Tuesday, 25 September 2018

A governor, his budget, and the need to #RecoverAndRestore Cross River State

The 2018 "Budget of Kinetic Crystallization" is a key example of the Cross River's descent into the abyss of unsustainability. A whopping N1.3 trillion has been earmarked for the state's various expenses. However, key among the Ayade administration's misdeeds is neglecting to carry out the mandatory performance review of the previous year's budget, which is widely regarded as being a failure. 

Extensive research carried out by Heinrich Böll Stiftung (Nigeria), in collaboration with BudgIT picked holes in a key signature project of Governor Ben Ayade's administration: the Calabar – Katsina-Ala superhighway. However, pleas from numerous NGOs asking for a reconsideration of the project's sustainability and viability have so far fallen on deaf ears. 

The primary source of concern is cost, with the 260 km superhighway being billed at N800 billion in 2015. A revised figure of N200 billion is currently being quoted by the government, but this time around for a 275 km superhighway. Funding for the white elephant project has been the obvious elephant in any room, but the governor has attempted to calm skeptics and his detractors thus: "on the issue of where the money will come from for the construction of the superhighway, please leave that to Ayade," adding that "impossibility is actually a giant coward, but for sure, and surely, when you bring the intellectual architecture into it, impossibilities will disappear." 

The governor concluded: "As you know, we got N4.3 billion in the last three months as federal allocation, an indication that it is impossible for us to pay salaries or think of such a gigantic project but we are determined to complete it alongside the Bakassi Deep Seaport."

The composition of the governor's last statement is a unique amalgam of hope, folly, blind determination, deafness and fact. A notable point of blindness is the fact that the Federal Government had already made provisions in its 2017 budget for rehabilitating two already existing highways running a similar course to the governor's proposed superhighway. 

Already famous for shattering records, Governor Ayade's administration shook the nation yet again by catering for 4,076 appointees. Yes, Governor Benedict Ayade has appointed 4,076 (that is four thousand and seventy-six) individuals to fill political positions in the state.  Critics of the critics of his administration will hail this as the zenith of job creation, but the reality stands that there is no better example of bureaucratic sludge glazed with institutionalized inefficiency. 

The key question is this: how does the state government, already saddled with N9.5 billion in pensions' debt, plan to preserve the interests of additional workers? And which benevolent lender would choose to finance the state's exorbitant expenses, seeing how Cross River State's external debt is already stacked at a discouragingly high $115 million? 

Even if all were said and done, the governor's promise mill has been noticeably barren in the area of education and youth development. There can be no sustainable development without adequate human capital development. There can be no serious industrial resurgence if the education sector is left in its current moribund state. There can be no sustainable legacy and future if the prostitutes, drug addicts, cultists, hoodlums, criminals and the poor are not taken off the streets and engaged in useful and productive enterprise.

There can be no lasting legacy to bequeath to the next generation if there is no meaningful investment in educational capacity, innovation and research into next generation technologies and systems. 
According to BudgIT, the N700 million Tinapa Knowledge City is a better long-term investment compared to a N200 billion superhighway, and if fully implemented would take advantage of the already existing fibre optic cable infrastructure and elevate the city to a regional IT hub. 

The report also states that the funds could be used to empower 2,000 SMEs in the state to the tune of N5m each, in a similar fashion to what obtains in Lagos with the LSETF, a scheme which is backed by N25 billion by the Lagos state government. 

There is no also no support whatsoever for the state government's claim that upgrading the Calabar-Ogoja- Benue road would cost – wait for it – N1.8 trillion. This amount is higher than the federal allocation to 13 sectors in the 2017 budget. 

In summary, the Cross River state government is doubling down on a project that is not crucial for the state's development and which comes at an astronomical cost, when there are greater needs in the area of human capital development that will yield far greater returns. 
The people of Cross River will soon have an opportunity to pass a verdict on Ayade's four years. Will they choose to recover and restore the potential of the state, or will they decide to reward failure? Only time will tell.