By Anthony Andem
It was Nelson Mandela who once said, “It is not our diversity which divides us; it is not our ethnicity, or religion or culture that divides us. Since we have achieved our freedom, there can only be one division amongst us: between those who cherish democracy and those who do not.”
The significance of those great words of the sage freedom icon resonates down the political history of Nigeria. And lately, in Cross River, a state that bears a striking resemblance to the wider Nigerian diversity, we are reminded of the import of those words as we embark on another exercise to choose a new governor for the state.
That division in society is a function of poor management of diversity is not in doubt, as has been starkly highlighted by happenings on the eve of the governorship election. What is in doubt, it seems, is whether those jostling to govern this ethnically and culturally diverse state have learned the appropriate strategies to manage diversity.
Unfortunately, the actions and statements of some of those aspiring to lead the state portray them as having learnt nothing on how to manage the issues that tend to divide us. The utterances of some of our political leaders have tended to promote destructive orientations and tendencies.
But in sharp contrast to the ways of many in the political arena, the governorship candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Cross River State, Prince Bassey Otu, has demonstrated a desire to focus on the issues that bother the state.
Otu has focused on issue-based campaigns devoid of ethnic pigmentation. This is unlike many of his rivals, whose messages have centred on ethnicity, pride, arrogance, and egotism.
The APC governorship candidate has in his campaigns prioritised harnessing the state’s rich economic potential to improve lives and livelihoods in The People’s Paradise. He has pledged to free the state from the shackles of federal allocation dependence, if elected governor.
Otu told the people during a thank-you tour of the Northern Senatorial District of the state, shortly after his nomination as the APC governorship candidate, last year, “We would build on the legacies of Governor Ben Ayade, who has done extremely well in the areas of industrialisation and human capital development. We will sustain, expand and develop the industries, getting our people involved and liberate the state from over dependence on federal allocation.”
He added, “We will build a Cross River that we all would be proud of.”
Otu says he would take the state to the next level if elected governor in the March 18 poll.
Praising the industrialisation policy of the Ayade government recently, during a campaign rally at Okpoma, Otu stated, “When somebody does well we need to celebrate his efforts. It is not everything that should be politicised.
“This government has done much in establishing industries across the state and all that is needed is to build on what has been done so far.”
Among the contenders for the top job in Cross River State, Otu stands out. A man with rare leadership qualities, his enviable antecedents are respected and celebrated across ethnic boundaries. He is a product of the times, the product of ideological and social reawakening among Cross Riverians, a rebirth not tainted with the wiles of tribe and tongue.
Otu is a dogged, experienced, and far-sighted leader with the capacity and willingness to advance the rich political and socio-economic history of Cross River State. He is a man with unquenchable commitment to due process and rule of law, who is determined to build strong institutions and ideals that will engender confidence among the people and promote patriotism.
He made unprecedented impact in the public institutions he has been previledged to serve. At the federal legislature, he unwaveringly pushed advocacy for human empowerment and societal development.
In line with his passion for development, Otu sponsored the following bills in the senate: Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; Petroleum Production and Distribution (Anti-Sabotage) Act (Amendment) Bill, 2019; Gas Flaring Bill, 2019; 1999 Constitution Alteration Bill, 2020; Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020; Allocation of Revenue (Federation Account) Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020; Public Complaints Commission Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; and Federal University of Technology Akwa-Ibom (Est) Bill, 2021.
In an era when the country is facing an existential threat, men like Otu are needed to pilot state affairs, especially at the sub-national level.
Unsurprisingly, politicians with parochial predispositions and propensity to promote divisive agendas perceive Otu as a threat. He has come to the scene with a people-centred agenda that is exploding the parochial messages on which many of his opponents have anchored their campaigns.
Fortunately, however, the people are with Otu. He carries their hopes and aspirations.
Born on October 18, 1959, Otu grew up in his home city of Calabar and Jos, the Plateau State capital. He holds a degree in Social Sciences from the University of Calabar.
He represented the Calabar Municipal/Odukpani constituency of Cross River State in the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2011. He was elected Senator for Cross River South in 2011.
Otu defected to APC, from Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in in 2016 and emerged the Cross River South senatorial flag bearer of the party in the 2019 general election.
In the House of Representatives, Otu served as Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum (Upstream); Vice Chairman, House Committee on National Population; and member of committees on Power, Ministry of Niger Delta, Inter-Parliamentary Relations, Inter-Intra Party Relations, Environment, Water Resources and Defense.
As Chairman, House Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), he led work on a draft amendment bill that would reposition the Petroleum Technology Development Fund as a more effective vehicle to develop local content in the oil and gas industry.
In the senate, Otu was Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, and later Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking and other Financial Institutions; he was also member of the committees on Navy, Power, Petroleum and Water Resources.
Otu maintains a humble mien, choosing to stay glued to the issues that bother the people – rather than the things that promote his own aggrandisement.
The advice for politicians in the state, therefore, is to emulate Otu’s style in trying to solicit support for their political aspirations during these elections. Like Otu, leaders should always align their communication models with Mahatma Gandhi’s disposition that, “Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation.”
Furthermore, it is imperative for our political leaders to design and structure their political messages on the basis of good moral principles. Campaign messages should be made to appeal to society’s diversity and dynamism, while promoting cohesion and unity. Messages that take into cognizance the fact that there will always be life after political tenures, as society transcends office.
In this light, issue-based political campaigns are and advocated. The people of Cross River State must discourage the seed of tribalism from growing and geminating among them.
Cross River State is diverse by nature, and this diversity comes with its attendant blessings and strengths. For good governance to be achieved, the people must be given hope. Hope galvanised by desire to build a state where the citizens will be defined by a common humanity, rather than tribe, culture or geographical configuration.
The arguments and campaigns of our potential political office-holders should engender hope rich in substance and content. Otherwise, they would portray themselves as people who have nothing to offer, save blackmail and primordial sentiments that divide the people.
Effective leadership and management of resources is synonymous with good governance. And the prerequisite for the discovery and achievement of good governance is the discovery of self, and advancement of ideas and ideals capable of promoting and fostering wholeness and oneness of a people. It is a process and conscious desire activated through actions and constructive visions of leaders to censor their minds against all forms of negativism and dividing trends.
Leaders, who must pilot the affairs of Cross River State and, by extension, Nigeria, are challenged to find paths that make sense and guarantee hope. This calls for selflessness and alignment of personal interest with the interest of the larger society. It entails an open heart and mind. It requires readiness and preparedness to harness our diversity for the common benefit of the people.
Instead of dissipating energy on destructive and unappealing ventures and ideas, Otu’s opponents are invited to be more constructive in their messages and create political norms that will promote and encourage transparency, accountability, integrity, lawfulness, sound policy, participation, and corruption-free political space.
In Saturday’s governorship poll, therefore, the electorate should eschew sentiments, and vote competence and what the candidates represent. The unity and prosperity of Cross River State, which Otu symbolises in this race, should be paramount and sacrosanct.
There is need to choose statesmen over mere politicians.
As James Freeman Clarke put it, “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.”
Otu parades the antecedents of a statesman. Let the people of Cross River State go out peacefully on Saturday to elect him as the next governor.
A vote for Otu is certainly a vote for today’s prosperity, and hope for the next generation.
• Andem is from Cross River State.