By: Missang Oyama.
I must state very clearly that I’m a stakeholder in the Cross River project. The gigantic billboard on a building in State Housing Estate facing Murtala Mohammed Highway, Calabar with the inscription: “CONSTRUCTION AND FABRICATION ACADEMY OF WEST AFRICA” ignited my interest in the subject matter under review. The history and governance-style of Governor Benedict Ayade with regards to white elephant projects coined from ostentatious, high-sounding and bogus nomenclatures elicited my curiosity to undertake this investigation.
Evidently, his grandiloquence has often ended as pipe dreams and empty promises. Of course, the much talked about Superhighway, Deep Seaport, Spaghetti Flyover, Cali Vegas, magniloquent annual budget captions among others are ample examples of his extravagant promises and fanciful hopes.
Cross River State Property Development and Investment Limited (CROSPIL) is the state-owned real estate company which has become less than a shadow of itself under the current administration of Governor Benedict Ayade. Ostensibly, the governor is the architect of the prevailing wreckage in CROSPIL at this time. Senator Ayade has shown from the inception of his administration in 2015 that he was not on a mission to improve the fortunes of one of the oldest publicly-owned business enterprises in the State.
CROSPIL is a duly registered company with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and operates as a legal entity under the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). This presupposes that the operations of the company must be guided by the provisions of this extant law under a well constituted board of directors. Unfortunately, since he took over the reins of power in the state on 29th May, 2015, Governor Benedict Ayade has not deemed it necessary to comply with the law by constituting the board of CROSPIL. In the eyes of the law, the board is the preferred channel to interface with the governor on the activities and operations of the company.
Having jettisoned the idea of a constituted board in line with the provisions of the law, the governor has since chosen to use his whims and discretion to commandeer the properties of CROSPIL for other purposes without recourse to its mandate and ownership structure. From the tempers and disposition of the governor, one is under no illusion about his complete lack of a development agenda for the company in spite of the glaring challenges of housing in the State.
Recent actions of the governor have clearly shown that he is determined to acquire, usurp or completely run the housing company aground. His flagrant abuse of procedures and mindless disregard to the law are antithetical to the disposition of a lawyer that he is. Governor Benedict Ayade has demonstrated that he is a man without peers in the school of land grabbing and destruction of longstanding legacies bequeathed to the state by successive administrations from the era of Late Brig. General UJ Esuene.
CROSPIL was established with the name South Eastern Housing Corporation, Edict NO 14 of 1969 under the military administration of Late Brig. General UJ Esuene. The South Eastern Housing Corporation Edict was amended in 1972 and was further statutorily amended in 1977.
It was under the administration of His Excellency, Chief Clement D. Ebri between 1991 and 1993 that the corporation was registered as a limited liability company. The idea for this transmutation was driven by the vision, commitment and desire of the state government at the time to improve the socioeconomic wellbeing of the people through the provision of affordable housing with the collaborative efforts of the private sector and other stakeholders in the real estate sector in the country. The state government holds a larger percentage of equity in the company.
The Corporate Headquarters of CROSPIL which was commissioned on 18th April, 1975 is located at NO.1 Bishop Maynagh Avenue, State Housing Estate, Calabar. It warehouses more 5000 lands and housing documents for the state government, private organizations and individuals. The headquarters is a unique office building with six courtyards within the premises and well landscaped scenery. This beautiful edifice is now the latest attraction of Governor Benedict Ayade in his land grabbing escapades and destructive tendencies.
CROSPIL is the administrator of major Housing Estates in the State including, the Premier Housing Estate (State Housing Estate), Phase 1, 2 and 3 of Federal Housing Estate, Ikot Ansa, Calabar, State Housing Estate in Ikom, Orange Resort Estate, Akpabuyo, CROSPIL Housing Estate, Abakpa, Ogoja among others.
The company holds Global Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for all its properties across the State. CROSPIL issues Deed of Sub-Lease to buyers on purchase of any of its properties. The Deed of Sub-Lease is then registered with the State Lands Registry which eventually makes it a legal instrument. By its mandate and business model, the company acquires, builds and sell properties, engages in site and services for its clients, issues title documents and search reports to buyers and prospective buyers of its properties.
With the collapse of the Geographic Information System (GIS) that was digitalized by former Governor Liyel Imoke, CROSPIL is now the only place to get complete and reliable information about land and housing matters in the state. Apparently, it serves the purpose of Land Registry in the state. CROSPIL is playing the invaluable role of chief custodian of Cross River State historical relics and sacred memorials in lands and real estate.
Again, with the innumerable cases in courts on properties and housing matters, lawyers and litigants go to CROSPIL to cross-check facts and obtain documented evidence to back up their claims. The company is the reservoir of public documents on landed properties and housing that must be kept for generations unborn. It is indeed a one-stop shop for lands and housing matters in Cross River State at this time.
It should be noted that the CROSPIL Headquarters that Governor Benedict Ayade is hell-bent to acquire or demolish is a fixed asset of a limited liability company. It follows therefore that this asset is a critical balance sheet item of the company. The acquisition of such an asset cannot be done by a mere executive fiat. This would amount to reckless abuse of power and impunity.
It would be recalled that when former Governor Liyel Imoke acquired a particular CROSPIL building for the Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission (CROSIEC), he followed the due process and statutory procedure. The agreed sum of twenty five million naira (N25, 000,000) was fully paid by the state government before the property was acquired.
In recent weeks, against all safety measures in this COVID-19 pandemic era, Governor Ayade has continued to visit the CROSPIL Head Quarters. He invades the premises with a long convoy of more than 30 cars and a retinue of his aides and security details in preparation for this mindless acquisition under the pretext of establishing the Construction and Fabrication Academy of West Africa. The governor who has gained the notoriety of demolishing or destroying without rebuilding or reconstruction is at it again.
St Margaret Hospital, Calabar, Odukpani Junction, Government Guest House, Obudu and The Mangroves across the Marina are just few examples of Governor Benedict Ayade’s unhealthy and unconscionable penchant for destroying the relics of the state without replacement. These legacies were bequeathed to the state and successive administrations had maintained and sustained them before the emergence of Governor Ayade. He has now set his unflinching gaze at CROSPIL Head Quarters to either grab or destroy and abandon as usual.
Cross Riverians from all walks of life must unite across party and ethnic lines without primordial sentiments to resist this inglorious escapade of a destructive governor who is set out to plunge the state into an unprecedented disaster. Ayade is determined to bury CROSPIL. Staff salaries have not been paid for the past six months, no subvention from the government and imprest is not being given.
On 2nd September, 2019, the governor appeared at the CROSPIL Head Quarters and gave the staff 7days notice to quit. As a follow up to that notice, on Wednesday 18th September, 2019, thugs suspected to have been sponsored by the state government invaded the premises of the company at about 7pm and demolished the parameter fence separating CROSPIL Head Quarters building from other adjoining properties. Cross Riverians must arise to redeem the times because the days are evil.
The destruction of CROSPIL will be the straw that would throw the state into an endless abyss of confusion. This will come with dire implications and grave consequences for the entire state. The danger is that all the title documents of property owners in the state will be lost. Just imagine that scenario!
The fundamental questions that a discerning mind would find extremely galling are: why should the Construction and Fabrication Academy of West Africa be sited at the Premier Housing Estate? Are there no other locations? Is there any law from the State House of Assembly that empowers the governor to establish the institution? Why should we be talking of another technical institution in the state when CRUTECH, Calabar and ITM, Ugep are so grossly underfunded and ill equipped?
Obviously, the idea of the proposed Construction and Fabrication Academy of West Africa is not only ill advised, it is at best a smokescreen. It is either borne out of the unquenchable greed to grab and acquire another choice property in the state or to destroy and abandon. The entire idea was conceived in bad fate.
Cross Riverians must know that if the assets of CROSPIL are depleted below its share capital, then the company will be liquidated. The implication is that the state will not benefit from any housing funds from anywhere if CROSPIL is liquidated.
The ideal thing is for the governor to elevate the equity shareholding capacity of the company, constitute the board of directors and empower the company to step up to the plate and play its onerous role in providing affordable housing to the good people of the state and other Nigerians.
CROSPIL is a goldmine that must not be allowed to die. It is actually one of those windows we have to create sustainable jobs and shore up our IGR in the state if properly harnessed.
Governor Benedict Ayade must not be allowed to bury CROSPIL.
Missang Oyama is a Concerned Cross Riverian and a Stickler for Rational Governance. firstname.lastname@example.org, @MissangOyama05.