Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River had set out to industrialise the state, a move that drew the applause of residents and other people across the country. To achieve this supposed dream, he established 38 factories across the state, but from all indications, these projects do not seem realisable. And the people are not happy, as all that can be seen are mostly empty structures meant for the variously amplified projects.
Daily Trust reports that 95 per cent of these projects are still undergoing construction or have hardly taken off. Some seem to have been abandoned, but government spokespersons would suggest that they are already up and running.
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There are reports that the governor often unilaterally initiated these projects and the State House of Assembly would later merely endorse them. And members of his cabinet would hardly hear about them.
When the governor attended the rice pyramids exhibition in Abuja few months ago, he announced that President Muhammadu Buhari would personally visit his state to commission two of his latest ‘ultra modern’ rice factory in Yala Local Government Area, as well as a cocoa processing plant in Ikom few weeks after, but the people took it with a pinch of salt. The cocoa plant has not churned out a single bar of chocolate ever since it was purportedly established.
The special adviser to Governor Ayade on cocoa development, Oscar Ofuka, said the factory had reached an advanced stage, and that Nigeria would have no need to process its raw cocoa into beverages outside the country.
The president is yet to commission the two factories as the governor promised; perhaps he fears that he might be disappointed.
In September 2015, four months after the president took oath of office, he flew into the state to do a groundbreaking ceremony for the superhighway the governor said would stretch from the fringes of Bakassi to the boundaries of Benue State as an evacuation corridor for another mega project, the Bakassi Deep Seaport. The president had given the governor two years for him to return and commission the road project, but few months to the end of his tenure, the vast forests cleared for the superhighway are still there, while protests and petitions by various communities and non-governmental organisations have not gone away.
Nothing is heard in that direction anymore, except complaints from the state that the federal government was not giving it the desired support.
The same complaints are heard over the proposed deep seaport. So it is believed that the two amplified signature projects that signaled Ayade’s coming to power would not start, let alone be completed.
Below are some of Ayade’s phantom projects:
Cally-Air, one of the 38 projects said to have been established by Governor Ayade, was thrown into a weighty controversy over ownership. Our correspondent reports that the state government actually bought two aircraft, but without an airline operating licence, it could not fly with the name, Cally-Air. So they contracted Aero Contractors to operate it under their name.
After supposedly establishing the airline, the state had started hiring and training staff in Lagos and assigning duties to them at Calabar, Abuja and Lagos airports before going to source for statutory legal documents needed to operate in the industry.
It is said that Jake Otu Enyia, the commissioner for aviation, had no idea of the business. As a lawyer and accountant, his only qualification for the job was that the governor saw the achievements he recorded as the director-general of the state electricity agency and being an outspoken member of the state House of Assembly.
“The governor believed much in my capacity, so I had to start learning afresh on the job. So far, it has not been disappointing. The Cally-Air project actually came on stream and everyone saw that the aircraft flew. We are at the verge of purchasing more aircraft. We want to run it as a private enterprise. We have interviewed the management staff,” he had said.
Also speaking about Obudu airport, Enyia told journalists that, “The Obudu International Cargo Airport is the smallest given the topography, but almost all that is needed has been done. Jumbo aircraft will take off and land in Obudu. We are working towards commissioning it soon.”
Ayade further began to construct what he called Aerotropolis City, a hangar where aircraft would be repaired.
Another drainpipe is the CallyPharm, a firm expected to make pharmaceutical products. It is located beside the popular garments factory in the Ayade Industrial Estate, a sprawling land mass where two more indolent factories are.
Equipment are reported to have been installed in the CallyPharm over two years ago, but why it has not been opened for activities is a big question.
The Rice Seedlings Multiplication Laboratory situated nearby was always full of activities whenever the governor took his guests there, but soon after that, it would be locked.
The governor said the rice city was to churn out highly improved “Calas 77” seeds to the rest of Nigeria and generate N70 billion annually for Cross State.
Furthermore, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo actually came to the state to formally commission the garment factory four years ago after hundreds of industrial sewing machines were installed. Workers, mostly young women and so-called widows, were engaged, but there were reports that the state government could not pay them.
The garment factory appeared to be the only one functional as the public was told that some schools in Akwa Ibom and some units in the military had placed orders for uniforms and berets. Ayade had even boasted that he and his commissioners would only wear textile materials from the factory. This was not adhered to.
The governor further established a cotton factory in Yala Local Government Area to feed the factory.
Presently, it is doubtful if this factory is making progress or even running at all.
There is another factory expected to produce feeds and fertiliser inside the industrial layout. It is fully equipped, but is it operational?
As a way of building housing estates to decongest city centres, the governor had taken far-reaching steps to build three new cities. He called them Calas Vegas. It was to be situated across the Calabar River in the southern senatorial district, not far from The Peregrine, his official residence. It is said that a staggering sum of money was sunk into dredging the water, but so far, only one bungalow was erected on the small reclaimed portion of the river.
The one to be built in the central district is called Centicourt, while the one to be located in the northern district was to be known as Nostradam.
He created a New Cities Ministry and appointed a commissioner to oversee its activities. Some companies from overseas were contracted to ship prefabricated objects that would serve as houses for the cities. But so far, nothing more is heard in that direction.
Bakassi housing estate
The governor made a show of this housing estate meant for returnees who were affected by the ceding of the peninsular to Cameroon following the judgement by the International Court of Justice. It was to the complement the efforts of the federal government to resettle the people. The project was, however, bedeviled by controversy as mostly government officials were alleged to have been allocated the apartments. The situation was saved on October 24, 2020 when hoodlums, under the infamous EndSARS protest, ransacked it. Today, it is a ghost town.
To ensure that there was power supply constantly to the two Calabar local government areas (Calabar Municipality and Calabar South), Ayade established a 23-megawatt power plant along the Goodluck Jonathan bypass. He also planned to establish a 26-megawatt power plant in Tinapa city.
He invested a lot of action and time to ensure that it came on stream. He appointed Iyadim Amboni Iyadim, now chairman of Bakassi Local Government Area, as his special adviser on the project.
There were allegations that the power machines installed in the two locations were inferior. Up till now, the two places are still in darkness.
Ayade had announced that his government would further establish two megawatts of electricity generating plants in each of the 18 local government areas of the state through the Industrial Project Services (IPS) from South Africa.
The public is yet to be told what has become of the poles, piles and pylons of the factory situated on the way from Calabar to Ikom. A structure has been erected on a cleared forest site of about 10 plots of land. It was to manufacture plumbing materials and other things, but production is yet to start.
Similarly, the Yala roofing and tile factory is yet to commence operation. The governor had said that it would manufacture the best roofing sheets and tiles in West Africa.
Again, there is the West African Fabrication Academy in the heart of Calabar, meant to train jobless youths on how to fabricate machines of assorted types. Many youths showed interest, not minding how it would turn out. But no action is yet taking place
The governor also decided to establish a groundnut oil processing factory to harness the potentials of the people of Bekwara Local Government Area, who are known for growing groundnuts.
He also established the Obubra Cassava Processing Factory to harness the benefits embedded in the cash crop. But how many stores in the state have starch products for sale?
Another project that residents say exposes the state government’s insincerity is the one called Calachika Automated Poultry and Meat Processing factory. It is a poultry and chicken processing factory that functions only during the yuletide. Poultry structures are fully erected while the chicken processing house is undergoing construction.
A resident, Ene Williams said, “We hardly see chickens or broilers in this government poultry. But it will come to life during the Christmas season.
“For two seasons now, government people would bring chickens and announce that they were reared here, but that’s not true. They will then sell them at giveaway prices. After Christmas you will not see them again.”
Last December, Governor Ayade said the factory was capable of producing birds and eggs that could feed the state and the entire South-South.
Another of Ayade’s project the people usually make open jest of is the endless construction of the so-called ‘Spaghetti flyover’ on the way out of Calabar. It was conceived to reduce the perennial traffic gridlock at the Odukpani junction. But only a pile of iron columns has consumed staggering resources and time.
There is also the Ayadecare Specialist Hospital, which was to be established in the three senatorial districts of the state. It has not gone beyond the foundation stage.
More so, there is the Canadian-British International School in Obudu, his hometown, which nomenclature he is soon going to change again. Its construction appears to have been completed, the same way the Biase Teachers’ Training Institute has been completed. He said it would be modelled after such international schools. But can he effect action before his tenure wraps up?
The governor said people should not bother where he got money to initiate the factories for each of the 18 local government areas, as according to him, he uses “intellectual money.”
Ocean Going Vessel
Disclosing his idea of floating a Petrocross vessel to rake in revenue for the state, he said he would ship ornament flowers, sea foods and finished cocoa products from the state to the world.
Ejom Fidelis, a concerned stakeholder said, “I think our governor does not even know that he is biting more than he can chew. He is talking about ‘intellectual money’. How long can he survive on such undefined money? How much does the state generate now that its monthly allocation is becoming leaner than N2 billion?”
The governor had contracted a Ghanaian firm to use drone to fly essential drugs from Calabar to remote communities in the northern part of the state.
The immediate past commissioner for health in the state, who has just become the All Progressives Congress (APC) woman leader, Betta Edu, commended the wisdom of her principal, saying the project would ensure that hard-to-reach villages and the creeks are served. But the questions in the minds of residents are: Who has seen the drones? To which communities have they delivered the drugs?
Also, where are the toothpicks in the factory at Ekori, Yakurr Local Government Area? This factory was expected to provide employment opportunities for locals in that community.
What about the Banana processing farm at Odukpani? The plantation has completely dried out. The stunted bananas have all dehydrated and the plantation is overgrown with weeds. Not even one plantain stem has yielded since five years ago. And the cost of the plantation was put at N12billion, according to a source in the Ministry of Agriculture.
The commissioner for agriculture, Okon Owuna, said they had a plan to regenerate it with an indigenous variety as against the ones that were imported.
However, he was not sure if the present government could regenerate it before they leave power.
Ayade also wanted to ensure that Cross River children eat homemade noodles and macaroni, so he established the Kisime Noodles.
Again, what is happening to Ayade’s tomato and pepper cultivation and production industry in Yala and the state’s microfinance bank, Cally Fishing Trawler and Company, and the Cross River hide and leather factory?
As good and praiseworthy as his developmental ideas and projects are, stakeholders said it would be a disservice to the state if they are not realised.
Speaking on the reason he embarked on the projects, the governor had said, “The food-on-the-table mantra of my administration is not just to dole out cash but to sufficiently engage the youth and vulnerable women as a way of dousing social tension. We have, therefore, deliberately built these 38 industries to boost individual and state pockets.”
No doubt, Ayade means well. Should all his dreams and ideas be transformed to reality, Cross River State would have become an industrial hub of the country.
Cross River Government speaks
Reacting to why the factories are not yet functional, the senior special adviser to the governor on media and publicity, Christian Ita, said all the 38 firms initiated by the present administration would see the light of day.
He said some of them would have started operation but they were affected by the global COVID-19 lockdown.
According to him, the foreign experts who were to install the machines in some of the factories could not come into the country until global movement became possible again.
He said one of the factories, Calachika, had started producing.
He added, “Rice seeds and seedlings are producing. This factory only produces on demand because of the lifespan of the seedlings, which is just 15 days. So you don’t produce and keep on the shelf.
“The garment factory has been producing since 2016, with at least 3,000 women going to work daily.
“The noodles factory is ready and has undergone test production. It is awaiting certification by the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
“The ultramodern rice mill, Ogoja, and the cocoa processing plant in Ikom are ready and will soon be commissioned by President Buhari.
“Piles and pylons in Akamkpa is already producing.”
He continued, “Also, Calapharm, which is the pharmaceutical factory, is undergoing minor design adjustment based on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation so as to meet its standard for drugs from the factory to be sold globally. Factories or industries are not built in a day.
“However, the challenge is on the funding of the production phase. Factories don’t start making money the moment they start production. It is known as the gestation period. And the state does not have money.
“And since the governor has vowed not to sell any of the state’s asset, government may be inclined to look at the option of concessioning in a bid to inject funding into them.
“This government still has one year to go, and that’s enough time to tidy up the industries
“We had dreams beyond the carrying capacity of the state, and that’s the way to go if we must develop and move forward.”