A frontline chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under Governor Donald Duke administration in Cross River State, Eyo Ekpo, has taken a swipe at the Prof Ben Ayade administration, saying that the governor has failed to deliver on the mandate given to him by the people three years ago.
According to Ekpo, Ayade has killed the original vision put in place in 1999 upon which the state is standing, saying, therefore, that “it’s high time we recovered our mandate, which we gave to Governor Ayade in 2015 by 2019 and then restore the fabric of good governance in the state.” The former attorney general, who was also the first chairman of the Carnival Commission with many years experience in public service, said the Ayade administration has failed to make Cross River a tourism destination of Nigeria, adding that what the state needs now is “a governor that has our best interest at heart; that wakes up in the morning and thinks of how best he can develop the state.”
Zoning seems to be the singsong in Cross River State. Recently, the Northern Elders Forum from the Northern Senatorial District have insisted on keeping to the spirit of rotation which made it possible for Governor Ben Ayade from the same zone to emerge. Even some southern elders are also advocating maintaining the status quo. Do you subscribe to that as we prepare for 2019?
That’s not what they said, I heard that they said they deserve to have a second term, they did not say the governor deserves to have a second term. They said the North should get their eight years. Not a second term, but their eight years. Technically, it could be that I am from the North and they bring me to do four years, so they get their eight years. So, my answer to that is rhetorical. First, which of us is from Cross River? Can you mention which particular problem of the state that is zoned to the South, Central and the North? Do we agree that we have a problem today that is zoned to any part of the state? So, why are we zoning? Have we not gone beyond this level of prehistoric thinking? At this crucial moment, we need to think very clearly and ask ourselves what we really want in this state. This is the kind of divisive thinking that has created problem for us; we just need a good governor that nobody cares who he is or where he comes from; a governor that has our best interest at heart; that wakes up in the morning and thinks of how best he can develop the state. Besides, Donald Duke contested the election and the entire North was against him. How many votes did they give him, do you remember? Less than 8, 000 votes from the entire North made up of five local government areas. He came to Calabar took office and started work on the Ranch, Bebi Airstrip and other roads in Mbube and Ogoja all in the North. He did what a governor does by spreading an umbrella for all his people across the state rather than behaving like a typical Nigerian politician who would say to hell with them after all they are only five local government areas we can do without them.
This government of Governor Ayade has been in office for three years, do you think the dreams and visions right from 1999 have been maintained in the state?
Not all. That vision is dead. There is no continuity in it. There is no effort to even understand it, let alone pursue it. From 1999, the state was built around tourism. The state needed to become a place of inviting, both visitors and investment. We needed to maintain peace, law and order so that those people that will come up and will find an enabling environment to carry out their private assignment in terms of tourism and then build up on the infrastructure that will support those businesses and enable them produce.
So, we had a state with a vision to provide the means that will enable the people to help themselves. It was the private enterprise. The role of government is to enable people to better themselves.
Governments do not run businesses; they are not just set up for it. Even if you have a businessman who runs government, he cannot turn government into a business or into a series of businesses. We had the vision from 1999 of basically establishing Cross River state in the minds of people as a destination point. We had a platform that could invite investments and it actually happened. Thus, we came up with Calabar Carnival; TINAPA with multifaceted purposes; infrastructural development in the area of water, roads within the six major towns in the state. We equally invested in human capital, social welfare, health, human services and education. However, disconnect started in the second administration, and by the time we had the third administration, under Governor Ben Ayade, we had a fullscale burial of all the various policies. It is no longer a destination today, but a place where people run away from. I believe it is high time we recovered our mandate first, which we gave him in 2015; we have to restore the fabric of good governance in the state. It’s not rocket science. This state was built peculiarly based on an excellent relationship between the leaders of government and the governed. Two, we need human resource. They must be healthy and well educated. Three, we need infrastructure to accommodate visitors, businesses and tourists. This government has completely forgotten the tourism sector. There are tourist attractions, but there is no tourist sector that is identifiable. Tourism subsists and thrives where you have good infrastructure, law and order, pretty good health facilities and people who are well educated and conversant with the importance of tourism to their own environment and they welcome it.
The governor of the state has said his mission is to industrialise the state and take it away from the civil service status. So, is it not a contrast to your idea that government doesn’t have business doing business?
I have not seen an industrialization policy in Cross River. Policy is proposed; it is evidence based; it is quantitative, measurable and has targets. It is realizable, it is written and before it is finalized, it is thoroughly debated by all stakeholders. I would like to know when the state industrialization policy was developed and published. By the way where are the industries? Who is funding them? Is it from the budget of N1.3 trillion of which 96 per cent is unfunded? It was in the 1960s that we set out with the model of government organizing businesses. Then we did not have the resources, so government did banking, agriculture and its processing, mining and shipping until they discovered that they could not do anymore due to lack of resources. There is nothing today that the private sec- tor cannot do in this country.
Considering your stint at Carnival Commission, can you say the tourism drive in the state is still the way it used to be?
Tourism is dead in Cross River. This is not the time for us to continue to pretend about these things. The Ranch, the Bebi Airstrip, Alok monoliths, Drill Ranch, Marina Resort and Mary Slessor Tomb are all dead. The business visitors have all gone. Sit down at the airport and see the flights. We know ourselves and meet in Calabar; it was not like this before. Organizing carnival is not something that is strange. We have been organizing it in the last 12 years or thereabout. But what we had last December 2017 left much to be desired. It was almost in a shambles – it started very late, no coordination, so much co-mingling between the public and the crowds, no security. So, it’s not what it used to be, it leaves an unsavory taste in the mouth and one is just wondering, for how much longer we will continue like this. Today, a few travelers come into the state and do business only with the state governor. What we have today is a situation where every opportunity for private enterprise has been driven away deliberately. The administration has created a desert where you are the only source of water and then control that water such that nobody can drink it except you do certain things. That’s what is happening and that’s where we are heading for in Cross River and it needs to be stopped. Someone needs to get up and say this is not how to run a state with this kind of aspiration. Good governance is not an academic proposition.
Before now, Cross River used to be a place where people come, leave and be at rest. Today, insecurity seems to be one of the banes of tourism, leisure and business development. What do we do to get out of this quagmire?
The state is no longer a place where you say you are safe. Kidnappings have become a booming trade; cult wars are all over our streets and people are being killed. People go to social gatherings and as it gets dark, they dash home. It is so ridiculous to hear that Nigerian Bottling Company is no longer secure enough for them to do business here. The company rather relocated to a nearby state and we say we are serious about business. People are running out of Cross River State. Everyday people are making up their minds that this is not where they want to raise their children. How then do we expect this state to survive if our future, the young people, the youth, teenagers, little toddlers are being taken out by their parents. If this is where we are three years after the third dispensation of governance in the state, then it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that a second term for whoever is overseeing this deconstruction will mean the completion of that work for all of us and we all have to shut down and run out or surrender to a new kind of governance that does not have the interest of all of us. Again, I say that good governance is not an academic proposition for us. We have seen these things before and we know how they were dealt with.
We understand that you intend to challenge the incumbent. Can you tell us what’s your mission?
We gave a mandate on May 29, 2015 to the governor of this state. We elected him. I have absolute locus standi to get up and say you have failed me. I did not know him from Adams, but because he was presented by people I respect, and I had my misgivings, yet I still voted for him. Three years is more than enough for any government to indicate its direction. We are not going forward, but going backward at breakneck speed. I hear people say let him do his eight years. Who said there is anything like eight years? You were given the first four years and you have to earn the second four years. Please go and conduct a vox pop and tell me what the result is. We are in a political environment, the party structure of the PDP isn’t even talking about an election; there are no meetings, no caucuses being held at wards, chapter and state levels. I have been in public service at various high levels for the last 17 years and I know what good governance looks like. I believe that we are not getting it right this time. I also believe that if anyone else wants to, I have the right to stand up and say that things cannot continue as they are. It’s up to Cross Riverians to say that this cannot continue. I will go to them and say that there is nothing that a reasonable, right thinking person can see and say that we deserve as a state and should continue.