River poultry farm and livestock limited and Calachika chicken processing plant, with installation of equipment at 80 per cent completion stage. When the poultry farm/live Stock facility, which is primed to have six broiler houses each with 22,000 birds, becomes operational, it would clearly and firmly establish Nigeria ahead of three other African countries- Ghana, Ethiopia and Tazania- as the doyen of poultry production in Africa.

The multi billion Naira Calachika chicken processing plant at the Calabar Industrial Park, about five minutes’ drive from Odukpani, will be dependent on the poultry farm to feed it with birds when completed. The plant is targeted at processing 6,000 frozen chickens daily, both for local consumption and export. Not long ago, Governor Ayade had this to say about his vision for agro-economy as it relates to livestock/poultry: “We are tired of chasing petro-dollars. Our target now is agric-dollars; we want to produce Agricpreneures businessmen in the poultry industry who will be exporting chickens from here”.
Another project which Ayade holds dear to his heart is the toothpick factory in Ekori, in Yakurr local government area of the state. In order to reduce importation of toothpick from China which amounts to capital flight to Asian countries, the governor commissioned the project and charged the people of Ekori to go into bamboo farming so that funds budgeted for raw materials can go into their pockets through the provision of bamboo, which is a basic raw material for toothpick factory.

Since assuming office on May 29, 2015, he has brought his vision, passion, humanity, pedigree, and above all, his nimble and midas touch to bear on governance in the state’s socio-economic landscape. Across the 18 local government areas of the state, there is a congruence of opinion that he is the right choice.

When he dared to actualize his dream of a deep seaport and a superhighway that would create an elixir for economic emancipation for the state, some critics had insisted that he was on a wild goose chase. But with the level of work currently going on at the Bakassi deep seaport and the 276 kilometre six-lane superhighway, the governor has beaten the critics to a silent stupor. Today, what began like an eerie and mysterious start to the superhighway and the deep seaport is gradually unfolding into an epic adventure that will soon unfold into a pleasant reality. While trying to give the state a first-class infrastructure such as the construction of a superhighway and the deep seaport, Ayade is not unmindful of striking a delicate balance between providing infrastructure and building human capacity.

Industrially, Governor Ayade has continued to point the way forward and raising the bar, quietly challenging leaders at all tiers of government on what difference vision, creativity, focus and persistence can make in the life of a state. In every part of Cross River State, the mark of good governance is all too striking: industries with zonal spread, reengineered schools, rehabilitated and well equipped hospitals, peace and security, economic empowerment and agricultural transformation.

It is no longer secret that while most states in the country are
grappling with or literally asphyxiated by the pangs of payment of salaries, Governor Ayade has ensured that civil servants in the state are paid as early as between 25th and 26th of every month. This gesture has, no doubt, endeared him to the state’s workforce, a development they describe as rather uncommon. In absolute fidelity to his words that the wages of honest labour shall liberate families from the clutches of hardship and hunger,
Governor Ayade, barely two months in office, passed into law tax exemption bill for state workers earning below N30,000 a month as well as the exemption of levies for artisans, petty traders operating in the state.

Obviously, nothing can be more fulfilling than the realisation of the Calabar 23 megawatts power plant. The power plant that started in 2016 was recently switched on, taking the Cross River State capital and its environs closer to 24-hour uninterrupted power supply, a dream Ayade vowed must be realised. At Tinapa, the construction of the 26 Megawatts gas fired power plant is in progress.

Road and housing infrastructure have also received unparalleled attention. The Tinapa junction- Odukpani bye-pass dualization has also witnessed increased tempo. Contractors, at the behest of the governor, are at the project site working on a daily basis to deliver the road as scheduled.

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