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Opinions of Friday, 29 May 2020

Columnist: Niran Adedokun

Beyond Ayade’s tears

Benedict Ayade, Professor of Environmental Microbiology, law graduate and Governor of Cross River State, was at his most vulnerable last Thursday. At the inauguration of an odd body, known as the Cross River State Anti-Tax Agency, the governor’s lacrimal gland betrayed him as he dropped tears uncontrollably. It was for effect that could only have been lost on those who are sworn not to see anything good in the petite academic turned politician, who has had the burden of piloting the affairs of the South-South state for the past five years. Even yours truly was taken in by Ayade’s public display of emotions and justifiably so. Let me explain.

If you are no more than a casual observer of the goings on in that state, you would have heard about a few projects that give a sense that the governor understands the fundamentals of sustainable development. I can give a few examples: The Cross River Garment Factory, said to employ hundreds of people; the Cross River Rice Mill, for which the governor was said to have secured a N300bn loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria and the West Africa Advanced Teachers’ Continuous Training College, a degree-award institution, launched in November 2018 supposedly in collaboration with some British and Canadian entities. There is also the leadership, which I think Ayade has provided in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to closing its boundaries quite early, the face mask intervention literarily took off in Cross River and even though only seven people have been tested in the entire state, one can say that Ayade took precautionary measures to safeguard his state.The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s seven-member response team indeed praised the state government for being proactive.

Ayade however has immense capacity for theatrics. He is the one that gives verbose, out-of-this-world titles and projections to his yearly budgets. In 2018, it was the N1.3tn “Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation,” hitherto declared outlandish and unimplementable by financial experts. In 2019, it was the N1.043tn Qabalistic Densification.” Reports said the state did not post more than a 10% performance on that budget. And for 2020, Ayade proposed the N1.116tn “Budget of Olimpotic Meristemasis,” whatever that means!

With his budgets, the governor seemed to reside in an elusive burble of grandeur given that his state is said to earn less than N80bn on the best days of combined internally generated revenue and Federation Accounts Allocation Committee proceeds. It is curious that this same man is picking and selecting whom to exempt from paying taxes. But we shall return to this point after dealing with the shedding of tears.

Ayade was also said to have broken down in tears when he received the document for the state’s 2018 “Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation.” Explaining why he lost it on this occasion, the governor indicated that he was caught by a sense of pride and possibly daunted that “this is the first trillion naira budget by a state government in the annals of Nigerian history, and therefore it is unique and ambitious and intended to decouple the state from dependence on the Federation Account…” Earlier, there was an occasion where, in 2016, he was said to have wept while speaking about the conditions of displaced persons of Bakassi Peninsula which Nigeria ceded to Cameroon.

Given that crying is an action to which every human being is susceptible, it is possible to argue Ayade is free to express his emotions. But here is the thing, he is not an ordinary human because he holds an office with a lot of symbolism. Ayade is the number one citizen of a state of about four million people who see him as an emblem of hope! The recurring rains of tears from a man from whom equanimity is expected could breed a bleak effect on the people. It is true that compassion is an essential requirement of governance but so are composure and discretion especially when a leader is not being deliberately manipulative.

It is possible to suggest that shedding tears has a cathartic effect on the governor and the guilt unmet aspirations, but the question is: how realistic were the expectations that the governor set for himself in the first place? And even now, does he still understand the very basic interventions and initiatives he should introduce based on an assessment of the needs of his people and the vision that he has for the state? Does he realise that his constant heartbreak is from his high, sometimes, outrageous dreams, misplaced priorities and the fantasy that he can play god?

It is right for a governor to be concerned, even worried about the level of poverty in his domain but no one is able to eradicate poverty in one generation as Ayade seems to picture. This is more so when he cannot be said to identify that taxation is probably not the most burdensome plight of his people. Aside from the fact that taxes are an essential part of the democratic obligation, the satisfaction of which should spur citizens into demanding responsible governance, the payment of taxes would be delightful for people if all governors faced their own obligations. This is what should begin to give Nigerian governors sleepless nights.

During the First Republic, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s campaign train was doing its round somewhere around the present Ekiti State. It was said that every community he visited had a list of demands most of which were around their need for some infrastructure or the other. Replying them on every occasion however, Awolowo recognised the fact that these communities truly needed potable water, electricity and all other utilities they demanded, but he made a point that still puts him ahead as a thinker/politician over three decades after his death.

He told leaders of these communities that while the Western Region Government would do its best to provide the needed infrastructure for its people, his administration was more concerned about providing education for their children. His contention was that, with the education of every single child in the region, there would be a developed and informed human capital, which would not just realise the need for infrastructural development but ensure the same and foster a sense of communal ownership for them! The evidence of his vision still exists till date but these citizens paid taxes!

Ayade keeps talking about taxing his brain about the sustenance of the state but that effort has not produced much result since he first raised it in 2017. Two of the things every governor needs to do as a matter of urgency is ensure that every child gets quality education and health care delivery for all citizens. The issue of thatched houses and all of that can be taken care of in sequence but take care of the mind of your people by giving them quality education. In addition, take care of their physical bodies by providing quality and accessible healthcare.These are investments that will yield bountifully in the future. Even if you aren’t there, posterity will recount your good works, just as Awolowo is the reference point for universal education and good governance half a century after.

And, Mr Governor, you do not need God to turn over your wealth to the poor. By your own hands, you could invest your resources in education, health, low cost housing and other such noble ventures. Reduce the number of those thousands of aides you have and cut down, if not totally give up, the indulgence known as security votes. God, after all, loves a cheerful giver and the blessing of thereof, would put a permanent stop to your incessant tears.

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