Thursday, 24 January 2019

As the Campaigns begin: Matters Arising 2 —by Vena Ikem

24 January 2019 

2. Governor Ayade's Performance. 

Ayade's Performance like the performance of most other public servants especially political office holders can best be judged after office. Criticism while in office is normal, healthy and desirable for the critic. It is on the reverse, discomforting, irritating and dreaded by the office holders. It is expected and should be encouraged as one of the ways of driving public office holders to higher performance. It works all the time. It is embedded in our chosen form of government: democracy. "We the people", are expected to hold our elected representative to the highest standards. It is the responsibility of enlightened citizens to demand from their representatives performance that is credible and accountable. Often times elected Representatives are irritated, angry and often resentful of those who exercise this Democratic right. There is nothing new about that. It is so in all places where there is "public service" and will ever remain so because as a public servant you are called to hold and exercise power on behalf of the people and must aspire to live up to their expectations.

As responsible citizens, therefore, our duty, if we want to curb abuse of public office, is to speak up when the public trust is threatened. 

I did speak up against Governor Ayade. I spoke up against some abuses of Liyel Imoke. I also spoke up against some of the abuses of Donald Duke. I have to the best of my ability made an effort to live up to the responsibility I owe my community. I am a politician.

I have made enemies in the process. I have also been admired by many. I am hated and I am Loved. I can't have it any other way. I feel fulfilled that I am living up to my responsibility. I may have been wrong sometimes, misunderstood even. But most of all I want to be remembered for making the efforts.

My efforts have been conscious. I have paid a heavy price for what I do, but I am grateful especially when young people cluster my Facebook space telling me how much they admire me and my politics. I am most encouraged indeed by their measure of me! 

When early in the administration of Gov. Ayade I sounded the alarm most people who were to join me later thought it was "too early" to start criticising! Our people have a saying that it is the day you mould your clay pot that you put a mark on it. If you are familiar with pottery, of course, this will be a most clear imagery. If a pot becomes dry, any attempt to put a mark on it will be an invitation to doom; as this would amount to destroying what you created. I was later vindicated. 

After almost four years of not accepting that the critics had a point, I see Governor Ayade gradually yielding to public opinion and in a hurry to show performance! I don't need Gov Ayade to congratulate me and say I was right. All I need is to see improvement in governance performance. Today the worse critic of Gov. Ayade would be telling a lie, if he pretends that he does not see the governor's concerted, almost hysterical efforts at living up to the expectations of the people he represents.

 Sometimes I sincerely pity him. When I see him struggling with those pronouncements that are sometimes unnecessary and not implementable, just to try to please the people who elected him I am touched beyond emotions. In one of my pieces in 2015, I warned that for someone with his kind of ego and certain tendencies it will be very hard to reverse himself when he makes a mistake, even when he knows he has made one because he is not the kind of person who easily accepts that he has made a mistake. I have been proven right. 

The truth, however, is that it is less expensive to accept that you made a mistake publicly and reverse yourself than to pretend that you are infallible publicly and be struggling privately to correct that mistake or at the very worse to live with the mistake!

Some people have dismissed this argument saying it is because he wants to be reelected! But of course! Those who designed our presidential form of government clearly and deliberately made it so that after a while an elected representative has need to come back to the people who elected him to revalidate his mandate. If he has adjudged himself not to have lived up to expectations and is working hard to get things right before meeting us at the polls what is wrong with that? Should we not rejoice then that our system is working to expectations, calling people to order? I cannot think of a more valid reason why we should therefore admit that he is listening to us! 

 Gov. Ayade has not admitted that he made some mistakes but he is paying dearly for it by making almost inhuman efforts to correct them and live up to the the expectations of Cross Riverians. 

Like I said in my opening, judgment will come after his tenure but from my experience as a front seat member of successive audiences of governance, I can say without any fear of contradiction that in his first term in office Gov Ayade has clearly defined his own path and demonstrated tremendous tenacity that has been rare in our state. 

Tenacity in driving policy initiatives that are novel, resisted and even rejected is a mark of absolute confidence that should be commended, while trying to adjust to the demands of the critical observers like myself.

 What do I mean? 

1. Ayade's policy of food on the table has been most shocking and unbelievable. Many Lilly livered politicians would have abandoned it long ago because of elite resistance. But he has consistently pushed all frontiers to ensure that he delivers on this sometimes comical but, let's face it, most critical aspect of his governorship. Tomorrow this policy, will become the measurement of future government performance! Yes, I am an apostle of lean govts. But think again how many people have been saved from the excruciating poverty they faced with that monthly handout . Whether we like it or not, in future any government that fails to factor that welfare component into administration will fail because young men without jobs and without a future will demand for it!

 That is social engineering. The change we talk about.

 2. The signature projects have been so bastardized beyond recognition yet, when I still listen to him speak passionately, effusively about the dreams of a superhighway, deep sea port at a time I expected him to run away from these projects to save his political career, I begin to wonder. So I have had to review my own thinking about these projects vis-a-vis his commitment to them. Let's think again! 

Don't get me wrong. I may not be doing the same thing he is doing if I was governor. Not at all. But judgment of policy priority is subjective. We can only judge a public office holder by his performance on his chosen priority. The choice of priority is his risk at meeting his own perception of the public need at that material time. 

That I would for instance prefer to rehabilitate the existing road is my own priority. I should be judged by how well I execute that project. That he decided that constructing a new road is his priority, he should be judged by how well he executes it . And so remaining consistent in given policy initiatives is what I am judging him by. 

To remain consistent in the belief that he can execute such a project given the limitations of funding remains to him a priority which must be accomplished, despite not being politically correct. If he eventually fails in it of course I will be very harsh indeed in judgment. But pushing the frontiers of infrastructure development remains every government's dream the world over. Can we key into this dream and give him the encouragement he needs to take it to the next level? I think he deserves a trial. 

Let me also juxtapose these with the past.

 Donald Duke set out to grow our Agriculture economy as his priority when he became governor in 1999. We all bought into that dream. His confidence was palpable. We all looked for land everywhere and planted something: castor seed, cashew, Cocoa, pineapple, etc. I am sure not many people remember this! One of my criticism of Duke was his failure to stay the course on this most enobling policy initiative. He abandoned ship when it got tough! 

The landscape of Cross River State would not have been the same today if he remained steadfast. Plantations would have been everywhere today and young men would not have to be SAs to survive. 

When petroleum prices increased and Nigeria was awash with PetroDollars, allocation jumped from a paltry 250 million naira monthly to over 5 billion naira monthly and Donald regrettably, no longer saw the need to run around the state pursuing farmers with pineapple suckers! 

Focus shifted to Tinapa and tourism replaced our main policy objective of the time. At the end what we have is a Tinapa that generations unborn at the time are still going to be paying for! And a carnival, to keep us partying every once in a year! Again, don't get me wrong. The point I'm making is about consistency in policy in the face of challenges: financial or social and political. 

 In case we have forgotten, Donald Duke at the end of his tenure was forlorn and almost dejected. His policies at the time which represented a huge change at the time were very unpopular. At his handing over to senator Imoke extra security precautions had to be taken because there was credible intelligence of a threat to stone him at the stadium by his brothers from the southern senatorial district, who felt aggrieved that he did not treat them well during his 8 years tenure. I stand to be corrected. 

The euphoria to bid him farewell was so palpable I almost shed tears for him because at the end I knew he had given almost his all. As one of his aides I know how much love of state he put into what we had accomplished then and still have now. But the public was angry with him!

 I am happy that soon after Imoke took office, all that changed. He became a superstar! Donald did not become a superstar performer while in office. He did after leaving! Ironic? 

I was also there when Imoke was removed from office by a court ( the first time) and the whole state went into jubilation about 1 year or so into his administration! It took a lot for people to be convinced he would come back! I was not yet his fan then,(still smarting from losing that "turn of the north" ). Infact I kept a distance from him to allow the sycophants have their way. 

He had coined the slogan monkey work , monkey chop, during his campaign, as a criticism of Duke, who many believed went to import people who didn't work for his campaign, into his administration. This meant "monkey work, baboon chop". 

 It sold hope like wildfire. But when he won, the slogan went silent because Liyel was infamously quoted as saying " the monkey don too plenty"!  

Ayade has increased the monkeys! They are never too plenty for him! 

Back to Imoke and removal from office. I was shocked when Imoke was removed and for the first time since he became governor, I called him and sympathised with him and pledged my loyalty. He invited me to his house again since after our campaign duels of 2006/7. I went and I shared ideas on what to do with him. We later kept such contacts until INEC announced a time table for the bye elections. I moved to Cross River State and together with Hon. Jarigbe, Tony Undiadeye, Hon. Legor Idagbo, late Totsman Etoty, we crafted a Support Group which was later christened TEAM LIYEL at a meeting we had at the cultural center where late Totsman Etoty, used to provide us venue. The name suggestion that was approved was made by chief Tony Undiandeye and, we moved on to organize one of the most successful, self funded political support groups in our political history! I stand to be corrected. 

We never received one naira from Imoke and I recall Hon. Frank Adah acting Gov then gave us only 100,000 naira! That's a story for another day. Suffice it to say that we had a very robust campaign until it became evident that Liyel had no credible challenge before some people started shuffling us off the stage! 

Most important to this discuss is the scene when Imoke returned to the state after the date for election was announced. At the cultural center grounds, he acknowledged in his address that he had heard the cry of the people and he would no longer sleep in office! There was a lot of laughter and it doused the tension because many of his ardent supporters had vowed not to support a "sleeping Governor" again! The rest, well is history. 

Now comes Governor Ayade from Cross River Northern senatorial district. Harrassed and traumatized by us, pushing him to the limits and demanding immediate show of value. Largely Ben Ayade's travails are a result of his misunderstanding of certain political realities including the lack of knowledge of how politics works especially in our state. Your popularity is at peak only during your first inauguration and at it's lowest the day after you announce your cabinet. It doesn't matter if all of them are Angels! I refuse still to advise on what needs to be done on this platform. 

Suffice it to say his inability to manage his post appointment moment is what he is still suffering from into his reelection campaign. In the brief moment I tried to work with him I sent him a memo which, without saying so was for this purpose, but he virtually ignored it. I did not put one Kobo content to it. It was merely advisory. I however, offered my services to advise on execution if he needed me! It remained in his email till date. I do not push such things. The rest is history. 

Judged by his predecessors therefore, I am confident that by the projects on ground, not judging by our own priority objectives, we cannot pretend that Ayade has done badly. He has kept the major successful program of the Duke governorship afloat. Carnival Calabar has grown from strength to strength through two administrations and remains a fitting legacy to our man of style and ideas, Donald Duke. 

He has managed to keep cordial relationship with his predecessor, despite our very hard efforts to severe that relationship because I for one believed that the only way to take him out of government house was to get Senator Imoke out of the way. I know his capacity and on a good day I know what he can do. We failed and Ayade won. In our clime, it is not easy to remain in good terms with your predecessor. How could Donald Duke and Imoke contemplate falling apart! But they did. We must applaud his maturity. 

 It's time to move on! 

Whatever we may say as governor Ayade's faults and he has many, like all of us, one thing you can't say of him is that he lacks passion and drive and empathy. He might be crafty, ebullient, domineering, boastful and sometimes even overbearing but there remains a childlike innocence in him that most of us lack. And especially most other leaders we have known. 

The tendency to judge him by those standards is understandable, but wrong. Ayade clearly from the onset showed disdain for existing political tradition. He was in a hurry to draft his own political code: he is also paying the price for that audacity. 

 Ayade will always be Ayade. But he has responded to most of our demands without admitting that he will. He has created questionable "jobs" but he has kept a whole mammoth crowd on his payroll and paid them successfully. 

He has created new industries, which we may not like, but they are there and providing a living for some people. He has cleaned up Calabar eventually. He has filled the potholes eventually when we cried out as we should. Even with God we sometimes have to cry out to Him before he attends to us, but the important thing is that He does listen at the end. 

Gov Ayade clearly deserves a second term not because he is perfect but because he has tried creditably and where he fell short, like others before him, he is making up and making up fast.

 I dare to agree with him that as at this point of end of first tenure, he has more on ground than any of his predecessors. I may judge Imoke slightly better only because of the rural roads he initiated. As a village man no policy of govt can appeal to me better than one that seeks to uplift rural dwellers. That was a matter of his own priority again. 

Ayade took the opposite direction as his policy priority. He is doing well by it: creating jobs in industry and ad hoc jobs putting food on the table, an ingenious acronym for state welfare, which is practiced in all developed countries by other names. 

To be continued... 

Vena Ikem.

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