Ayade: Celebrating a harbinger of hope @ 50 By Linus Obogo

There are usually two sets of people in this world. Those who will only be remembered when they leave, for the problems they created, and those who will never be forgotten for the many problems they solved, the answers they offered for the myriads of challenges while they lived.

Indeed, there is no doubt that Benedict Bengioushuye, scion of Pa Peter Akinsheye Ayade can rightly be situated as belonging to the latter.

And as human beings, the world remains the only stage, upon which, either as bad actors, we fret our part and get jeered at or as good actors, we interpret our roles satisfactorily and get clapped out of the dais while leaving our captive audience roaring for more.

In order words, the choice is always ours, either to be on the villainous or valiant side of history. For many, the latter road has often been the one less traveled or hardly taken at all. For to do so, requires strength of character, moral fibre and avirtuous deportment.

For a few who dare to walk this high road, they are enormously revered, recognised and celebrated, no matter their status or standing in the society. This is what today represents in the life of Governor Ben Ayade, more tellingly, for vouchsafing himself as an answer to a question, a solution to a problem, a silver lining in a horrendously dark tunnel of life and a necessity in the midst of hopeless millions.

Born exactly 50 years ago at Kakum, a sleepy village in Obudu LGA, northern Cross River State,little Benedict or Ben, as he would later be known, grew up never wanting to be a product of his environment, but rather his environment becoming a product of him.

Like a man standing in front of a loaded gun, Ayade saw poverty staring him right in the face. But with sheer determination and gusto, he clawed himself and the rest of his family and by extension, his environment out of poverty, thus fulfilling his aspiration to make his environment a product of him.

As a child who grew up early to understand what lack really meant, Ayade had begun so early in life to discover that you give not because you have enough but because you care enough. And so, charity, care and compassion for the less fortunate would later become his guiding light,a calling he discovered and decided to run with it.

In fact, for many who have experienced grinding poverty and despondency in their lives, they are easily crippled by hopelessness, anger and frustration. But for Ayade, these hardships and bleakness were just chapters on his journey. They offered him credibility and, in some way, the strength and courage to face even more daunting challenges.

And as a way of sharing in the core misery of the poorest of the poor and the very vulnerable, Ayade has, through his various mitigating and intervention efforts, rolled out quite a number of schemes in his private capacity in order to make a difference in the lives of the needy in his community through various scholarships and empowerment programmes, a gesture he carried over into the senate.

For Ayade, he well familiar with the idea of the insidious effect of poverty on human psyche. To him, poverty is not just about being hungry, naked and homeless. It is much more about being unwanted, unloved and uncared for. This, he identifies as the greatest poverty that can vanquish any human race.

As a rare gift to the people of northern Cross River, including the vulnerable, poor women and the aged, Ayadecame across as an incandescent messenger of hope, an advocate of what it meant to care and the necessity and joy of sharing the suffering of others.

Having accepted the “Ministry of Charity” as his badge of hnour, Ayade has continued to play the role of a “father to the poor,” a symbol of compassion to the homeless, a regenerated hope to the hopeless in Cross River State.

Denying fate from moving against the direction of his desires, young Benedict Ayade made the most of his primary education at St. Stephens Primary School, Obudu and proceeded to Government Secondary School, Obudu.

Like princes who master their fate to fulfill their destiny, Ben was not to be held down and following on the heels of excellent secondary education, proceeded to grabbing a B.Sc. (Honours) in Environmental Science from 1984 to 1988 and  a Ph.D from 1990 – 1994 at the University of Ibadan, winning the Best Doctoral Dissertation Award in Environmental Microbiology.

He had a glittering spell as a lecturer at Delta State University, Abraka where he deservedlyearneda professorial recognition.

Ayade’s research work on groundwater remediation birthed an invention of a solar-powered sewage treatment plant, which culminated in global recognition and award by the Japanese government. The technology which carried with it a million Japanese Yen is currently being used off-shore by oil-producing companies operating in Nigeria.

Burning to serve his people as well as offer quality and responsible leadership at the highest level, the burden of leadership fell upon Ayade’s ‘slender’ shoulders in 2011, as senator representing his Cross River Northern Senatorial Zone.

And barely four years later, Senator Ayade would become the biblical Joshua to lead his people to the Promised Land and out of the economic, social and political doldrums as governor in 2015.

A visionary and focused leader servant leader, while many of his peers in many of the states inexorably continue to bemoan the level of impecuniousness that has become their lot, Ayade got off to a flier and hitting the ground running with policies and programmes aimed at not only rescuing the state from economic doldrums, but also decoupling it from the measly handouts from the federal allocation.

From erratic to zero monthly allocations, it was obvious that this was one governor who was determined to punch beyond his weight with huge capital intensive signature projects. For Ayade, it is not about the dog in the fight but the fight in the dog.

With projects of long gestation period such as the Bakassi deep seaport, the 267 kilometre superhighway, Calabar Rice City project, garment factory, Calabar Pharmaceutical company, 21 megawatt power plant,  the cocoa processing plant at Ikom, the automated vitaminised rice mill in Ogoja, Mfum-Yala-Bekwarra-Obudu-Obanliku ranch road, among others, the vision was yet for the appointed time. And even if it tarries, a silver lining sure beckons for the state under Ayade.

In his reticence, he has not left anyone in doubt that his leadership is very much in a hurry to conquer all that there is to conquer for the state developmentally.

In just less than three years, he kept the momentum going by building on his predecessor’s developmental framework. Methodically, he set about laying the necessary foundation for Cross River State to attain its potential through deliberate policy of ensuring the dynamic recalibration of its economic architecture.

For a leader who believes that where money fails, intellect takes over and when a man puts his soul above his problems, his body naturally follows, Ayade sees plenty, even in the face of paucity. It his uncanny determination to make the most out of nothing, the ‘Golden Boy’ is ensuring his Cross River is growing in leaps and bounds and raising the bar for others. That Cross River has not creaked to a stop like some of the states in the country, is owed much to his conscientiousness and forthrightness.

With most states groaning under the pangs of several months of unpaid salaries and workers of such states literally dying while waiting for arrears of unpaid salaries, Ayade has remained faithful to his avowed declaration that “No child shall go to bed on an empty stomach” on account of workers being owed salaries by ensuring that salaries are paid on before the 23rd of every month. And several times, salaries had been paid even before they were earned.

Such unusual gesture has earned him the sobriquet ‘Salary Master’, ‘Governor talk and do’, among others. 

In just one year in office, he rescued over two thousand women, especially widows from their despondency and hopelessness by ensuring their full engagement at the Calabar garment Factory.

Upon his assumption of office as governor, Ayade promptly lifted the 23 year-old freeze on recruitment into the civil service.

Ayade’s leadership style is exactly what Cross River had long yearned for at the time he became governorin 2015. Despite seeming challenges, he continues to demonstrate strong convictions and unusual courage, tactfully balanced by a large heart, as well as spirit of accommodation. This was the main reason for his effectiveness and acceptance

As his leadership style began to resonate in the state, barely two years in office, media attention riveted to him and before long, the country and the world began to turn their eyes towards Ayade and his sterling work. And in recognition of the template he has set, numerous awards and recognitions began to tumble in. For instance, he led African Governors to the Climate Change Summit organised by the United Nations Secretariat in Paris in December 2015. He was Authority Newspaper Governor of the year, Civil Society Man of the year, Labour Most Friendly Man of the year,Vanguard Newspaper Governor of the Year and TELL Magazine Governor of the year respectively in 2017.

There is no denying the fact that Ayade has re-defined the concept of leadership and effective governance by effectively re-orientating the mindset of the political class to see politics as a call to service.

Often unconventional in his ways, it is often said that when a man does what everyone else does, he remains an ordinary man, if he does what nobody has done, he is an excellent mind and if he does what nobody can do, he is a genius and an asset. For sure, Ayade is doing what nobody has done in Cross River State and thus, he is not just an asset to the state alone but to Nigeria as a whole.

And as he clocks 50 years, half of a century, his high-octane performance in office as governor in nearly three years, no doubt, sets him apart as an extraordinary, selfless and passionate leader who is ever willing and ready to give his right eye to actualize his promise of turning Cross River into an industrial hub.

At half a century, the life this Golden governor continues to flip in your face, turning chapters after chapters for a compelling read.

Happy Golden anniversary my boss!

Linus Obogo is Deputy Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ayade
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