By: Israel Umoh
Many people outside the academic community would not have heard or known about him. But as soon as Ben Ayade, the microbiologist sauntered into the political turf, his popularity soared. In 2011, he became a Senator under the platform of PDP. In 2015, he ascended as the Cross River governor. Incidentally, his political profile has risen above his professorial title.
Being in the bedroom of power, Ayade could exercise the political power at will. As a governor, he could demand the head of his enemy and it is taken to him in a saucer. Yes, King Herod enthralled by the dancing prowess of the Biblical Herodias asked her to request for anything. She consulted her unforgiving mother who demanded the head of John the Baptist in a platter. Of course, the king acceded to her request. Absolute power in action!
The microbiologist-turned politician charmed by power has to court attention to himself. As part of the imperial strategies in the power game, he almost turned his yearly budgets into object of derision owing to the appropriation of phony but outrageous figures. Also, the use of bombastic words to tag the budgets was another facade.
While Akwa Ibom and other South-South rich states have been budgeting in billions, the Cross River governor has been budgeting in trillions. In 2019, he budgeted N1.043 trillion and tagged it Budget of Qabalistic Densification. In 2020, the Cross River Chief executive officer proposed N1.1 trillion and tagged it Budget of Olipotic Meristemasis.
The amusing thing is that the state collects paltry monthly allocations in the region of N2 billion from the Federal Government and has a low revenue profile. The yearly budgets do not witness up to 10 percent implementation. In tagging budgets, he caresses circumlocutions like Patrick Obahiagbon, a Nigerian grandiloquent politician and legal practitioner from Edo State, fond of using jaw-breaking words.
Moreover, And he likes experiments that are unnecessary in government. On December 4, 2019, Ayade forwarded the second list of 36 commissioner- nominees to the Cross River House of Assembly for screening and confirmation. The list comprised commissioner-nominees from the 18 local government areas of the state. The governor had earlier sent in three names to the Assembly for screening as commissioners, thereby raising the number to 39. In fact, the cost implication of appointing many commissioners was seen as political largess, not of expediency.
However, Governor Ayade likes to exercise power to the maximum. As such, he does not like criticisms particularly the one said to impugn or dent his reputation. What constitutes that class of such criticisms damaging his reputation fits his description.
Unfortunately, Agba Jalingo, the publisher of CrossRiverWatch, an online newspaper, did not see the governor’s red line and he woefully fell into the lion’s den. Or, if he had seen, he would not have reported that Ayade diverted N500 million belonging to the state. But then, publish and be damned is a cherished ethos to every trained journalist.
The fact that Ayade and Jalingo are kinsmen from the same village in Obudu, Cross River State is immaterial. When power is involved, every other consideration in human affairs is secondary. The report had that after the alleged libelous publication, Jalingo was arrested in his residence in Lagos, Nigeria, at about 2 p.m. by the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad (FSARS) of the Nigerian police on August 22.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Jalingo was charged with treason, terrorism, cultism and public disturbance in a Federal High Court in Abuja, for “working with the #RevolutionNow movement”—founded by detained human rights activist Omoyele Sowore to protest bad governance in Nigeria— to ”undemocratically’ force the government of Ayade to end through violent means.”
Addressing the press on Monday, January 27, 2020, Governor Ayade dismissed the suggestion that he is behind the travails of Jalingo, saying that the federal government is the one prosecuting Jalingo and not the Cross River state government. According to him, Jalingo tried to overthrow the government of President Buhari.
So, what are treason and a treasonable felony? Section 37(1) of the Criminal Code, provides: “any person who levies war against the Sovereign, in order to intimidate or overawe the Governor-General or Governor of a Region, is guilty of treason, and is liable to the punishment of death.” Sub-section 2, further provides: “any person conspiring with any person, either within or without Nigeria, to levy war against the Sovereign with intent to cause such levying of war as would be treason if committed by one of Her Majesty’s subjects, is guilty of treason, and is liable to punishment of death…”
Tightening the noose further, the relic of colonial legislation in Nigeria provides in section 38 that: “any person who instigates any foreigner to invade Nigeria with an armed force is guilty of treason, and is liable to the punishment of death.” With Jalingo publishing what looks like libel case about a governor, why did the publication amount to treason? As a governor, why did Ayade want to drink Panadol in the headache of the Federal Government? As a lawyer, Ayade should know better that he is not the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to charge the journalist to court? He is not even the Minister of Information, then why did he address the press to give excuses to Nigerians on the issue?
Again, police officers were said to have transferred Jalingo to Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, allegedly on the request of Cross River Governor Ayade on August 23. If the Federal government has a hand in the matter, why did the governor meddle in the case? Why was the journalist not being prosecuted in Abuja instead of Calabar?
Telling the public that Jalingo was no longer a journalist but a politician shows the governor’s naivety about who is a politician. It shows his bias for the man. Is there a law that says if you are a journalist, lawyer or medical doctor, you should not participate in politics? The Nigerian Constitution provides a window for any person wishing to go for an elective office to resign or retire.
Ayade also explained that his relationship with Jalingo fell the day he requested money and he could not provide him the amount. Who asked Ayade that question? As a public office holder, he should be reticent and should not have allowed his emotions to betray his public life. The governor failed in the emotional and social intelligence tests on this matter.
In short, Ayade has shown unremitting duplicity in power. From budget allocations to failure to tell the public the truth that he was piqued with the journalist for alleging that he diverted N500 million public funds have portrayed the treacherous nature of the governor. In fact, in his whining, he failed the truth test. Let Ayade be real in good governance and let him release Jalingo for he was doing his professional bidding. If the journalist has committed any act of misdemeanour against him, let the governor sue him and not to infringe on his Fundamental Human Rights as a Nigerian.