Look at Cross River State today, for someone like you who gave, let me say your all, in running the state when you were governor, how do you assess today’s Cross River State?
Honestly, I try to sever myself from Cross River State; if I do not, it would affect me. See, when I left in 2007, I left behind a state that will, five years after, be financially independent of the rest of Nigeria; that was the dream. I mean a state that would have created huge opportunities so that every Cross Riverian will thrive. But I tell you Iwara, the decline you see today didn’t start now, it started on May 29, 2007. It was the vogue to undo everything that had been done, for political expediency. Let me explain something to you. The governor of a state is a shift worker who works for a four- or eight-years shift, after which he is replaced by another governor. If every time a shift changes, you go back to foundation building or go back to the starting blocks, you can never complete work. What we are all seeing right now is an undertaker in motion. The death of CRS happened in 2007. Frankly, I don’t hold Ayade responsible, he was served a bad hand and he was ill-prepared for the job; I don’t think Ayade really understands CRS, but at this point, he is the undertaker to close down everything.
What can be done?
We need to find leadership that can restore and rebuild our state. CRS deserves better leadership than what we are seeing.
It has been bandied around that the failure of Tinapa is tied to national politics, can I have your thoughts on this submission?
No, Tinapa didn’t suffer national politics, it suffered state politics; let us not blame the rest of Nigeria. We had a governor here who claimed that Tinapa was designed in his bedroom, yet did nothing about it. The blueprint was there, my administration had carried out the first phase, which was the more difficult phase; building the place. The brick and mortar were already in place and the next thing to do was just to run it, to get it working. The people to make it work were Walmart, the American multinational retail corporation that operates hypermarkets, discount departmental stores and grocery stores, and all others. They had indicated interest but they were prevented from coming in. We should be man enough to admit that Tinapa was killed here in the state. Would we also say it was national politics that killed Obudu Ranch Resort? What has national politics got to do with these two? Nothing. We were the only state in Nigeria that had internal flights, from Calabar to Bebi, wasn’t that killed? I went to Aero Contractors after I left office when I found out that the flights had stopped and asked them why. They told me straight that the Cross River State Government said they were not interested again. How can you say that? Was it not this state that had a Reserve Fund? Recently, I was doing the calculation, the money from that Fund, by today would have been N190 billion, if we had continued the way we were going. As soon as I left office, the money in the Fund was squandered. So, let us not blame anybody but ourselves; we had poor leadership, we had selfish leadership, we had visionless leadership. That is what happened.
I think that they are allusions at this point that point at former governor Liyel Imoke. What is your relationship with him now?
What do you mean by civil?
What school did you attend? (A deep throated chuckle follows) Well, on a personal level, cordial. We can sit down here and you will not know there are any differences. But when it comes to CRS, I see him as a recurrent failure. He failed as a minister and he failed in CRS. In his public service he has failed because he has used the wrong parameters in public service. In public service, you put others first, before yourself. When you think that the whole state should revolve around you, I disagree. We are three million in this state and we are all equal stakeholders, whatever I do, I take into cognizance the one fact; what the greater good would be and not my personal good because I am transient.
Liyel misused and abused his opportunity of public service, he had an opportunity to electrify and power this country but he failed. He cannot claim success by the stretch of any means or imagination because if you spend N16 billion on power, it is assumed that you would have generated at least, 16, 000 megawatts of electricity. As governor of CRS, he didn’t fare well either. I liken CRS to a state where you have an aircraft taxing on a runway, about to take off, then you change crew and take the plane back to the hanger and when you take it back to the hanger, the night shift man is just shutting the doors. That night shift man as we speak now is Ayade. I pity this fellow Ayade but if Imoke had continued from where we stopped, Ayade would not have derailed, he would have had no option other than to build further on what is already on the ground.
What is your impression of Gov. Ayade?
When he was being sworn in, he said he was going to build an international airport in Ogoja; that’s when I knew we had a problem. When he made that statement and added that elaborate designs of what the airport will look like had been completed and told us too that the engineers and experts were actually in the audience, I shook my head. When he said he was going to build a super highway and a deep-sea port, I wondered how that was going to be feasible. See, we are by the river and not by the sea. I drew his attention to that and he said he was going to dredge it. But we already have a port, so why not work on making the existing one work instead of spending money on a deep-sea port. The amount of money you are going to spend on dredging, use it, get into a partnership with the Federal Government, even obtain a certain percentage of equity from the FG on this collaboration. Ships come to the Calabar Port, the problem is traffic and that’s what Tinapa would have resolved. You see Iwara, CRS is at the end of Nigeria, it is not Benin or Kaduna, people only come here if they have need to come here. So when we had the Carnival and developed the Ranch, it was to draw people here. The essence of Tinapa was also to draw traffic here, otherwise why would someone come to CRS, where it rains all the time. We wanted to create something for ourselves considering that we are in the Niger Delta where the bulk of Nigeria’s money is. We needed to create an environment where people will come and spend their money, it was why we built up our infrastructure and people came here buying land to build their country homes. You will agree with me that the price of a piece of land shot up. All we needed to do was stick with the template all of us had bought into, a template we had spoken to so many people about, done a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and a lot of people contributed to the Tourism vision, in its wider focus and agriculture. I asked Imoke, how do you want your conference centre to work, if there’s no further attraction other than just sitting down in a room and having a conference. If Tinapa was working, there would have been a very successful convention centre because people would shuttle back and forth because of the synergy with a working Tinapa, close by. Now what they have done is to put a mono rail between two dead projects.
But the mono rail was your idea!
Iwara, it was meant to run from the airport to Tinapa. I didn’t want Calabar to turn out to be like Port Harcourt. I wanted to isolate the traffic coming to Tinapa from entering the city, so that our city remains as pristine as it is and leave it unspoilt. Now, so that Imoke’s conference centre will not look like the dead project it is, they now built a mono-rail and in the process destroyed the lake by Tinapa, boats can’t go into the lake now and I think it is sheer wickedness. Can’t you see that the mono-rail is now useless, nobody is going there and Imoke knows that Walmart was pleading with him, to take over this place but he refused to talk to them. I didn’t bring Walmart, it was then President Obasanjo who brought Walmart after I had spoken to him about Tinapa. Obasanjo met with Walmart and they agreed to come. Walmart was going to use Tinapa to make inroads into Nigeria, the biggest consumer market in Africa but they were frustrated by Imoke and he knows it because I had this conversation with him not once, not twice.
How do you feel when you drive around the state?
I hardly do. But like I said earlier, I severed myself from Calabar because why suffer the pains; I know we can do better than this. At the time we left office, 80% of our communities in CRS had electricity. Today, all those things have gone. We managed to fix our roads and the federal roads so someone could leave Calabar at 8am and be at the Ranch at midday. We had flights going to the Ranch, had nine flights coming into Calabar daily, we were the fourth busiest airport in Nigeria after Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt airports. Today, there is only one flight coming in. So, we are seeing the rise and fall of our state in a blink and the people who caused this are not remorseful, they still think they are superstars and they should be adored, No. Nobody is here to serve anybody, if the governor does not perform, get rid of him, don’t hold the state back because of an individual.
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