AN OPEN LETTER TO THE GOVERNOR OF C’RIVER STATE PRINCE BASSEY OTU

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Dear Governor Otu,

My name is Aribiah David Attoe. Congratulations on your recent victory and assumption of office as Cross River State Governor. I will not bore you with sycophantic rants — whether your assumption of office is well-deserved would largely depend on what you do for Cross River State in the coming years. I am a concerned Cross Riverian who has seen his state wallow in the doldrums following the dark ages of the previous administration. And so, in this letter, I wish to convey my hopes for Cross River State, in hopes that you take what I suggest seriously.

Let me start with a foundational concern – dirt. Cross River State (CRS), during the Duke and Imoke tenures, was considered the cleanest state in the country. No one needs a soothsayer to see that, in the past years, that role has largely been reversed. Moving through the streets of Calabar, one could see mountains of dirt blocking whole streets, and market women (who are selling food items) jostling for position between moving cars and huge walls of encroaching, smelling and rotting garbage. I’m sure you witnessed it too. It was embarrassing. I have seen on social media that you are making some small moves to eradicate this problem, my prayer to you is that you sustain this momentum – let this not be what Nigerians have often labelled “initial gra-gra”. I have started with this problem because every state needs an identity, and cleanliness used to be Cross River’s identity — this must be reclaimed at all costs from those who have spent all their time stripping the state naked.

Now to the more crucial points that I intend to make. Every society thrives when certain basic needs or amenities are put in place. For me, these basic needs include; Security, pipe-borne water, Good roads, Education, Healthcare and power. In CRS today, none of these amenities are available. Take security, for instance. It was not long ago (especially prior to EndSARS) that Cross River was the kidnap capital of the South-South Region. I remember vividly passing one of the many (potentially illegal) roadblocks in the state at the time (at the Parliamentary Road axis), only to hear, as I moved on that a certain lady had been kidnapped not so far away (around Ikot Ansa). The ineffectiveness of the security network in the state could not have been made more apparent. Security in the state has mostly been a matter of appearance, not reality. How could it be that armed robberies in Calabar were normal occurrences, even in broad daylight, even though one could see countless armed police patrols moving around the state and harassing individuals whose hazard lights were not functional? How can this problem be solved? There is the solution of creating more jobs for idle youths but let us keep that aside briefly. One solution lies in government support for security agencies. Rather than supply your new aides with new vehicles, why not invest in equipping the State’s police formations with tactical vehicles and equipment? It would not be a bad thing if every three or four major streets in Calabar, for instance, had a patrol car effectively securing it. Peter Obi, in Anambra state, also tried his hands in community policing, and if the police are generally incompetent, perhaps those vehicles and equipment would be better used by the communities in which they are deployed, for their own policing efforts, and many properly trained youths would be employed.

In terms of adequate pipe-borne water, there is no doubt that the CRS Water Board (if it still exists) is dead. In saner climes, water availability is essential and non-negotiable. It is surprising that despite being located where rainfall is abundant, no Cross Riverian can boast of sustained adequate water supply from the government. My advice is that you look into this matter. The chairman of the board should be a technocrat, not a political appointee. You want to employ someone (Cross Riverian or not) who knows what s/he is doing and is eminently qualified in the field of water resource management. Next, you need to budget for the improvement of the available infrastructure and the building of new infrastructure, such as new reservoirs, new water pipelines, etc. In rural areas, it has to be the case that every community has at least one borehole, generator and overhead tank, by the time you leave office. It should cost you less than a million naira (I hope) to achieve this, per community. Rather than spend 200 million on some white elephant project similar to “Cally Air” or “Calasvegas” and other such painful lies, you could succeed in making water available to 200 communities. It is crucial that every Cross Riverian has access to drinkable water.

Then good roads. I will tell you a story, and it is about one of the countless death traps, in the guise of potholes, that I have seen riddle the roads in Calabar. Some time ago, when potholes riddled the Murtala Mohammed Highway, an attempt was made to repair the road. However, the contractors only succeeded in digging up the road and living mounds of sand for unsuspecting motorists who could neither see the holes in the road nor the mounds beside them, at night because, of course, the streetlights never really worked. As a motorist driving at night, I thought to myself, this is dangerous. Some days later, I saw a Mercedes on the road that overturned after hitting the same mound of sand I pondered on some days before. I came to hear that the driver may have been deceased from that collision. While I am not sure if the driver actually died, there is no doubt s/he lost something — her life, health, car, money, etc. Good roads prevent accidents but, also as important, good roads are the veins on which business in the state depends. Suppose rural roads, city roads, and major highways were repaired and expanded (I do not mean building fake superhighways or spaghetti roads), what would that do for the agriculture industry, for instance, or our quarries? How much death would be avoided? How much would it cost the CRS government to efficiently fill a damn pothole? Think about it. Another issue is education and healthcare. One of the most important metrics of development is access to proper education and health. From unqualified teachers, especially in rural areas, to poor infrastructure and an archaic curriculum, our education system is just plain moribund. I would advise that you institute a committee of some sort, headed by your commissioner for education to look into revamping our curriculum, testing and replacing teachers who are not supposed to teach our Kids (remember the Kaduna case, where a huge number of teachers could not even pass a primary four test), providing key infrastructure to all public schools in the state, and the lofty goal of renovating every state public primary and secondary school in the state. I cannot over-emphasise how important education is to the future of the State. That committee must find ways to turn your state University, UNICROSS, from a glorified polytechnic to a world class science and technology institute. You must also think about revamping our technical schools. Space would not allow me to tell you how important these technical schools are to job creation. In terms of healthcare, I do not need to tell you that our primary healthcare services have collapsed. If patients have to buy gloves, masks, generator fuel, torchlight batteries (when generator fuel is unavailable), etc for the hospitals they visit in order to access healthcare, if surgery has to be done with rechargeable lamps (if one is lucky) or phones, if doctors and nurses are not accountable for their mistakes in service delivery, and if our hospitals are dirty and infested with rats and mosquitoes, and patients have to sleep on that same hospital floor because there are no beds, then we have a problem. It is compulsory that you work on our hospitals and primary healthcare centres. Create a committee (that reports to you) if you want to, but you must work hard in this sector.

I will not say much about electricity/power, because the debt in which the previous government had placed the state would make it difficult (but not impossible) to make the state independent from the power grid, and able to sustain reasonable supply, but you can start something. Perhaps, look for investors — power companies that are willing to set up and power the State independently and privately (if this is possible). You and I know what power can do for the economy of our state, so it has to be at the back of your mind. Now, what I have talked about above, albeit briefly, are the core basic things that you must take care of as our Governor. I believe that these things are non-negotiable. You have 4-8 years to accomplish these basic things and so time and money should not be an excuse. I will now add a few more things that you would have to consider as you move forward:

1. Reduce taxes: the amount of tax that small businesses in Calabar have to put up with is incredible. To allow our people to thrive in this hardship that your party at the national level is putting us through, you must reduce taxes and increase salaries. And you must monitor very closely whatever is received from your people as tax, in order to make sure that every kobo from taxing is not stolen but is put to good use.

2. Sanitize the civil service: the civil service must be sanitised. How many times have Cross Riverians failed to get their due because a civil servant was corrupt, or was unavailable at work (sometimes for months)? Civil servants must be monitored — late coming, unreported absences, corruption, disrespect, kickbacks, it all has to end.

3. Pay Salaries and gratuities. A labourer is entitled to her wage. To pay an individual his salary or retirement fund on time is a right. It is not a favour.

4. Cut any public association with the legacy of the previous government. It would only taint you in ways that you cannot imagine. In my opinion, and many would agree, we have never had it as bad as we had it in the dark ages of the previous year. You do not want that legacy near whatever legacy you intend to build as Governor of Cross River State. Cut off. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Since I know you may not be willing to go further to prosecute any excesses of the previous government, this would be the next best thing for your legacy.

5. Dredge our ports and revive our free trade zones: It is time for Cross River to be the Lagos of the South-South/South-East. There is no doubt that dredging our ports to allow vessels to come in and instituting a free trade zone would boost our economy. Our amiable Donald Duke had this vision and you can be the one to make it work. At a time when Nigeria is collapsing, CRS can carve a niche for her own success. True federalism for CRS must mean economic self sufficiency.

6. Create an IT Hub for young Cross Riverians. As is the case all over Nigeria, we have a teeming youth population. What would it cost your government to make Cross River a tax free business haven for tech companies? From Google, Facebook, to Flutterwave, what would it cost to say to these companies; we will tax you minimally (or not at all) for establishing your offices/businesses here, in exchange for building and manning ICT training centres and/or workspaces where our youths can go to and acquire skills in various aspects of Information and communication technologies, and if you employ those trained youths as interns in your company? What would it really cost?

7. Agriculture: nothing would create jobs and wealth more efficiently than vastly improving the agricultural sector. There was a time Cross River was a great exporter of pineapple, palm oil/palm produce and cocoa. Now, we look up to countries like Malaysia. Was it not years ago that Duke established a partnership with Malaysia? Cross River can feed itself and feed others if it invested properly in her agricultural sector.

8. Sports: often underestimated, improving the sports sector is important in keeping our youths focused on positive things, and providing them with a chance to dream. Again, the previous government allowed the sports industry in the state to die a slow and painful death. A simple walk from your office to the UJ Esuene stadium would prove my point. What we have there is a dilapidated stadium and a range of uncompleted buildings/projects.

9. Tourism: This was our bread and butter during the Duke administration. Today the many historical landmarks in the state, which could be avenues for serious foreign exchange, are ignored. Look at the Obudu Cattle Ranch. Formerly a hub for foreign tourists, important business meetings, races, etc., today one must be happy if the hotels there can afford to turn on their generators at night. Even the roads leading to the Ranch from Calabar are terrible. The mini airstrip, moribund. You must revamp the tourism sector so as to further boost our economy.

10. Then you have the emerging abundant mineral resources that are now being discovered in parts of the state. Rumours of illegal mining activities in some local government areas like Biase LGA are rife. As Governor, you must find ways to consolidate the mining industry and bring it back into the control of the state government. By doing so we can then regularise mining in the state and avoid the unfortunate situation that states like Zamfara find themselves due to illegal mining.

Why have I written you this letter? For the past 8 years, I have watched my beloved state fall to ruin. I have watched our people deceived countless times for no good reason. Many people complained privately, and braver individuals, like Agba Jalingo, were jailed for voicing some of their concerns and opinions. This is your chance to rebuild the state and establish your legacy. I do not claim to know everything, and there might be important points that I have surely missed, but I am just one voice. You must listen to the many voices of the people, insofar as those voices shout for the continued growth of our state — a good leader must always listen. Our state must not be dependent on the Federal Government for its survival; in which case the question at the back of your mind would always be: how do I make our state self sufficient and a hub for development?

I wish you the best, Governor Otu but I will never forgive you if you Iet us down like we have been let down and lied to in the past.

 

Best regards,

Aribiah David Attoe (PhD)

A Concemed Cross Riverian.