Hope Mr. President will draft him to solve our Energy issues
The Donald Duke Legacy
by Yemi Ogunbiyi
While working as an editor of a book on the Donald Duke years as Governor of Cross River State, Dr. Olaokun Soyinka, who was co-editor, and I, agonised about the choice of a proper title for the book. After a series of deliberations, we settled for: Doing the Right Thing: The Donald Duke Years. The first four words of the title were not original. They had come from the text of a Donald Duke interview with journalists in which he had said that the best guarantee for success in public service was to do the right thing always.
In retrospect now, as one attempts a brief review of Duke's legacy, the choice of that title seems most apt because it captures, it seems, not only the essence of his monumental achievements as two-term Governor of Cross River State, but also the general public's perception of that success. Yet, unless some facts about Duke's achievements are properly situated within the larger context of what can truly be referred to as Duke's 'eight-year wonder' at Cross River State, he might be remembered more for his achievements in Eco-tourism and other related areas than for the unprecedented solid foundation for enduring development, growth and prosperity that he laid for the state.
The very first thing he did upon being sworn in as Governor in 1999 was to deploy an Economic Blueprint, which outlined his Development agenda and vision for the state. Not surprisingly, the document bore all the signs of years of gestation. This Blueprint was anchored upon a deceptively simple set of prerequisites for development ----- the provision of sound minds and healthy bodies for the populace. In other words, if government provides education, training and infrastructure for the people and keeps them healthy, they will become economically productive.
A second major plank of this Blueprint was the enactment of a unique public-private partnership model for growing major sectors of the economy, especially the sectors where the state had comparative advantage, such as agriculture and tourism. To further drive this Blueprint, the government took two key decisions. One, it adopted an unprecedented performance tracking mechanism that was to benchmark the state's performance in the key socio-economic development areas. Secondly, it decided to set aside N50 million as strategic reserve out of its meagre monthly allocation from the Federation Account for use in emergency situations. Taken together, these broad objectives led, as will be shown presently, to one of the most ambitious investment drives of any state in the history of the country.
For instance, in agriculture, which was to become a major anchor of Duke's development agenda, in the first four years of the administration, Cross River State leapfrogged from subsistence agriculture to large scale commercial farming such that the state became a major producer of pineapple, cashew, cocoa and, of course, oil palm. Working closely with Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia, our own NIFOR in Benin and other private investors, the oil palm business blossomed into a major industry. Similarly, the pineapple project became a huge success, leading to the establishment of a pineapple processing plant at the Calabar Export Free zone.
The plant has since been privatised and taken over by Dansa Food Processing Industry. Also, in the first four years of the life of the Duke administration, Cross River went from being the sixth largest producer of cocoa, nation-wide to the second. As I write, Cross River State produces about 20 per cent of the total national tonnage of cassava. These figures did not exist before 1999.
But, perhaps, the most unique feature of Duke's agricultural policy was the judicious combination of micro and macro schemes to create poverty alleviation strategies which were to have immediate impact on the fortunes of the poor. To take one of several examples, in 2005, for instance, the state, under a turnkey agreement with private investors, took delivery of Bee-keeping equipment and honey processing machines that would produce some 50,000kg of honey annually on the Obudu Ranch. Under the agreement, 25 trainers and 400 farmers were to be trained in modern bee-keeping techniques, with Beehives imported from South Africa. When fully operational, the factory will create a diversification of skill, as it can also process other by-products such as wax into candles. This model was successfully extended to fish-farming and live-stock delivery.
This same drive permeated other aspects of Duke's ambitious plan in education, infrastructure, urban regeneration, and health. Unfortunately, the constraints of space would not permit a detailed look at these areas. But sketches will survive to provide insights into an enviable legacy of commitment and service. For instance, in early 2000, Duke convened a state-wide Education Summit. Among other recommendations, the Summit called for a surgical and multifaceted approach to the crisis of education in the state and the amalgamation of all the tertiary institutions in the state into one Centre of Excellence.
The implementation of the latter decision led to the creation of Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH). To ensure that CRUTECH meets the objective of harmonising local standards with global academic benchmarks, its intakes from secondary and primary schools had to be properly equipped. Accordingly, under a diligently pursued, state-wide universal free primary education scheme, the state wrote, printed and distributed text books to primary and secondary schools, virtually free of charge, perhaps, the only state on record to do so in the federation. And to complete the final education jigsaw, the state embarked on a massive incentive programme for school teachers by introducing handsome tax exemption packages, 'difficult station allowances,' mobility allowances and prompt promotion for teachers.
While the full impact of these innovations are yet to be felt, it is sufficient merely to state that already some dramatic results are beginning to be seen. Not only have JAMB results improved dramatically throughout the state, two Cross-Riverians, both graduates from the last CRUTECH batch, have recently secured admission to two Ivy League universities in the United States for post-graduate work.
Achievements in the health sector were no less spectacular. In 1999, Cross River State had one of the highest HIV/AIDS sero-prevalence rates in the country. Acutely convinced that health was a cardinal part of his economic agenda, Duke took full control of the sector as if his success as Governor was dependent solely on it. Under his every watch, a massive re-orientation programme and grass-root health delivery was embarked upon to confront Tuberculosis, Malaria, Onchocerciasis and HIV/AIDS. By 2005, Cross River State's sero-prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS dropped from 14% to 6%, the highest such drop anywhere in the world, causing the World Health Organisation (WHO) to cite the state as worthy of emulation by others. Also, in 1999, only about 15 rural communities, covering no more than 10% of the state had electricity.
Eight years on, some 80% coverage had been achieved, covering some 200 communities, again making this achievement one of the most outstanding in the federation. In similar vein, under a massive urban regeneration programme, which included the designation of five cities, Calabar, Ugep, Ikom, Obudu and Ogoja, as centres for capacity enhancement and excellence, a state-wide environmental programme was rolled out. Today not only is Cross River State the cleanest state in the country, the network of roads and the level of modernity to be encountered, sets it apart from many.
However, for many, Duke's greatest legacy would be, and with justification, TINAPA and the renovation of the Obudu Ranch Resort. Because a lot has been written about them, I will dwell solely on the uniqueness of these projects. It ought to be restated that these projects were a part of a well-rounded and well-orchestrated public-private partnership vision, driven by opportunities in commerce and the new global awareness for environmental conservation. The plan from the outset was for TINAPA, with its N200 billion annual economy, to become the destination of choice for the commercial traveller, while Obudu Ranch Resort, from its pristine state, would become the haven for the tourist seeking peace, beauty and tranquility. Put differently, by investing in an area of comparative advantage and strength, Duke, sought, through these projects, to enact a model of economic management that is unprecedented in its transformative effect on the fortunes of the people of Cross River State.
When the projects were first unveiled, the former President, Chief Obasanjo, was ecstatic. He had this to say: 'This young man is full of fantastic ideas and vision, capable of turning the economy around. He is an invaluable asset to the Fourth Republic'. Then, two years after, at the commissioning of the revamped Obudu Ranch Resort, complete with the new cable cars, Obasanjo wrote: 'Donald, I wish to commend you again as I did on TINAPA. Truly, where there's a will, there will be achievement.... I challenge other state Governors to either replicate something like this or unique to the economy of their states. This challenge which is in line with the six focal economic points of the federal government should be based on the principle of comparative advantage'.
To be continued
Dr. Ogunbiyi is Chairman of Tanus Communications in Lagos