More than thirty years after the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the defunct Western Nigeria, a new vista of discourse is beginning to emerge on how the late Premier’s political philosophy could provide a roadmap in the on-going engagement amongst the nation’s federating units to chart a development agenda. The Western region as it was known in pre and post-independence era as one of the regions constituting the Nigerian federation epitomized focused and selfless leadership. It had socio-economic, political, educational, infrastructural and human development agenda that tended to put it an inch above its peers. Simply put, Chief Awolowo’s tenure as Premier of Western Nigeria marked an important epoch in the nation’s history, which should provide the template for today’s sets of leaders.
In the days of yore, the SouthWest Nigeria under Awo’s leadership was known for its cocoa and other food and cash crops, an attestation of agricultural potentials of the region. The region used to be the biggest producer of cocoa in the whole world. Awo utilized cocoa revenue to develop the SouthWest, building all its vital institutions when he led the geo-political zone in the 1950s. In this regard, Awo’s foresight led to the construction of Liberty Stadium, University of Ife now Obafemi Awolowo University, funding of rural infrastructure and free education which is the foundation of today’s massive lift of the South West ahead of other regions where one state can boast of 18 Universities and a dozen other tertiary institutions!
Similarly, Awo’s counterpart, Premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sakkwato superintended the unprecedented development of the entire Northern region that is the present 19 northern states where agriculture was the bedrock that created the historic groundnut pyramids, Kaduna textiles that employed over 30,000 people from across the country and attendant economic boom, prosperity and massive infrastructure and indeed uncommon political sagacity, tolerance and inclusivity irrespective of religion or ethnicity.
It would seem that learning from these legendary lessons, Professor Ben Ayade, the Governor of Cross River State, is a beacon of hope for the present generation and a worthy example. Maybe it has do with his preparation as a scholar, environmentalist and all inclusive leader determined to crush prevalent level of poverty that should never be rationalized, or, as he said recently, because he owes his mandate to the people of the state who entrusted him with the authority to superintend the affairs of the Nation’s Paradise.. Whatever his motivations are, Governor Ayade is daily making, not just Cross River State, but also Nigeria and indeed Africa a better place to live in. He has embarked on an industrial revolution in the state; building factories with overall value addition instincts, especially cocoa!
However, one thing that is significant in the cocoa revolution in Cross River is that the big picture is not lost on Ayade. He understands that for agriculture to replace oil, it must be organized in a manner that processing can bring out the real value of farming and spark off a chain of economic activities that will create millions of good jobs and generate billions of dollars in revenue to investors, employees and government. A standard cocoa-processing factory producing chocolate can employ thousands of staff compared to any farm just farming cocoa for export. The factory will also employ or engage the services of engineers, technicians, accountants, drivers, administrators and lawyers. This is Ayade’s drift!
And this makes a lot of sense since no country benefits maximally from the export of raw unprocessed cocoa—not even Cote d’Ivoire, the current biggest producer in the world. In plain language, processing is where you find the massive job opportunities. The agro-industry will yield far more output, more jobs and more economic value than a hundred million farmers. And this is what Ayade is demonstrating with his focus on agro-processing. In this instance, the new factory which is almost set for commissioning in Ikom, Cross River State by the Governor Ayade administration will process 50, 0000 tons of cocoa beans from the state and neighboring West African countries such as Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea for export. The facility will process 240 tons of cocoa daily, which will be turned into liquor and chocolate bars for export to Europe and China, according to the State Commissioner for Agriculture, Professor Anthony Eneji, who was recently on inspection of the facility with Mr. Chris Agara, the Managing Director of AA Universal, the firm constructing the facility. In the same vein, Cross-River State currently has the largest chicken processing plant in Calabar with the capacity to process 24,000 chickens a day.
But beyond the shores of his state, Ayade is also expanding his sphere of influence with projects that will touch the lives of many Nigerians. He has made the Bakassi deep seaport project a matter of serious importance since states from the northern part of the country and neighboring countries like Niger and Chad would benefit immensely from the seaport. He told State House correspondents penultimate week that the Bakassi Deep Seaport is “a strategic way of putting an end to the insurgency, militancy, kidnappings and the Boko Haram issues, given that the deep seaport with an evacuation corridor to north is like taking the Atlantic Ocean to northern Nigeria.”
Coming back to Cross River, over 2000 CrossRiverians have already been either directly or indirectly engaged in CrossRice, a rice processing programme as part of an ambitious employment generation move that targets 5000 people in the next one year, making maximum use of commercial and mechanized farming methods. His efforts have achieved four major goals of strengthening local manufacturing capacity; generating employment, preventing capital flight, as well as providing locally produced goods for the people. In less than five years that Ayade has been in the saddle, over 10,000 people have been gainfully employed and you can only imagine the multiplier effect on thousands of households across the state. Clearly, Ayade has chosen a different path.
Beyond his wealth creation efforts within Cross River State, he has also invested heavily in health and education with an eye on raising CrossRiverians that can compete on equal terms anywhere in the world. And from the massive Calavita Noodles factory in Calabar which has been completed to meet the South-South zone’s demand for the staple, to a new fertilizer plant and others still in the making, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Ayade administration has impacted the lives of his people positively through his well thought-out economic diversification initiatives. The whole country has also noticed. When he visited the Aso Villa a fortnight ago, President Buhari commended him for his excellent performance thus far, emphasizing, “Governor Ayade is among serious leaders that the nation is proud of”.
In a country where those who hold political offices are usually identified by promises with least action, the Ayade’s Singaporean experiences have come to bear with a positive difference and hope for the present and future generations by building concretely on the dreams of our founding fathers.
Kuta is a Professor of Agricultural Extension and Development Communication at the University of Ibadan