When Ben Ayade became governor of Cross River in 2015, he followed former governors Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke who led the state from 1999 to 2007 and 2007 to 2015 respectively. The daunting task that lay ahead was not just about leading Cross River State and its people, but of providing worthy succession and continuance of the legacies preceding his tenure. The flamboyant helmsman, popularly hailed as the “digital” governor would have to cough up more than a few gigabytes in order to be of any reckoning against the exploits of his predecessors; most notably of former governor Donald Duke.
However, in a bid to dissociate his administration from the status quo and create a niche that he alone could fill, he inadvertently isolated himself from the very people he should hold dear and the invaluable assistance they owe him on his sworn mission.
Indeed his administration has been characterized as unilateral and the state’s affairs are run with negligible consultation. His government has been markedly dictatorial, eschewing rebuke or criticism. The State House of Assembly is routinely ridiculed for being a spellbound rubber stamp institution in perpetual alignment with the governor’s whims, instead of an independent, forward-thinking legislative arm looking out for the good people of the state.
The sting of irony is particularly potent considering that even while having over 4,000 political appointees (advisers, commissioners, assistants, etc.), the state legislative body and other establishments for guidance; the governor atypically prefers to rely on the counsel of his close aides and family members such as his younger brother or “co-governor” Dr. Frank Ayade.
Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey, a Catholic priest and CEO of Caritas Nigeria, commented in the early days of his administration: “The new man is doing his best to stamp his own footprints in the sands of time. He is so full of innovation that he has left everyone confounded. He seems zealous and impatient to move the state forward but he requires a little more orthodoxy.”
Continuing, he explains: “He is obviously the most academically qualified governor, with six degrees…and he has some of the brightest ideas. He doesn’t need to have gone through it all by himself; there are lessons to learn from others.”
“…he should turn around and accept that governance is not about impulsive pronouncements and actions that are not firmly grounded…”
Many of the governor’s promises have been impulsive and poorly grounded, and any opposition to his “bright ideas” is simply ignored or smothered by adulatory chants of “digital governor, na you we know.”
For instance, the ebullient governor blatantly rejected the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report that condemned his signature projects for lacking sustainability and being environmentally porous (the Bakassi Deep Sea port and Calabar – Katsina-Ala superhighway). Not too long after, plans for a mega rally were put together to endorse the incumbent governor’s candidature for the 2019 elections, highlighting the uncompleted superhighway as his signature achievement and symbol of integrity.
Lamenting on the governor’s one-sided approach to leadership, gubernatorial aspirant for the 2019 elections Emmanuel Ibeshi insists: “A good government must be responsive; there must be consensus building as a policy framework. How can any leader lead by merely imposing his or her will on the people?”
Ayade has shunned the collaborative governance associated with previous administrations, turning Cross River into a family affair instead. Frank Ayade, the governor’s brother, who has no portfolio and is thus not accountable to anyone, is widely known as ‘co-governor’, while the deputy governor, Ivara Esu, is reduced to a piece of furniture adorning the corridors of Diamond Hill.
The result of this unilateral style of governance is plain for everyone to see. Cross River has gone backward over the last three years, with institutions that have historically contributed to the smooth running of the state being totally ignored.
It is urgent to end this current situation, to recover and restore functional and collaborative government to Cross River. The state is bigger than any one man or family, and we run the risk of destroying the legacies of the past. It is time for Cross Riverians to come together and ensure this does not happen.