“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 state). 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, while implementing the Building Nigeria’s Response to Climate Change (BNRCC) project, and developing the National Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action on Climate Change for Nigeria (NASPA-CCN), in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Environment. Security and cleanliness are factors that count for Calabar, especially as we had to invite many foreign experts. It therefore feels good to see that the present Governor Ben Ayade is carrying on the culture of thoughtful governance in that state. Some persons have expressed worries about the super highway which has just been flagged-off, with economic and environmental issues mentioned. While recognizing these, I believe this project is worth investing in.
Senator Ayade, I recall meeting in Doha during the COP18. We stayed in the same hotel and I recall with Huzi Mshelia, former Chairman of the Board of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), discussing the quality of governance in Nigeria. I am therefore glad to see signs of elevated governance coming from his corner of Nigeria. I believe most of our Governors may learn useful lessons from what Ben Ayade is doing. From the quote above, we begin to appreciate that he has given some thought to what he is doing, and has both a conceptual basis for this project as well as appreciates the need for what is often missing in governance in Nigeria, which is a grand vision. It seems obvious that most of our Governors simply stumble on to programmes and projects with neither thought nor study. That is why in most cases after four years or even eight years nothing meaningful is achieved, no significant change occurs in any way compared to what they met on assumption of office, and in most cases nothing to be remembered for.
I stated earlier that 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 centers of commerce, which include Duala to the East, and Aba to the West, and her business class, and not even Onitsha which is highly patronized 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 Carriage way 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 inability to expand the economies. Related to this is inability to identify sectors that will act as drivers of each economy. 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 abilities 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. Yet a hug proportion of the students in the universities in Ogun and other states of the southwest travel cross the Niger, as if this is 1948 Nigeria, with just the University Collage at Ibadan. Simply, limited vision. A state like Cross (yes!), failed to take advantage of her security reputation, green and clean environment to tap into the huge medical tourism and education related financial bleeding from Nigeria. The state could also have been prompted for health and education along with tourism.
Governor Ayade’s vision therefore has to be commended and encouraged. While the super highway primarily links Calabar (and the proposed deep sea port at Bakassi) with Northern Nigeria, it certainly will have wider positive consequences for international trade. Nigeria is like a country psychologically backing the east and facing the west. Perhaps because of ECOWAS we have failed to realize that the economies to our east including Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Central Africa, etc., are far larger than those to our west. In addition, most of them are heavily reliant on imports for basic consumer items. In my estimation, perhaps the most important achievement of Nigeria in recent years is the Enugu-Bamenda (Cameroun) road. 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 20th, 2015, and found no room. Reason being that Camerounian 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 psychologically so far of. 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 state should also consider becoming a hub for medical tourism in the west and central African sub-region, as well as center for conferencing, meetings, academic and intellectual activities. I believe that Ben Ayade has the intellectual depth to work on these.
The lesson for other Governors then is what? Governance should not be about 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 realize that we may be heading, or already in the pre-1966 situation where the states (then the regions) have to embark on 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, Nigeria