Cross River’s Politics of Logos

“When the governor comes back, he’ll…”

The quote above is the most popular line among government — especially appointed — officials in Cross River State. That is because the governor is never around! Makes you wonder where he’s always going to. Just over a year ago, when a member of the state legislature was quizzed as to the legality of the governor’s numerous trips abroad and the time he spends outside the state, he reportedly answered that there was nothing in the constitution that makes it unlawful, and that besides, the governor’s trips were in search of foreign investments that would benefit the state.

But then, being lawful, and being right are not always the same thing. That it is not unlawful does not make it right for a governor to spend more time outside the state than within it. How then does he govern? How does he know what is going on in the state when he only visits? Also, the search for foreign investment is made to sound as if there is a certain place where people called “foreign investors” gather, and you have to go there to beg them to come and invest in your state. How convenient!

The governor was elected to govern, not to come and break the records of “Ajala.” It is only in governing well that an enabling environment, that is attractive to investors, can be created, and not by numerous trips.

Right now, there is a sense of inactivity in the state. A state that used to pride itself as the cleanest in Nigeria is now one of the dirtiest. Heaps of refuse have taken over the streets and markets of Calabar. It just feels like nobody is in charge. But how would the governor know the state of affairs when he is never around? The only thing he seems to do whenever he comes around is to make appointments. The governor has made over 1,100 political appointments! According to him, the appointments are geared towards poverty alleviation in the state. How does giving appointments to politicians equate to alleviating poverty? And these appointees would require offices and salaries, which would further deplete the already meagre revenue of the state. Cross River has one of the lowest IGR in Nigeria. Ironically, the same governor that goes abroad in search of foreign investment is the same governor using the state revenue to “settle” politicians. What value are those appointees adding to the state?If the governor ran a lean government, wouldn’t there be more funds available to the government? Such funds can then be used to improve basic infrastructure. That would be a better attraction to investors.

When the governor assumed office in 2015 he immediately announced that his government would commence the construction of a 260 Km super highway from Calabar all the way to Benue state in the north. He said that a deep sea port would also be built. The thorny part was that the “super” highway was going to pass through the state’s forests. Cross River state is the only state that still has virgin forests in Nigeria (home to some endangered species), which is like a heritage of some sort. The highway was to pass right through it. A few months later, the government rolled in equipment to begin clearing, but was stopped by the federal ministry of environment for not completing an Environmental Impact Assessment. How can a government begin a project of such magnitude without an EIA? The government had also initially planned to dispossess people and communities of lands lying within 10 Km width on either side of the highway. That decision was later reversed. The government was just going to seize ancestral lands belonging to communities! Why are our leaders acting like foreigners? Why don’t they care about the environmental impact of the project on the state? Isn’t it baffling that it is a federal agency that is trying to get our state government to protect our environment, and not the other way around? Is the highway just an excuse for something else? Why are they forcing a project on the people? Is the project for the people, or the people for the project?

Another argument against the proposed highway was why the state government didn’t just work with the federal government to expand the existing highway, instead of embarking on a new one? It’s befuddling that a state that owns an unprofitable “Tinapa” and an empty “International Conference Centre” — which are now ghost towns — would want to embark on another “big” project that would turn out to be “white-elephantine.” The traffic on the existing federal highway is low, so why would anyone want to ply a “super” highway where they’d have to pay tolls when there is a free alternative? The federal highway may be in bad shape right now, but given the type of politics we play in Nigeria, the federal government can decide to repair it just to spite the state government, especially since the state government is controlled by the opposition PDP. Then, we would have an empty “ghost” highway on our hands, with its attendant financial and environmental costs.

Likewise the proposed deep sea port;there is an existing sea port in Calabar, and the state government is, or was, proposing a new one. Why not work with the federal government to expand or make the existing one more efficient? Since it appears that the state government is obsessed with the word “deep,” it could partner with the federal government to dredge the waterway leading to the port to enable it handle bigger vessels. From the obvious difficulty in attracting foreign investments, which can be inferred from the governor’s continues trips abroad (if he’d succeeded in getting the investments, he’d have stopped traveling), it is better and cheaper to improve existing structures, than to build new ones from scratch.

Of course, the super highway and deep sea port have entered “voicemail.” Nothing is being heard about it anymore. Then the government announced that it would construct a beach resort, and that the 2016 carnival would be held there. That too entered “voicemail.” Just a few months ago, the government also announced that it would start a new airline company. We are still waiting for it. We have been promised everything in Cross River, yet we have nothing to show for it. It is “one month, one promise!”

Nothing mirrors the state better than the Cross River State Water Board Limited (or Water Board). Though it was supposed to be a limited liability company and managed independently, it has always been controlled by the state. The Water Board used to be the pride of the state. With its World Bank-funded extensive pipeline layout, it provided portable water to the length and breadth of Calabar. Even people living in slums could afford it; it was cheaper than buying from water sellers. The Water Board was so cheap and efficient that sinking boreholes became unpopular — in fact, it looked foolish! The Water Board repeated the same setup in some other towns across the state. Other state governments used to come to study the Cross River Water Board model.

Then like everything in Nigeria, the Water Board started going down. Its downfall actually began during the last administration. Right now, the water board is a shadow — nay, a ghost — of its former self. It’s either they have electricity problem (before they were connected to a special line by the Transmission Company of Nigeria in January), or they don’t have chemicals for treatment of water, or a part of a critical equipment is stolen, or their contract staff refuse to report to work due to owed salaries (some are owed salaries of up to nine months!), or one problem or the other. Water supply is now erratic, almost non-existent. They can go for weeks, sometimes months without supplying water. Even the quality of water supplied has deteriorated; there was a day they supplied untreated water! NEPA is now more dependable than the Water Board, and that is putting it mildly. The boreholes have all returned. Water sellers are now the primary suppliers of water in Cross River State. Depending on the Water Board now makes one look foolish. Nobody takes them seriously anymore; they are now the butt of jokes: “Water Board pumped water today o! Hallelujah!”

Also, businesses in the state are in a strait. They are shutting down. The already pernicious economic recession in Nigeria is compounded by a difficult business climate in the state. Most business owners complain of debilitating tax policies; so they are either shutting down or moving out.

Furthermore, the state of insecurity is alarming. Cross River used to be one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria. Now, it is being overrun by cult groups. Death bodies are now a common sight in Calabar. There was a time last year that Calabar was held hostage by warring cult groups. Day time robbery incidents are no longer rare!

But all of these do not seem to be of serious concern to the government; rather, its priority is in launching a new state logo. There have been reports that the state government intends to introduce a new state logo as part of it activities to mark the state’s 50th anniversary.

The new logo, as leaked to the public, is bright red with a white circle containing 18 stars (representing the 18 local government areas of the state) and a white bull charging towards the right. It is christened, “Spirit of Enterprise.” Alternative hilarious versions with different animals are also being circulated. The proposed new logo has, however, caused contentions among Crossriverians. Some consider it unnecessary, while others — especially those in government — argue that the new logo is necessary to portray the state’s new focus. So the state is now divided along logo lines.

However, the questions that are germane, but have remained unanswered, are: How does a new logo improve the state? How does it improve the state’s economy? How does it improve the business climate? How does it improve our schools and hospitals? How does it improve security? How does it improve tourism, that the state is known for, and an important revenue earner? Will it provide jobs? Will it provide food? In fact, how much was budgeted for this new logo?

The logo is just an unnecessary distraction in a state under the weight of economic recession. Are we now supposed to consider a new logo an achievement? Development has never been measured by how beautiful your logo is, or whether you have one at all.

According to dictionary.com, “enterprise” means “boldness or readiness in undertaking; adventurous spirit; ingenuity.” Are we exhibiting that definition right now? That attribute is evidently lacking in our leadership. The rate of business closure and indirection in the state attest to that. A logo does not confer an enterprising spirit.Rather, enterprise comes from within. It takes effort; it takes planning; and it takes leadership. Enough of all these talk and pictures, and more of action!

This is what the Cross River State government must know. We do not need a new logo, or any logo at all; that’s the least of our problems right now. What we need are security, good roads, good hospitals and schools, better economic policies, a business-encouraging environment, and most importantly, leadership. So let all this circus and shadow chasing stop. It’s not beneficial. Let the governor stay put and govern; that’s what he was elected to do. If he’s so interested in investments, let him reduce the cost of running his government and invest the savings in infrastructure. That’s all he needs to attract investments, whether foreign or otherwise. At the end of the day, the governor’s performance is going to be judged based on how much development and progress he brings to Cross River, and not on how beautiful a logo he introduces.