Industrialisation is the bedrock or fulcrum that drives the development of any economy in a state or country. Armed with this knowledge, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State took the bullish stride in setting up 38 industries with the sole aim of making the state self-sufficient and less dependent on the monthly handout from the Federation Account, creating employment and other multiplayer effects. Some of the industries like the Garment, Rice Seedlings, Cocoa, Rice Mill, Toothpick, Pyle and Pylon, Chicken Calachika are ready while some others are under construction.
Definitely with a year to go, Ayade cannot complete all the industries. In view of this, one of the leading governorship aspirants in the state, Chairman of the Ben Akak Foundation, a philanthropist extraordinary and a business mogul, Engr. Ben Etim Akak has vowed to complete all the uncompleted industries and projects of Governor Ayade if elected as the next governor of the state come 2023. To achieve this, Akak with a campaign slogan of “Ben2Ben” recently embarked on a massive two days project assessment tour from the Ayade Industrial Park in Calabar to the Canadian International School, the International Cargo and Passenger Airport, the Specialist German General Hospital (all in Obudu), the Rice Factory in Yala, the 148 km Abucheche-Obudu-Ranch road and others. In the course of the trip, he spoke with some Journalists on the projects and what he will do differently to ensure their survival and revenue generating for the state if elected. Excerpts:
In all of these industries there are challenges, if you emerge as governor next year, how do you want to bridge the gap and begin to work?
I don’t want to sound, maybe very hard, to the press, but I think Governor Ayade’s programme on industrialization is under-reported and I don’t know what the reason is. Maybe it could be a deliberate conspiracy of silence or maybe there are other factors that we don’t know. I am shocked with what I have seen. These are just a few projects we have seen. We need to, with what we have seen, encourage Cross Riverians to applaud him more and if there’s a special award it should be given to him, for not just the initiative but the bold step to lead the state from civil service state to an industrial base. These factories that we have seen, toured and inspected are things that would crystallize the entire economy of the state, and turn Cross River to not just a state of an industrial base, but a state that is self-sufficient.Having laid this foundation let me make this point also that he (Ayade) has created the enabling environment to value-chained the process and which makes my job very easy. Being somebody who is in the private sector, linkages are not the problem. What we’ve discovered is that there are just a few little touches we need to bring to bear to ensure that the people begin to reap the necessary dividends, and then the impact is felt. The bottom line is to create a state whereby we will begin to produce more and to import less.
Will you encourage Cross Riverians to invest in the industries?
Yes I will encourage Cross Riverians to come and key into the privatization programme of this government as there is no way you can ever become sufficient without food. He has taken time to put in the necessary machinery to make us less hungry and be food sufficient. Beyond that he has also been able to create a market for us. I wish the media could report it more. The media could channel its activities to the industrialization programmes of Governor Ben Ayade. I know what that can do for the state. I am charging you to take this as a call from well-meaning Cross Riverians. Look at the Assembly members here; look at distinguished Cross Riverians – Vice Chairmen of Councils, these are people who believe in the future of the state, but a lot of us are amazed. We are humbled. I haven’t seen this before. Let me further make an appeal to Cross Riverians – we need to invest more in the state and that’s why I said in my declaration that the next governor should be talking about jobs. We didn’t visit here, but we knew that the destination of Cross River is job. He has laid the foundation, the next governor should come and create jobs. And I tell you, Ben Akak will create the job that will be necessary for Cross River State to move forward. We want the world to see that light is shining in Cross River and it is courtesy of Prof. Benedict Ayade. We are not mincing words. We are clear about that. He has come to do something that has never been done. I am somebody who creates a lot of businesses and I know what it means to set up a business, to make it to this level and to make it run. He has done more than well.
What will you do differently?
He has laid the foundation. Ours is to continue from there, and not just continue, we are going to link it because he has provided the enabling environment for us to link. He has made my job easier. You just need to think a little bit smarter and then you put Cross River State there. But again, do you know how India started? Do you know the foundation of Singapore? We’ve seen those things. In a few years to come the destination of Africa will be Calabar, and it will be Cross River. You and I will be proud of that.
What is your impression on the CalaPharm industry?
Governor Ben Ayade is a genius. I cannot imagine what God has deposited in such a being. You need to see what is happening here. Do you know with this factory Nigeria is going to cut half of its importation of drugs from India and all other Asian countries? Currently, do you know how much Nigeria spends on importation of drugs? We are talking about 30 billion dollars. With the factory alone you are cutting it into half. This is exceptional. We need to have a way of thanking this man. I wish Cross Riverians could troop in here and see what is going on. The only thing I want to tell us is that I thank the day God brought him to Cross River and I am happy that one is having the privilege to learn from him and possibly to succeed him.
How do you plan to harness these giant strides of Ayade?
That is why we are doing assessment and then we know that an administration cannot end everything at the same time. So what we need to do is to step down the process by first getting this access to know what is happening and then linking it with the people. We are going to do it in such a way that it has never been done. I have been in the private sector for all my life. I know what it means to grow a business and this is a venture. We are going to grow it. I am telling you to come and see Cross River State from 2023 it is going to be a heaven on earth.
On the privatization of the factories, what’s your take?
I have always said the government does not run businesses. Government is to provide the enabling environment, the infrastructure which he has done. So what we will do is to encourage Cross Riverians to key into the privatization programme of the governor. We have Cross Riverians who are intelligent, who are smart and rich. Let them seize this opportunity. Our government will encourage them to do it. And again, the part that he has not completed we will complete it to ensure that we have an efficient system for people who would come to buy, because you must have a good thing for people to buy and we have one here.
Cross River has a Power plant yet no light in the state, what will you do to solve this problem?
The state independent power plant is working as you can see it. As we speak it is currently powering the street lights. The only stop gap we have as we speak is the legislation from the federal and the state that has stopped it from being linked to the national grid. The state power plant established by Governor Ben Ayade is working. We know that it is in the exclusive list that is why I said we are going to do a lot. Number one, within the Governors Forum, which is very powerful, we will do a lot to lobby members of the National Assembly to change that legislation to make it a concurrent list for the state to begin to generate power. That’s the only way we can achieve development and progress faster. Look at what is happening in Itu (the vandalisation of the high tension tower). We are suffering just because we are waiting for Itu to be put together, but if this power was generated and used here I don’t need to bother what happens in Itu. We must look at ourselves and say the truth. And I am saying that Cross River State through the effort of Governor Ben Ayade has been able to start a process and we are taking over from him and making sure that that process doesn’t die. This project will not die. Any state that is capable of generating power should do it, even individuals, if you have the capacity to do it. But again, we do not want a situation whereby it’s going to be abused. So there’s going to be a process and legislation put in place – there’s going to be strict adherence to due process and to ensure that the standard is maintained. Again, the environment is very important and you know power generation is very sensitive. All that put together is what is going to give us the best in this country. And you know power is very important in development, if you get it right you get every other aspect. We have discussed it. We also talked about hydro. Thank God we have the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Technical, who is able to share to us deeply the plans of the governor, that beyond just setting this is the hydro power plant, which we talked about the Qua Fall, the Agbokim Waterfall and the Ranch. All these are ways of making sure that we liberalized the process and have more power in circulation for our people.
Medical tourism has been a major issue with us but with this Special General Hospital by Ayade how will you harness it for the benefit of all if voted in as governor?
First, I was surprised at the infrastructure because that hospital is similar to what people all over the world fly to and that is why the first thing that came to my mind was that at the completion of that project in the next few weeks, we will cut short most of our trips abroad for medical treatment because everything you need is there. I am proud to say that being a Cross Riverian and having somebody like Governor Ben Ayade is not just a great thing for us but it’s also the fact that he has been able to match his words with his actions and that is why we are doing this to let the world know he’s doing a lot that they know not of. If you go through the hospital, you’ll see that everything is completely digitalised. It is based on smart mode and you don’t need to interface with the next person because with the card you can get all the points and so it’s indeed a blessing to us and moreover, putting it in a community whereby even the ordinary people can access it is another scoring point for him. Governor Ben Ayade has done well and is doing a lot, so we need to blow our trumpet to let the world know. Beyond politics is the fact that you need to say it as it is. There are people out there who have been unable to access this thing because they are unavailable, not because he’s not doing it but because people are not marketing and showcasing it the way they should. As citizens and indigenes of Cross River state, we should first think about Cross River State and how we can better our lives.
Foreign and local investors in the industries?
So we will connect the projects together and we are going to bring in some initiative and a smart way of doing things. The other aspect is that we are currently talking with private investors who are ready to invest not only in the infrastructure but also in our medical tourism. As we speak, a company has already given us their interest to come in and invest in Calapharm. Nigeria spends up to 30 billion dollars importing drugs but with the Calapham , we will cut that into two and such is why this project is necessary and we, as a consortium, are partnering with them. The governor has been asking the indigenes of Cross River State to play less on politics and do more on investment. This tour has really helped us a lot because we now have first hand information, we have seen the facility and we know it is workable and those doubting Governor Ben Ayade will think twice.
The state gets almost the least from the federation account, how will you cope to complete the projects?
Raising money is not an issue. By the grace of God, we have a framework in place on how to access money and funds. We are not good at borrowing but we made our commitment to service the debts. Creating money requires our intellect and we are going to continue the intellectual money way of Governor Ayade and then you’ll see a different aspect of intellectual money. This intellectual money is consolidation and continuity and that is what we are going to do moving forward.
As a governorship aspirant, why inspect the Ayade projects?
I am inspecting these projects because first I am a Cross Riverian, secondly I am a businessman and thirdly I am interested just like everybody. We need to understand that not everything is about politics, these projects have to continue. From 1999 to 2023 that we will by the grace of God assume position, there are not many continuity projects we can lay our hands on except the ones Ayade have put in place. We want to start that in the Cross River state and show to the world that you can inherit something, consolidate on it and continue from there because all these are cross River state’s money and investment. Again, assessing this thing from outside is different because even if you’re working with him, having an independent assessment is very important as it will build up our capacity in terms of the manifesto we are going to present to the public. It will be a manifesto of a true Cross River state in the future and that’s why we are on this tour. And again, let it be on record that as a private citizen, and as an aspirant running for an election, there is need for us to know what is happening in our state and if you’re desirous of change, you need to know the impact of the kind of change you must bring to bare. If I never toured these projects, there wouldn’t be a company in India that is talking about taking over Calapharm. So the benefit is already here and more benefits are going to come by the grace of God.
Can we say this tour is a dress rehearsal for 2023?
Yes this tour is a dress rehearsal but we say it is just to let the world know that we have the capacity, we know what we are doing and we are not bothered by what people will say because we are focused, tenacious and bold. We want to ensure that governor Ben Ayade not only ends strong but continues very strong with the next administration. Gone are the days whereby the next person takes over and abandons his predecessor because we are not going to do that as we are still going to seek advice from him and go to him for counsel because he brought these to birth free of charge with his brain and I marvel at it sometimes.