A Gov’s Trillion Naira Project: Scratching the surface of Ayade’s White Elephants —by Ugbesghe Andre

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25 September 2018 
It is commonplace for elected officials to woo their people with the treasures of the moon and stars, with clouds of warm moistened wool lined with precious silver and raining down showers of milk and honey. Politicking in Nigeria is no different but unfortunately politicians prefer to conveniently forget their electoral promises upon assuming the position of authority.  
Predictably, Governor Ben Ayade has toed the path of infamy not just during his inaugural speech but throughout the following years of his incoherent administration up to this point. He went further by saying that God would throw him into the pit of hell if he failed to fulfill the numerous promises made to the people of the state; “I am not a politician but an agent of God, I have seen wealth and poverty but what I seek now is God. The treasury of the state is in my hands, I am going to shock this country because I am the one who is indebted to God.”
And shock the state (and indeed the nation) he has, fielding several white elephant projects we might as well be living in a zoo. First on the governor’s shock list of pledged white elephant projects is the proposed N800 billion Calabar – Katsina-Ala superhighway. The superhighway’s proposed route winds through the heart of Cross River’s prized rainforest to connect the northern hinterland and Katsina-Ala in Benue State to Calabar and other southern settlements.  The 260 km dream project aims to open up the economy of the interior and craft trade opportunities for businesses and industries beyond the dominance of the state capital Calabar. 
The basic questions have not been answered, such as why a brand new highway was being built between two already existing ones or why the existing highways weren’t just simply rehabilitated for a fraction of the cost, but also to save the inhabitants of the now displaced communities from the pain of losing their lands and homes. 
Perhaps too complicated or mundane to consider was the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which noted that the proposed superhighway would destroy a sizeable portion the rain forest and displace hundreds of people from their settlements and farmlands. While of course forcing families out of their established societies or countryside and compensating them with paltry sums could be described as easy, but convincing an endangered monkey or a rare gorilla or python to shuffle along because of Ayade’s concrete-and-asphalt cake is cumbrous to say the least. 
On three successive occasions, the EIA has turned up a negative result. Even the Federal Government withheld its consent and is dismayed at the frivolity of such a waste of resources. Critical aspects of the project such as construction details, financing and sustainability have all been gaily drowned in the murky waters of inane celebrations of a wandering, visionless “record-breaking” administration. As such, this particular promise has remained a drawing board candidate and will likely be nothing more.
Situated at the southernmost tip of the aforementioned Calabar – Katsina-Ala superhighway is the second pipe dream cum promise: the Bakassi Deep Sea Port. Touted as being designed to world standards and to be constructed as such, the port is envisioned as strategic economic tool and job creator, with the ability to open up the state to the lucrative world of sea-going trade. It is also expected to reduce the logistics bottleneck being experienced in the country as a result of most Nigeria’s trade being funneled through Lagos State’s ports. However, the project is optimistic at best because of the shoddy research into feasibility, especially since the capital-intensive dredging work was grossly miscalculated and financing is practically impossible considering the current prospects on ground. And thus, another poorly conceived delusion takes its place between the drawing board and the trash can indefinitely.
Third and perhaps most impractical of all the governor’s false promises is his plan to build three brand new cities for the people of Cross River State. Not three housing complexes or three housing schemes or three residential estates, no: three complete cities. In a bid to garner grassroots support and political backing, the governor promised one city each to three of the senatorial zones in the state. As if mocking the intelligence of the sane public with such concrete absurdities was not sufficient, even the names of the proposed cities are perplexingly laughable: Calas-Vegas for Cross River south senatorial zone, Nostradame for the north and Centicort for the central. Even more confusing is the governor’s intention to allocate plots in the prospective cities for free. Wow.
Barrister George Ekpungu heads the new ministry charged with handling the city projects and, as of March 2017, the projects are firmly planted on the drawing board in his office while he battles with the real financial challenges of building imaginary cities. 
It is often said that an elephant never forgets, but the sheer scale of these white elephant projects and the blind zeal with which the administration ardently pursues their unlikely completion is sure to sadden any white elephant to a point that it would just want to forget it.
Perhaps, as we careen towards the 2019 election semester, the governor and his current administration can lay the foundations for the next four-year tenure with the broken bones of his broken promises mixed with the mortar of campaign hullaballoo and the glue secreted by his ensemble of sycophants.
Andre writes from Nigeria