If the submission of American author, Jonas Salk that the reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more holds true, then, Cross River State governor, Professor Ben may have to buckle down as the outcome of the September 30, 2018, Cross River State governorship primary has imposed on him another huge burden of expectation.
Emerging as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the 2015 and ultimately winning a landslide at the governorship poll, Ayade was under no illusion that he had his work cut out for him as the tasks ahead of him then were no doubt onerous and daunting.
While many, given the circumstance, would have wailed and whined and probably caved in, Ayade turned the challenge into an opportunity to prove his quality of leadership in the face of adversity. He spared no moment in telling anyone who cared to listen that he inherited a state very rich. And “rich” indeed Cross River was when he took over.
For the university teacher turned politician, the time was indeed a test of leadership. He would prove in no time that leadership was not about title or designation. It is about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact in achieving results, influence in spreading the passion you exude for your work and the inspiration to inspire hope in others under you.
For Governor Ayade, all he did was to gaze into the future to see what others could not see. He saw a state with abundant opportunities, he saw prospects, he saw industries sprouting from the creeks of Bakassi through the rainforest of Ikom to the mountains of Obudu.
Like the biblical Joseph and the late American Civil Rights icon, Martin Luther, he had a dream. A dream of an industrialized, prosperous Cross River. But he knew that that dream would not become reality through magic, it would take sweat, determination and hard work.
As a leader in a hurry and ahead of his time. Ayade dreamed big, talked big, and envisioned an Eldorado for his people, in spite of the shrunk economy and shoestring budget at his disposal. He put his soul above the odds, allowing his body to wade through.
Today, the narrative has radically changed from lamentation to joy, from near doom to boom, despair to hope. Against all odds, he ramped up the socioeconomic life of his people through prompt and regular payment of salaries, de-embargoed employment into the state civil service, reequilibrated the class structure by bringing more people into government as a way of putting food on the table.
What more, the governor, desperate to quickly change the state’s economic landscape, embarked on a catalytic industrialization drive through the establishment of what today is arguably the biggest garment industry in Africa. The setting up of the garment factory was in keeping to his promise of ensuring that no child goes to bed on an empty stomach under his watch. Unarguably, the factory has dramatically brought a sense of belonging to over 3000 Cross River women, most of whom are widows.
In spite of the cynicism that has often trailed his big dreams and big talks, Ayade remains unfazed by continuously defying the odds. For him, selfless service to the state is the rent he has to pay as a servant leader.
With courage in his heart and victory in his soul, the Obudu born Environmentalist vowed that the orphan status Cross River was long reduced to before his ascension to power as governor would be a thing of the past.
Less than four years as governor, he has meticulously rewritten the hitherto ugly chapter of the state with industries of different shapes and sizes dotting the length and breadth of the state. Vowing to ensure one industry per local government, Ayade has matched words with action with well over twelve industries already spread across the state and still counting. The Southern Senatorial Zone plays host to about five of these industries, the Calabar Garment Factory, Calabar pharmaceutical Company (Calapharm), the Rice seedling and multiplication centre, recently commissioned with fanfare by no less a person than President Muhammadu Buhari, Sancarlos banana plantation at Odukpani, cultivated for shipment abroad. There is also an ongoing construction of a factory designed for the production of vibrated electric poles and pylons at Akamkpa.
The Central zone is also being blessed with the luxury of a world class cocoa processing mill, the first in Africa. This is besides the tooth pick factory in Yakurr, already built and awaiting official commissioning; establishment of feeds mill and maize farm in Obubura.
The Northern Senatorial District is not left out either as an ultramodern, automated rice processing plant in Ogoja is also ready for launch.
Cross River is currently on the WHO health performance radar as a few of the safest places in the country to give birth, just as it is has gone a notch higher on other indicators like WAEC. These were no happenstances but a product of painstaking efforts by the governor.
These are all no mean feats for a state whose monthly internally generated revenue (IGR) hovers around the region of six and eight hundred million, with an inflow from the federal allocation so measly that it can hardly address the humongous monthly wage bill.
Yet the governor has continued to punch above his weight and beyond the carrying capacity of a state reduced to want in soul, body and spirit, yet with construction of more and more industries still ongoing.
So, when on September 30, a rallying cry came for him to heed another clarion call and extend his stewardship by another four years, it was purely altruistic and borne out of appreciation and the realisation that he did not only exceed expectations but also succeeded in raising the bar in terms of performance.
Like Joshua in the Bible, Ayade has been given yet another charge, this time round, to usher the people of Cross River into the promised land by 2023; it was a reward to complete that which he started off nearly four years ago.
For the past three and a half years, the governor has stayed focus, strong and courageous, knowing that he could achieve anything he set his mind to. More importantly, he was courageous enough to scale up the ambition of the state, which is to be among the best economies and the first world in the comity of states. He refused to be weighed down by the stereotypes that have held the state back for ages. Instead, he is daily being driven by his personal passion, talent and interest to build a state where generations today and tomorrow will be proud of.
That no one contested against him for the PDP ticket in the face of a huge clamour for him to do a second term, was a clear a demonstration of how unwittingly he made the contest difficult for others with his stellar accomplishments in his first term in office.
In an exercise that was more of a stroll in the park, the governor received an overwhelming affirmation, garnering a whopping 1927 votes from a process that galvanised delegates from the 18 council areas of the state.
While one would agree with Ayade that it was no doubt the will of God, the fact on the day spoke clearly for itself that the people were pleased with the way he has acquitted himself in the past three years. And there was no better way to express it than reward him with yet another mandate to do more for his people come 2019.
Thanking the delegates for the howling endorsement of his economic restructuring agenda, the governor allowed: “I came with the mission to restructure the economy of the state. I want to assure Cross Riverians that I am poised to completing the economic restructuring of the state
For a man whose way pleases God, according to the scriptures, even his enemies will be at peace with him. And for Ayade, his ways please both God and his people. Little wonder that even principalities and powers could not stop the process, instead, they came together to felicitate and chorus his glittering performance.
With the charge now given, what the governor needs as the electioneering is about to officially kick off, is total support, an unflinching commitment to the course and an unanimity of purpose to deliver him against a possible tidal wave and raging storm. It is only that way that victory can be assured and the fruits of democracy guaranteed. Anything short of that will spell doom and set the state back to the dark ages; and the success story of the economic restructuring begun three years back will have paled into oblivion. This will be too grave to contemplate.