Ben Ayade and lessons for other governors
“The ontological kinetics of the road started with the loss of oil wells, consequent to the loss of Bakassi. The state was reduced to want. It became imperative to reconstruct a new means of production and open a new horizon to get our teeming young men employed.” — Ben Ayade, Governor, Cross River State, at the Flag off of the New Super Highway.
I AM from Imo State (not Cross River Sate). My interest in Cross River is basically that since 1999, the state seems lucky with above average governance. Calabar has been my first choice whenever I have to schedule meetings, workshops, conferences and such events, a lot of which we did at the Nigerian Environmental Study Action Team (NEST) Ibadan. Security and cleanliness are factors that count for Calabar, especially as we had to invite many foreign experts. Some persons have expressed worries about the super highway which has just been flagged-off, with economic and environmental issues mentioned.
Cross River has had above average governance compared to most other states. Donald Duke and his push for tourism, and then the Tinapa for instance, which sadly is a huge failure, stands out. The push for tourism has been largely successful, and there is no doubt that sector is an important contributor to the Cross River economy, creating jobs and incomes. Tinapa remains a sore thumb, and in my assessment is because of a disconnect from the people. A people who are ordinarily not famed for trading having to host a trading hub? Dubai is a success because, among other factors, there is a local trading culture. The lesson here is the need for people-centered problem analysis, prior to public sector priorities, not what and how a Governor feels.
The Government failed to reach out to nearby centres of commerce, which include Duala to the East, and Aba to the West, and her business class, and not even Onitsha which is highly patronised by traders from surrounding West and Central African countries. The Tinapa was not strategically marketed. The Federal Government was absent in playing any complementary role, the least of which should have been improved transport infrastructure into Central Africa. In addition, why has no one thought of a Dual Carriageway from Calabar to Uyo and Aba? This is about attracting financial inflows into the Cross River economy.
The missed opportunity of the era of robust crude petroleum earning for most states, was aided by governance lacking in robust problem analysis, and not sufficiently deep in thought. The starting point should, of course, have been the need to expand the economic opportunities of states while robust funds flowed in. Rather, most governors preferred expenditures without multipliers and hampered by the inability to expand the economies. Related to this is the inability to identify sectors that will act as drivers of each economy. The key to this is what investment would attract financial inflows into a state.
Outside Cross Rivers, there have been few states such as Kwara under Governor Bukola Saraki who conceptualized an agriculture-driven economy, sought to attract foreign farmers, tried linking them with local farmers, and then investment in infrastructure to drive trade, especially the export sector. Delta State under Governor Uduaghan in his first tenure tried to promote a vision of alternative cost-effective use of the ports in the state, and tried getting Onitsha and Nnewi traders shift from Lagos to Delta ports. Ogun, more like having greatness thrust at her, has become Nigeria’s most intellectual state, with the highest concentration of universities, and also industries spilling over from Lagos. Outside these, you do not find easy examples of governance that has tried to create a driver for the economy of the state. Now most states are stranded with crude oil earnings very poor and with that the inabilities of states to fund even civil servants wages.
Some states suffer from missed opportunities and inability to step up the act. Notably, Nasarawa State which has allowed the Nyanya and Mararaba areas emerge as cheap slums despite being very close to Abuja Highbrow Asokoro, and the Central Business District. These parts of Nasarawa State are closer than most parts of the FCT to the Central Business District. A government with deep thought and a grand vision should have developed those areas to take advantage of high property costs of Asokoro and the Central District. Missed chance. A state like Imo which produces annually the highest number of JAMB applicants has failed to see education as a major industry and find a way to compete with Ogun State in universities and the financial inflows arising therefrom which currently must be a significant part of Ogun State’s domestic product, job creation, and tax earnings.
The volume of traffic on that road, including export of even oranges from Nigeria is very significant not to state goods from Onitsha, especially manufactures. I tried checking into Top Rank Hotel in Onitsha Tuesday, October 20, 2015 and found no room.
Reason being that Cameroonian traders came in huge numbers and there was no room left. From the north to the south, the eastern axis of Nigeria is comparatively less developed, while being more notorious for social and political crises. Perhaps because more of Nigeria’s rulers have come from the western axis from the North to the south, infrastructure on the western axis of Nigeria is more developed. Travelling from Lagos to Cotonou, Lome or Accra, is like an everyday matter, but travelling from Calabar to Yaoundé, Limbe, or Bamenda, seems psychological so far off. The super highway from Calabar to Benue State, even up to Maiduguri ought to have been built decades ago. It should make access to Ikom and Cameroun easier, and help the Obudu resort, and even make the Cross River National Park more accessible. It could help tourism, and may also help the Tinapa. What is needed is to create synergy among these, especially trade and tourism, ensuring the state does not lose her niche in greenness, security, and cleanliness.
The lesson for other governors then is what? Governance should not be waiting monthly for the Accountant-General to return from Abuja, and sharing what has been brought home. It is not about taking loans from commercial banks to fund recurrent expenditure without an idea of how to generate funds to pay back. I am not sure many governors understand that crude oil price may not be rising soon. Not many seem to realise that we may be heading, or already in the pre-1966 situation where the states (then the regions) have to embark on the export of commodities to earn incomes to fund their programmes and projects. In serious countries, governance is also about creating drivers for economic growth and expansion. It is about identifying sectors that will drive the economies. It is about what to do to attract investments into the economy. Simple question for the governors is, which is the sector driving the economy of your state, and what are you doing about it?
• Professor Nwajiuba is the Dean, School of Postgraduate Studies, Imo State University, Owerri.