Mr. Christian Ita is the Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State. In this interview, he speaks on the state’s industrialization drive, among many other issues. Clement James reports
Less than two years to leave office, can you say Governor Ben Ayade has done well?
I think at the turn of the New Year, the governor in his message to the people of Cross River State did promise that his administration was going to finish strong and the events of the past few days have proven that to be true. Indeed, like somebody rightly observed in one of the publications I read, this governor will be the best governor ever in the history of Cross River in terms of infrastructural development. For example, the ultramodern rice mill in Ogoja, with a 10 ton per hour production capacity is ready for commissioning.
That rice mill is already producing and President Muhammadu Buhari will be there a few weeks from now to commission that project. As we were coming back from Ogoja to Calabar during our trip to northern Cross River, we also stopped at the cocoa producing factory at Ikom. The chocolate section that was delaying the take-off of the project has been installed and as we speak, it is producing chocolate bags and from the interaction we had, it can produce 20,000 chocolate bags in a week. The ultra-modern and out-of-this-world Teachers Continuous Training College in Biase is also ready for commissioning.
In fact, the next academic session, that school will be up and running, and the governor has already appointed a Provost but it’s not my place to announce who the Provost is. When you hear the calibre of the person, we are talking about, a for-mer Minister in Nigeria, then you will understand that this governor meant what he says that as an academic, he wants to leave a legacy in the educational sector. Also the British-Canadian University of Law and Medicine is 95 per cent ready. I don’t know of any school right now in this state that has the kind of infrastructure the school has.
Still in Obudu, the Specialist hospital is almost at the installation level and it is working hand in hand with Siemens through Choscharis. So, the equipment that will be in that hospital will be second to none. That was why the governor said during an inspection visit to the hospital that it would be a reference point in Africa. In that hospital, drugs might not be dispensed by humans but robots.
He is moving us from almost a ground-zero level to the one where robots will give you your drugs. Of course, work on the airport project is far gone, the tower for example which is going to be seven floor, they have reached the sixth floor already, and the power station is at the roofing level, while the terminal building is close to the roofing level. So, he has done a lot and he is doing a lot. The governor has certainly carried out massive investment in the state.
Most of these projects you have mentioned have not been completed and the governor has less than two years left of his term. Do you think he will complete them?
I can assure that these projects will be completed because if you check, they are at various stages of completion. If you check the Spaghetti flyover, what is even keeping it is that main work they are doing now.
There is speculation that the Teachers’ Training College in Biase, which you mentioned is not owned by the government. How true is that?
I don’t want to dwell on it because this is the only state, where some people don’t want to give the governor credit for what he is doing. That school has a dashboard and on the dashboard, you will see Cross River State government project, wholly owned by the state government. It is like when something is ultramodern and beautiful, it cannot be owned by the state government. Ayade has said it that when things look easy, it doesn’t interest him. He is only interested in things that look impossible and when he puts it up, people are scrambling. Like when Cally Air came, people were scrambling, trying to tell so many stories but at the end of the day, everybody knew that those stories were false.
Like you said, there have been stories about the Cally Air and the controversy still rages even now. Why did the government hand it over the aircraft to Aero Contractor?
We bought aircraft, go and find out in whose name those aircraft were bought. It belongs to Cross River State unlike other states that use aircraft from Egyptian Air, they don’t own it, but I don’t want to mention names. They own Air Operating License (AOC) but we don’t own it though we are in the process of getting it. While we give approval to register the aircraft, we are yet to get approval for AOC, so that was why instead of Cally Air we are having Cally, while the Air has been removed. Cross River is not the only institution whose aircraft are operated by another body. Why are we using Aero Contractor? It is because it has a long history in the aviation industry. Although Aero Contractor operates the aircraft, it has no single share in it.
The governor had promised from his first tenure that he was interested in the super highway. Why has this signature project not come to the fore?
You have forgotten that a number of people wrote petitions against the super highway, even the Federal Government based on those petitions, took Cross River State government to court and we were in court for three years and being in court means that we lost three years. Immediately we came out of it, not long after, COVID-19 happened and we lost another two years. But as I speak to you, because the road is in sections, the northern section which empties into Benue is being asphalted. So, work is going on there but the super highway got bogged down with unnecessary petitions and the court case. In spite of this, both the super highway project and the deep sea port are progressing.
Over 6,000 persons have been engaged by the governor as political appointees. More than 75 per cent of these appointees neither have an office nor do any form of duty. Do you think this is economically sensible?
The truth of the matter is that it depends on where your focus is. This is a government that places people above every other thing. The governor believes that people should come first before any infrastructure. Imagine that the 6,000 plus appointees that we have were left of governance like it was obtained in the past; do you know the rate of crime we would be battling with now? There is a relationship between poverty and crime, so part of the reason why there is relative peace in the state is because he has absorbed the army of young people. At least, there is that expectation that every month, people will pick up salaries and take care of their families, so that has brought down the social tension that would have arisen if the situation was otherwise, and that also helps him to concentrate in birthing these industries. Don’t forget that he has also said that the moment these industries begin production, most of these young men would be moved there to be properly engaged. So, it a stop gap measure where government must spend to keep the peace. Let me also say that you grow commerce by the number of people taking salaries because that means that there are more people buying from the market.
Does it make any sense that people are not working to justify their pay?
Let me remind you that the late MKO Abiola once said that government can decide to bring people to dig a hole and bring another set of people to cover it. That money you pay them would be spent in the markets and people will be able to pay their children’s school fees. If the governor employed just 90 people like it used to be in the past, what do you think this state will look like? Most countries have been giving money free to citizens because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Do you what COVID-19 did to the economy of the world?