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Ayade's superhighway dead, overtaken by weeds

The point where the groundbreaking was performed by President Buhari

It was all excitement, high hopes and pomp when on towards the end of 2015 President Muhamadu Buhari visited Cross River State, the first state he visited after been sworn in as president, to flag off the construction of the 274km Superhighway, the flagship of Governor Ben Ayade’s signature projects.
President Muhammadu Buhari, at a colourful and well-attended ceremony in Obung Village in Akamkpa local government area where the flagging off was carried out, expressed the commitment of the Federal Government to the signature projects of Cross River State governor, Prof Ben Ayade.

“That I am here in person underscores the importance the Federal Government attaches to this. It is indeed a significant milestone in the economic and policy of the governor. This is the first ground breaking under my presidency. I commend Ayade and his team for their foresight in conceptualising this project. I want to assure you of the commitment of the Federal Government to ensure the completion of the project. I promise I will come back to commission it. I urge the governor to ensure work is done on it quickly,” Buhari had said.

The governor had said the road would serve as an evacuation corridor for the new deep seaport in Bakassi, another signature project of his. The governor said some features of the road, which he described as digital, would include broadband Internet connectivity, speed cameras and ambulatory services.

The superhighway, which was to run from the southernmost part of the state in Bakassi, to the northernmost part in Obudu, was estimated at about N800 billion.

Governor Ben Ayade always passionate when he talked about the project, which he believes would immensely improve the economic life of the state had promised the project would be completed in his first term in office, despite how unlikely it seemed.

Speaking at a thanksgiving Mass at the St Theresa The Little Flower Parish, in his hometown in Obudu local government area, shortly after he resumed office, Ayade had assured that the superhighway will be completed in his first term.

His words, “If after four years I have not achieved the superhighway I promised then I am not Ayade. I am going to shock the country. I promised that I will deliver. I will not fail the people. I will work hard to wipe out poverty in the state. I promised God I will do everything possible to help my people. That is what I owe God.”

He had vowed to shock Nigerians by achieving set goals, which many believe are unattainable.  The governor’s passion and vigour gave many a glimmer of optimism that despite the odds, his ambitions may have been attainable, thereby translating for the overall good of all.

However with about a year to the end of this administration, such feelings of positivism have given way to those of despondency and frustrations, as the project appears to have been abandoned.

A visit to the site in Obung Village, where the flag off for the project was carried out, gave the indication that the project may have been forgotten, with weed growing wildly everywhere. It was observed that the path for the highway which was cleared then had been overgrown and there was no machinery in site to give the impression, anything was being done.

Although the state government had faced various obstacles ranging of issues of injury to the environment to issues of indiscriminate destruction of property and farms of the people without compensation, illegal logging of wood, communities and NGOs protesting, among others, the government has continuously insisted that it has overcome these challenges and was forging ahead with the project.

But an in indigene of the Obung Community, Mr Collins Njar, who spoke with our reporter said, “They came here, cleared our lands and farms and took our names to pay claims and damages, but since then in 2015 we have not heard from them or even seen them here again. The community did not stop them from doing the road. In fact the community was very happy for them to work the road, but until now they have not started anything. Since after the day President Buhari came here, we have not seen any of them again. You can see over there is where the road should have passed, but now it is just grass everywhere. The bulldozed it before for some kilometres but after that flag off, they have abandoned it. They left after about a week, they just packed their equipment and disappeared.

“So for those whose farms were destroyed, it has affected them negatively. They have to look for somewhere else to do their farms and no one has even answered them. They collected their names, phone numbers and other details for them to get their claims, but since then till now, nothing. The community was very happy they would experience Superhighway passing through their community, but now they have lost from both sides. There is no superhighway and they have lost their source of livelihood, which are their farms. It really is not fair on the people and something should be done about it.”

With the state government receiving a conditional Environment Impact Assessment approval by the Federal Government to carry on with the project, many now question not just the possibility of the project, but the sincerity that should go with it.

Many wonder, despite the governor’s various assurances that funds would not be a problem to the actualisation of the problem, how a state which earns roughly N2 to N3 billion with virtually no internally generated revenue would, among a myriad of other commitments, successfully complete a project that would gulp almost a trillion naira.

Presenting a budget proposal of N1.3 trillion to the House of Assembly for the 2018 fiscal year recently tagged “Budget of Kinetic Crystallization” to the State House of Assembly, Ayade, said the size of the budget is meant to create room for the warehousing of expected investors’ fund now that the actual construction of key projects of the administration such as the Bakassi Deep Seaport and the 274km superhighway has commenced.

The governor in every fora where he mentions the project still expresses confidence about its actualisation.

However it appears a majority of Cross Riverians at this point no longer share such optimism with the situation of things on ground.

“The only thing that would make us believe otherwise is if we see the so-much-talked-about road functional right before our eyes. Else, everything else is just talk and no action. To be honest, a majority of us don’t even believe in this road, and the onus is right now on the governor to prove us wrong,” Mr Etim Effanga, a resident of Calabar said to The Nation.

Culled from Nation Newspaper
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