Is Ayade biting more than he can chew?
More than any other governor in Nigeria, Professor Ben Ayade of Cross River State stands out as one chief executive officer of a state who has reeled out capital intensive projects despite meager revenue allocation.
Within his first four months in office, he has highlighted major signature projects, including the popular plan to build 260superhighway road from Calabar to the boundaries of Benue State and the target to construct brand new deep seaport near Bakassi. Professor Ayade is also at the verge of establishing a garment factory for widows as well as a brand new cement factory.
He has also proposed the establishment of Green Police to teach people about sanitation and the need to guard the vast forests. The latest is the plan to build a world class poultry farm proposed to be sited in Ikom, an area located in the central part of Cross River State. The governor says it is part of an initiative to boost the economy of the state. Hence, he has contracted a Spanish firm, Cavenco, to commence with six thousand bird production per day. This will be increased later to 100 thousand birds per day within five years of its establishment.
None of these projects has shown any indication that it would firmly come on stream in the foreseeable future. In front of the cameras, containers, that carried prefabricated equipment to set up the garment factory, have arrived.
A political analyst, Mr James Ene, noted that the site of the garment factory had just been cleared whereas the world had been told that the actual work had reached a advanced stage.
Pundits believe that the governor who has so much in his mouth to chew needs to focus on a particular project in order to ensure its completion.
Last month, pregnant women, widows and some youths were invited from the three senatorial districts on different days as part of screening exercises for those who would be engaged at both garment factory and Green Police project.
Chief press secretary to the governor, Mr Christian Ita, confirmed that over 20,000 application letters were received from the widows and young people who wished to be employed.
But the government stated that it intended to employ 1000, but decided to add 500 because of the unprecedented turn-out of would-be workers.
“The Calabar Garment Factory is currently under construction and is expected to employ at least 1500 people, mostly women and widows,” a recent statement from Mr Ita said, adding that the promise to establish the factory was a way of curbing the increasing unemployment in the state.
But Mr Eteng Oden Bassey, a civil society leader, alleged that many of those screened by government staff for employment might have been replaced by relatives of government officials.
Speaking on the many Ayade projects, Mr Asuquo Etim Williams, a community leader wondered if the governor was not biting more than he could chew, considering the state’s huge debt profile.
“There are well-founded fears by people of the state and concerned Nigerians as to where Governor Ayade intends to raise funds to execute his long list of capitalintensive projects.
“This state is poor by every standard. Debts were left behind by his two predecessors, Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. We also receive about the least federal allocation. So, how is he going to wriggle himself out of the financial quagmire plaguing the state,” he quizzed
Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, a human rights lawyer and public commentator as well as Prince Hilliard Eta, the national vice chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had severally at different fora and in statements described the numerous projects as big scam, wondering where the governor would get the funds to finance the projects. Both feared that Ayade would further plunge the state into heavier indebtedness.
Meanwhile, a former secretary to the old Cross River State government and member of the 1994/1995 constitutional conference, septuagenarian Chief Wilfred Oden Inah, has challenged Governor Ayade, noting that his name is now at stake. Chief Inah said the governor should ensure that he executed his signature projects despite the state’s heavy debts.
“Those who are going to provide the money for deep seaport and 260 kilometre superhighway projects are not deaf or blind. Before they commit their money into projects of such magnitude, they would certainly examine the profitability of the projects and the ability of the government to repay.
“For me, the current debt should not stop Ayade from going ahead with these signature projects. With Ayade’s confidence over these two projects, I believe with his business background, he knows what he is talking about. I keep saying his name is at stake,” he added.
According to him, Ayade is quite different from his two predecessors because of his business background and acumen. He may not find funding for his projects difficult.
Chief Executive Officer of GoldPride, Mr Giuseppe Gemma, one of the investors in the projects, said his company would bring expertise to bear in the product of the garment factory.
Mr Gemma gave an assurance that stockings, towels, berets, sweaters, police and military uniforms among other wears of Italian quality would be produced from the factory.
There is still doubt over Ayade’s projects despite reports that different investors met him in Calabar in response to his several trips abroad after he was sworn in. But will these projects be executed? Only time will tell.
Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade