Cross River: Governor Ayade’s Bold Vision Dares Investors to Dream

Governor Ben Ayade

Building partnerships for growth and development is critical for African political leaders at all levels; however it takes vision and special skills to identify the right investors and secure support from development partners.

Need for vision and strategy

Africa is indeed a continent blessed with many opportunities for growth and development but has not mustered enough commitment to get past the rhetoric of been endowed with potentials.

The developmental challenge is further hampered by a dearth of elite visionary leadership and many years of decadence foisted on the continent by despotic military regimes, which promoted corruption, economic instability, public distrust and a general aversion for bilateral cooperation.

Africa’s challenges are bare to the naked eyes and constitute the central theme of manifestos and electoral promises by political parties and politicians, who promise to turn things around. However, once elected into office many spend their whole tenures making more plans until it’s time to go and they leave without having made any impactful difference.

In order to bring about meaningful change, a leader must possess vision, which is defined as “the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom,” because it will determine the kind of decisions he makes whether they be enduring or not, since it constitutes a plan for not only the present but leads to the future.

One of such leaders on the face of the continent today whom many have described as possessing both vision and the right strategy to deliver transformation by moving beyond rhetoric to deliverables is Professor Ben Ayade, the Executive Governor of Cross River state in the southern part of Nigeria.

Attracting investors

Private sector Investments are critical to the development of Africa, unfortunately when it comes to attracting investments, many leaders have embarked on wild goose chase all over the world looking for the right kind of investors with little successes due to a mismatch of opportunities and investor needs or due to a lack of business environment framework that supports global best practices.

Where the opportunities are right and the business environment friendly, investors will surely fall over themselves at the most subtle invitation.

Ayade has been able to match the needs and opportunities in his state with institutional investors and technical partners who attribute their willingness and excitement to work with the governor based on his compelling vision for Cross River which no right thinking investor can resist.

Recently he took a team of investors to visualise the Calas Vegas city to be built on Twin Island off the Parrot Island in Cross-River emptying into the Atlantic Ocean; a feat which could only have been conceived by a rare visionary.

After the boat tour to the little Island, Ayade said: “It is a fantastic and wonderful view; we have come with a team of design architects and all the teams from England and Ireland as well as my major investor Sani Dangote.”

“The entire team is here: Falcon International of America and Footprint to Africa led by Barr Osita and his team, who have come all the way from the UK to start showcasing what Calas Vegas would look like.

“It is a sad story that over time Africans have continued to strive to raise money to go on holiday vacations in Europe and the Americas even when the hospitality indeed could actually be gotten in Africa.

“So we have decided as a leading country and indeed a leading state in tourism and hospitality and indeed African warmth to create a new place where all Nigerians will go for holiday. There is no sense in seeking this hard-earned dollar only to travel to America and Dubai or to Europe.

“I think it is right for us to have a city called our own as Africans and we are getting it here in Calabar and it is going to be a wonderful and fantastic city that is going to have all sorts of compartments and of course also a business boulevard.

“It is a dedicated island where you can only reach via water or air as we intend to have no bridge, but surely it will be the most secured place and all your businesses can take place there. It is actually a mix of holiday and business; there is a leisure park, hunting and fishing parks and everything you can think of in a holiday resort.

“One of the greatest things my wife who is a medical doctor has always said is that if you want to live healthy, cut the amount of food you take once you turn 40 and find more time to play – and we are creating a leisure island for people to come and play, hunt and eat the natural African way, like we just ate yam dipped in red palm oil without cutleries, reminiscent of little kids growing up in the farms.

“Calas Vegas therefore provides a rallying ground for all Africans to come together and say, look now we’ve got our own, because with the increasing cost of the dollar it now becomes imperative that we must find a way to change our dependence on America and Europe for our tourism. Today we are going to have a very beautiful Calasvegas right here in Calabar and of course that means that tourism is about to start and construction is starting forthwith.

“We already have institutional investors and we already have Nigerian investors. And we are going to make all Nigerians and Africans realise that they have a better place to go to for holidays.

“This is my core project that I am committed to and part of the 2017 Calabar carnival will be taking place here and so to be sure that we have enough resources, the state is partnering with our institutional investors and Sani Dangote and that underpins the fact that we are really ready.

Ayade announced also that the design by the Irish team was almost done and the power was being done by a German team – “And they are looking at wind and solar because we intend to recover money treating it as a green location as a green city so that we can also get some refunds on our investments.”

Investors’ perception

According to Mr Sani Dangote, the Vice President, of the Dangote Group, who also spoke to the press after the tour: “This is very visionary and I couldn’t believe it myself until the first time I was opportune to go to the island and I have now seen for myself what a beautiful small island it is; a nice place that can be the dream of investors because as you know, the state is one of the most hospitable states, very peaceful, very secured and people are always looking for this kind of opportunity and the state has gotten all these vast resources.

He said a lot of people worldwide are already looking into Cross- River as a holiday destination, “so this investment I believe is the right one and definitely it will be a world class residential, commercial, entertainment and hospitality hub.

“I believe this will be a showcase to make Nigerians proud everywhere it’s talked about and His Excellency should be commended for bringing it to reality.

“We are hoping that before this year runs out there will be official commissioning of some of the important projects on the island. I am really excited and I am calling on the business and investment communities to come and join us put very fantastic facilities here.

“We are very excited and will continue to join the state in laudable development projects and I think Cross-Riverians should thank Almighty Allah for making Prof Ben Ayade a leading light to birth these kind of dreams because without dreams you go nowhere, so we are very opportune to have him and I am proud to say that he is my brother and I’ll support him all the time.

According to Dangote, it is very rare to find such visionary leaders as very few people in the history of the world have been able to build the vision of where they want to take their people to and succeed.

“A lot of people come in with no vision and no dream and have always been challenged by the reality on the ground, very few can think beyond the reality they see and nothing stops them until they reach their goals.

An institutional investor from the UK, Mr. Elias Achilleos, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Schools Company UK, speaking of the Calas Vegas project said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to see His Excellency’s compelling vision for this beautiful area and it is absolutely secure and would be a very beautiful location for holiday vacations and also for people to come and work; it is an absolutely stunning and compelling vision.

“I have not seen this in any other place in the world and we are very thrilled to be able to support him in realising this vision.

“This is beautiful; the people that we met today are very hospitable and looked after us, while we were surrounded by natural beauty that would look more compelling once the project is completed. We are thrilled to be supporting this because it is the best thing for Nigeria and the best thing for Africa.”

Transformational agent

Recently Governor Ayade who has been awarded the Vanguard Governor of the Year Award was also recognised by a coalition of over 50 civil society organisations under the umbrella of the Civil Society National Lectures and Awards (CISNALA) as the CSO Man of the Year.

According to CISNALA, other considerations for the conferment of the award on the governor include “his strident green life advocacy, construction of the largest garment factory in Africa, construction of multi-million dollar rice city project, completion of Calabar International Convention Centre, prompt and regular payment of workers’ salaries, ongoing construction of his signature projects, namely, the Bakassi Deep Seaport and 260 km Digital Superhighway, among others.”

Speaking at the Vanguard Man of the Year event last weekend, one of Nigeria’s past military Head of State General Yakubu Gowon urged other governors to emulate Governor Ayade for what he described as welfarist policy, he said: “I say well done to Governor Ayade as I want all other governors to follow his example by taking care of their civil servants because civil servants are the custodians of any good work any governor or even president is doing.”

Chief Emeka Anayaoku a former Commonwealth Secretary General said of him: “Governor Ayade is clearly one of the best performing governors in Nigeria today. He has kept faith by paying salaries regularly to workers.”

Anyaoku charged other governors to follow in the footsteps of Ayade, stressing that, “Governor Ayade is a performing governor and I’m glad to see that he was recognised by Vanguard newspapers for the Award. I will want to encourage all the governors to emulate him and pay greater attention to the management of the resources in their states and to set the right priorities by developing infrastructure, welfare of their workforce and development of greater capacity for their internally generated revenues. They should also pay attention to agriculture.”

A former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke summed it all up in these words: “Governor Benedict Ayade has left no one in doubt that by the time he’s through with Cross River, Cross River will never remain the same. He has defined an agenda that left every Cross-Riverian breathless. He is not satisfied with where the state is at the moment and he is determined to take it ‎to greater heights and make it an iconic state in the comity of states in Nigeria.”

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