Senator Prince Bassey Otu, a two-time Federal House of Representatives lawmaker represented the Calabar Municipal/Odukpani Constituency of Cross River State, in the lower legislative chamber from 2003 – 2011.
The grassroots politician was also elected Senator for Cross River South in the April 2011 elections under the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) platform.
Given his popularity, he, however, was cheated out, according to his followers when he again ran for the same Senate seat in 2019 on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
He opened up to Sunday Sun during an encounter on his candid view on some critical national issues, including the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown and lessons learned, the challenge of leadership and what the elite should do to salvage the country. Excerpt:
What is your assessment of the response of government so far to the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you satisfied?
So far, I think that the government is trying its best and not doing badly, especially when you also compare with the results we are getting with that of some other countries. You know this thing took everybody by surprise, but in all, I think that the government is on top of it, there may be lapses, but still the government is working towards arresting the situation. Even when I look at what is happening in my state although, I am not following all the issues on the ground, I still know they are not folding their hands. Aside from Abuja, Lagos, Ogun and Kano states which the Federal Government is involved directly in the decisions being taken there, perhaps because of the nature of the states, their populations and all that, but other states are trying also to put measures to contain its spread, as well as in its management. But I believe the country will overcome this pandemic.
You think the lockdown has yielded the desired result?
I believe to some extent yes. I think that the lockdown first and foremost apart from preventing people from the spread of the virus, it immediately put the public on the alert, the awareness was really necessary, but then locking down has its diminishing returns. I know that this thing is a killer virus, it is a virus that anybody who gets infected by it will struggle to come out of it and I think that people will be very careful now with the lockdown. Of course, there are people that are getting their daily bread by going out every day and if they don’t go out they won’t feed, things obviously will be hard with them with the lockdown. But there is the need to endure the pain and be alive, but the government will do well if they come to their assistance in terms of providing palliatives.
Even as the news of COVID-19 and its dangers are highlighted there are still some Nigerians with the thinking that what we are witnessing is nothing, but international sabotage and deception that there is nothing like the pandemic as we are being made to believe…?
(Cuts in) It is because of the social media and a lot of theories being propagated that there is a conspiracy and all that, but you can see that with the lockdown we have seen relations, friends, fellow Nigerians dying because of the virus. I don’t think it’s something to joke with and if there are people who still believe that it is not in existence, it is better they change their thought because it’s actually a killer disease and people must be very careful. Even if the lockdown is relaxed and the people are gradually asked to come out they should be very careful about their movements and must take full responsibility for themselves because the population of Nigeria is so much. If you think of the number of hospitals and test centres in case of emergencies you will know it is inadequate, the very reason we should be very careful and take full responsibility. Ignorance is no excuse in this case. People must take their life seriously knowing that what we have is a killer pandemic. Although times are difficult I believe that Nigeria is on a path to sustainable growth.
What lessons have we really learned so far from the COVID-19 experience?
For me, the biggest lesson is for us to now know that there is no place like home. The issue of people taking money to go and invest in foreign lands you can see what happens when it mattered most, you have to live with what you have.
Also what we are doing here in the level of knowledge by both our medical experts and the facilities that we have, we are just lucky that our case is not as terrible as some that we hear about some countries if not we will not be able to cope with the tragedy that would have been recorded.
We are lucky that our medicare can a bit cope with the situation we have at hand but beyond that, we now must know that something like healthcare is very important and needs to be given priority attention.
Things like education, healthcare, shelter are very important and should not at any time be neglected by the government. I believe that the lessons have been learned on the danger of neglecting the provision of key amenities, infrastructure to the people.
Society doesn’t function well when certain infrastructure are denied and in times of emergencies, it is always disastrous.
There is a need to ensure priority attention is given to certain key areas, make provisions for them, and ensure you take care of emergency developments.
As the name implies societies take care of certain unforeseen situations bearing in mind it may occur. There are things you don’t leave to chances.
You need to fix the health sector, fix education, take care of housing, fix the roads, etc and ensure the infrastructure are okay bearing in mind that a day of emergency may come.
Look, we must understand that whatever you take to another country will be used to develop that country, the only way to develop and build ours is to invest in your country.
Madagascar has come up with something that they are using to deal with this Coronavirus pandemic, there is nothing wrong in us looking inwards also.
I believe that if we believe in our own Nigerian medics both in our local and orthodox ones, the natural and the orthodox, I am sure if we look inwards we can come up with something positive and build on it, and the sooner we do that the better for us as a country.
Before this COVID-19 scourge took the centre stage of happenings in the news there was this controversy of regional security outfit that was created in the Southwest, Amotekun – is there a need for such a security network today?
As far as I am concerned, you see the problem with Nigerians is one that you sometimes find it very difficult to understand and you really do not know why. At a point, we were operating regional government and they came up with the idea that the regional government was not good that it was better to fragment it into six.
The country was further fragmented into six regions and all operations should be at that level of the six, every state due to its peculiarity should design a system that will take care of their situation. But when you begin a regional basis you want to break Nigeria again, we are ready for any battle, we are not ready for any war.
The issue is not about where we come from, the issue is about economy and people not being sincere. Nobody chooses to be born where he or she was born.
if we come together and say, look, as a people we want to make sure that Nigeria moves as a country, we will move. We have the population, we have the market, we have the brain, the resources natural and human, but it’s sad that some few people will make sure they use either religion or ethnic card to play to their advantage just to destabilize the entire country and make sure majority still lives in perpetual poverty when we ought to rise above this and break this level of poverty of an average Nigerian.
We have all that it takes to build a great country, the issue is not in terms of division, suspicion, etc but the moment that we agree that, look, it doesn’t matter whether you are from the South or from the North we are all Nigerians let us build this country, I tell you nothing can stop Nigeria.
I know that all those Western countries have hands in making sure that we do not grow beyond this.
They know very well that if we emerge that we will be very strong and a great country, they know it, and they are not helping matters too. For me, regional security without food security, regional security without solving the basic needs of humanity, will go nowhere.
We will continue to wallow in squalor because some people cannot be living in massive opulence and the rest cannot afford the basics.
That huge inequality will continue to cause a problem, so until the critical mass, comes together and say enough is enough, let us come together and follow a plan and move this country forward we will continue to say we need regional security when the regional security fails they will now look for another alternative.
I believe that each state should develop its own security apparatus peculiar to them and make sure that the security of the place is not breached, but when you come as a region it can turn to anything, until it turns to something else you may not know and that might not be the intention of the original, founding fathers.
So, the sooner we began to live in peace with one another in this country the better for us.
Looking at the behaviour of the leaders, do you think that they are willing and interested in coming together to unite Nigerians?
We are getting to that point where they will no longer have a choice. You know history is replete with the rise and fall of nations.
There are times whether you like it or not things will change, we have come to that point in Nigeria, we are almost in that place.
You see, we must change or there will be a revolution because when you look at the picture on the ground, the frightening unemployment, and hopelessness, you know that we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder.
And no elite, big man, no rich man should think that it is only politicians that will be attacked, no elite will sleep comfortably when it starts.
So, we are getting to that level, the level of openness now and the level of debate and criticism, the level of enlightenment and alertness of an average Nigerian is taking us to that point where things must change.
Nigerians are beginning to ask very critical questions, they want to know this, they want to know that, accountability will be forced on those steering the ship whether they like it or not, and before you know it everybody will fall into line.
If leadership is not ready to change the society at some point, the contending forces in the society will force them to change.
They will either be taken out through violence and another leadership will emerge or something will happen, and I can tell you that we are gradually getting to that point.