By John Ebriku
As the Senatorial by-election in Cross River State to replace late Senator Rose Oko in the Northern Senatorial District draws closer, the mammoth crowd and overwhelming support being accorded the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Stephen Odey, has been attributed to years of political reengineering at the grassroots level.
Odey whose years of teaching in primary and secondary schools and association with people at the grassroots level have earned him praises and unprecedented supports since he emerged as the PDP candidate, was the immediate past Chairman of State Universal Basic Education Board, SUBEB.
It was at SUBEB Odey deployed his leadership skill and managerial acumen to not only changing the face of basic education in Cross River State but deepen the system. His first task was rekindling interest the interest of people in schools. He went about campaigning for parents to send their children and wards to school thus giving rise to increase in school enrolment in the State.
Working closely with the Governor, SUBEB was able to construct and rehabilitate over 500 schools across the State.
The Board employed 2,043 teaching and non-teaching staff through a transparent and practical assessment to showcase their intellectual capacity, to hire those who would propel the new policy thrust in that subsector of education.
The rigorous process in the end led to the hiring of not less than 2500 teachers within three years.
To engage the teachers and increase school enrolments, new schools were built across the State, which drastically reduced out of school children and those roaming the streets.
Cross River State was one of the worse States in South South Nigeria with poor school enrolment and out of school children. At the end of the exercise, Odey’s policy thrust lifted the State to second behind Rivers State, and among the top ten in Nigeria, from under 20 by 2015.
To further improve the learning environment and reduce financial burden on the parent of pupils, about 9,400 plastic chairs and table sets for Early Child Care Development (ECCDE), Primary and Junior Secondary students were distributed across the State.
The Board also supplied about 2000 tables and chairs to teachers across the state, while also periodically putting the teachers through their paces in the area of training for new capacity development.
During this process, Odey was always on the road. “He was always supervising the construction and renovation of these schools. He was personally ensuring that the needed materials such as books, desks, chairs and other things needed to give comfort to the pupils and teachers were available as provided for,” Monica Odey, a teacher in Ogoja local government said.
Odey’s direct supervision of the process took him to all the nooks and crannies of Cross River State. “I had to be on the road to help the people, reduce educational burden and stress on both the pupils and their parents,” Odey said.
Added to the fact that he was a teacher and a young man who never abandoned his home, Odey’s penetration of Cross River State firmly established his grassroots base.
“I am a grassroots politician,” Odey boomed. “Where have I not been to in Cross River State? He asked. “Everyone sees me, everyone knows me, my work speaks for me,” he justified.
Indeed, right from his intention to vie for the vacant seat, the reception that has greeted his political voyage has been unprecedented. Not a few Cross Riverians especially those from Northern Cross River believe in his capacity as a manager of both man and material resources.
“Odey’s support is due to his association with people at the grassroots,” Mr Joseph Ogar, a respected PDP member in Okpoma ward noted.
“The very day he signalled his intention to go to the Senate and went ahead to obtain the forms, we knew this was the man that deserved that seat. We quickly held a meeting and threw our total support to Dr Stephen Adi Odey. He is like our brother – our political mouthpiece and savour.
“He is such a kind hearted man, hard working, considerate, accommodating, inspiring and sincere that one wonders if he is a Nigerian.”
Right from Calabar, people lined up on both sides of the road waving flags and chanting his name when he returned to his district to commence his campaign. Odey had to go down of his vehicle when he stepped into his senatorial district to greet the supporters and well wishers who lined up the road, walking over one kilometer.
On the following day, which was for the take-off of his campaign, the crowd took over the entire Okpoma roads and venue where the event was held. Various speakers during the inauguration spoke of his humanness and humility. They explained how humble he was, which was why they all came out to lend their support.
As the campaign train hit the road to Ukelle, Odey promised the people he was for everybody and would provide the needed representation so long desired by the people.
Over 50,000 people packed the venue of the event with the traditional ruler endorsing the candidate.
At Ukelle, Odey assured the people of his total support for infrastructural development particularly the road that has made the people groan. He assured the people that he would play the role of an advocate and intervene directly to fix the roads where necessary.
The candidate was assured of a total support from the Ukelle Nation. Speakers after speakers lauded Odey’s peaceful disposition and said his hard work speaks volume of his personality.
Campaigning at O’ooh and Okpoma wards, traditional rulers joined the people to welcome a man they described as an illustrious son.
They counted the schools he built and the employments he granted the people during his time in SUBEB.
Odey restated his commitment to represent and be the voice of the people.
He promised that their challenges and complaints would be channelled to the appropriate quarters saying, “Okpoma is like my home.”
The campaign train reached Okuku where the entire place was shut down as people lined up both sides of the roads to welcome a man who used his position in SUBEB to build many schools, repaired roads and gave employment to their sons and daughters.
Odey asked for cooperation and unity saying the ancient city of Okuku would be transformed through working with the right people in government.
He said the transformation of Okuku ancient city was long overdue adding that when the city was opened up, development will trickle down to other parts.
Odey’s emergence as one of the most respected politicians in Cross River State which led to his emergence as the candidate of the PDP has been described as divine. He comes from Yache Ward, making up six villages with almost 20,000 votes.
His meteoric rise is said to be due to his continuous support he provided people which became firmly established due to his performance as SUBEB Chairman.
“There’s no where in Cross River State or Northern Cross River State that I don’t know or haven’t visited,” Odey said. “I got the mandate to work for my people, that call I heed.
“Need I say I felt the pain of the people so I had to solve those challenges as little as I could,” he said at Gabu during a stop over campaign in the ward.
He assured the people that no challenge was insurmountable to the effect that when he emerges a senator, he would work with the people and relevant authorities to ensure their challenges were attended to.
“One thing I can assure you is that I will represent you well. I will listen to you and do my duty to make you proud.”
When it was the turn of his people in Yache to welcome him, the entire villages emptied into Aliforkpa, the ward headquarters, with young and old, male and female lining up the roads and fields to welcome their son.
While being assured of the entire votes, he was told not to campaign any longer as his antecedents had spoken for him.
He assured the people that he would represent their interest and would never abandon his root.
The campaign train hit Echumoga, with another round of mammoth crowd lining the streets to welcome Odey.
The speakers who spoke glowingly of Odey said he was the best of the pack, assuring that they will vote him in as a senator and no one else.
The campaign train hit Obanliku, people demonstrated Odey’s grassroots status singing his praised, and mentioning schools and other intervention he has made in the local government.
At Obudu, the local government of the governor saw huge crowed turning out to see the man highly respected and trusted by their son to have bequeathed on him so much responsibility.
Speakers at the campaign rally reeled out school after school Odey built and renovated and said he deserved their votes.
Responding, Odey said Obudu had a special place in his heart assuring the people that they had not seen his best. He noted that he would ensure proper legislation that would directly tackle issues they had raised.
When the campaign hit Bekwarra local government where the candidate’s wife is from, people lined up both sides of the roads to welcome a man they regard as a great in-law.
They said his works as SUBEB Chairman earned him special place in their heart, and to have seen their daughter as a worthy wife was really special.
Odey responded by saying his best was yet to come saying only their votes would see to the realisation of the collective dream.