By Emmanuel Ogbeche
“The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness,” wrote the French Renaissance philosopher, Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne, commonly known as Michel de Montaigne. This is true of Senator (Prince) Bassey Edet Otu, Governor of Cross River State, who turns 64 on October 18.
There is a certain certitude about the governor who bears the sobriquet, The Sweetest Prince, that is putting smiles on the faces of those he serves.
His coming to this appellation bears testimony to his innate belief that all men should be happy in the hope that it sends a ripple effect in service to people and community.
As the 18th Chief Executive of Cross River State, Otu came at a time of great economic challenge, social dislocation and near-despondency occasioned by several factors, chief of which are the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and removal of fuel subsidy, low revenue generation, infrastructural deficit and an aging, less-motivated workforce.
Like the wartime prime minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, Otu, fully aware that it was at a time such as this that he was called forth from near-political eclipse, rallied citizens of the state on May 29, 2023 when he said: “We are excited to be here at a time like this; for champions are made in trying moments. We are confident and determined to restructure our huge debt stock while strengthening our fiscal pasture.
“I commit to you and my God, to, at all times, put you first in all consideration as we begin a journey of a prosperous and glorious future.”
This clarion call echoes Churchill’s rallying cry to the British people at the House of Commons on June 18, 1940 when he said; “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years men will still say, ‘this was their finest hour’.”
Indeed, the finest hour for Cross River State is nigh as Prince Otu, without any illusion of an easy ride, has set about laying a firm foundation on which to build a state that works for all with his People’s First Agenda.
As a politician, the governor lives the conviction of his belief, “I am in politics to serve humanity.” And owing to this, he was bestowed the endearing appellation, “The Sweet Prince,” and would later take a notch higher to “The Sweetest Prince.”
As it is often said, “Politics is almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics many times,” so has it been with Prince Otu. First elected into the House of Representatives in 2003 to represent the good people of Calabar Municipality/Odukpani, an office he occupied until 2011), he set about serving diligently and putting not just his constituents first, but the whole of Nigeria.
As chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum (Upstream) Rep Otu led the agenda in revolutionising the petroleum sector by strengthening the Petroleum Technology Development Fund as a more effective vehicle to develop local content in the oil and gas industry.
He would further deepen indigenous participation in that sector when he was elected senator in 2011 to represent Cross River South Senatorial District by drafting and sponsoring the Nigerian Content Development Act that gave birth to the Nigerian Content Development Management Board (NCDMB).
While working to give Nigerians a chance in the lucrative oil and gas industry, he remained a man of the streets, and there was always a carnival-like atmosphere when he visited his senatorial districts. For the people, his mere presence was an elixir to hope and expectation that all will be well.
In spite of his deep sense of commitment to his people and constituents, political machinations would deny him the opportunity to return to the Upper Chamber in the next elections, while the political establishment would find him useful in other areas.
But as man fated for a greater thing, destiny conspired with the former Governor of Cross River State, Senator (Prof) Ben Ayade, and Prince Otu was anointed as the worthy bearer of the rallying cry for political stability and equity in the Back-to-South Movement, counted for great gain for the state. And like Nathaniel Bassey will sing, “See what the Lord has done!”
For the common man on the street, nothing could be sweeter than having him on the ballot as governor above and more than the senatorial ticket that was denied him. His popularity acceptance was unmistakable as he swept through the state in 15 out of the 18 local governments and could have taken all but for some electoral abracadabra. Like they say, “the rest is history”.
As governor, Otu has placed agriculture and tourism as lynchpins of the state’s economic revival and is investing resources and manpower in this regard. His assemblage of a blend of technocrats, politicians, and private sector driven individuals in his various appointments speak to his broad vision not to allow any sector suffer, insisting that each should complement the other.
Since his assumption as Governor of Cross River State, Prince Otu has embarked on bridge building, cross-cutting tours across the state to take stock of projects and infrastructure and meeting with diverse groups and peoples to have first-hand experience of their needs and concerns. For instance, during a fire outbreak at the popular Hausa quarters, Bogobiri, in the Calabar metropolis, he was there to commiserate with the traders and made a donation of N20million to cushion their losses.
In fidelity to his People’s First Mantra, Cross River State was the first to announce conditional cash transfer to all civil servants before the federal government borrowed a leaf and announced same. This is beside other incentives in the face of fuel subsidy removal palaver.
A firm believer in God as a practising Christian, all state meetings are not without prayers –opening and closing. For a man who has seen the ups and downs of life and bears witness to God turning it around, this is not surprising.
For many a Cross Riverian, the hope remains that he will remain efferent, conducting sweetness and like Churchill, always bear in mind, “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour”.
Happy Birthday, Your Excellency!
(Ogbeche is the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Bassey Otu)