December 30
07:39 2020









Senator Helen Esuene is the wife of the first military Governor of Cross River State. She was appointed Minister of State for Health, and later Minister of Environment and Housing in the Cabinet of President Olusegun Obasanjo between 2005 and 2007. She was elected to the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in 2011. She is the Chairman of Villa Marina hotel in Eket, Akwa Ibom State



Cross River State celebrates her Golden Jubilee this year 2017. How time flies, for it feels like only a few years ago. I lived with my parents in Calabar before the civil war but when my feet touched the ancient city in July, 1968 it was with a difference for I was no more just another teenager but the soon to be First Lady. This dream which was more daunting than exciting, came to be on 21st September, 1968 in a simple but dignified wedding ceremony in the Governor’s office.


The South-Eastern State administration had its humble beginning in Ogoja with the newly appointed Secretary to the Military Government, Chief Michael O. Ani, overseeing the rehabilitation exercise that provided relief materials to persons in areas that were liberated, among other pioneering activities.



On the 21st February, 1968 at 11:45am the aircraft that brought the governor Lt. Col. Udoakaha Jacob Esuene touched down at the Calabar Airport at 11:45am to a tumultuous welcome by the people of the State led by the Ofcer commending the 3rd Marine Commando Lt. Col Benjamin Adekunle. The Maiden Address of the Governor on that day set the tone and the developmental path of his administration. An effective team of experienced and committed persons was put together. First among them was the Secretary to the Military Government, Chief Michael O. Ani who served in the dual capacity of Secretary to Government and Head of Service. He was a seasoned bureaucrat, a super Permanent Secretary in the Federal Civil Service. He brought his wealth of experience in the public service to the new administration. Other members of the First Executive Council of the South-Eastern State were “Chief E.A. Essien, Chief Denis S. Udo-Inyang, Chief Michael Ogon, Chief Louis Edet, Chief E. O Eyo, Chief I.I. Murphy, Chief B. U. Ukpong Chief A. G. Umoh, Chief M. O. Ogar, Barr O. A. Esin, Mr. E. E Monjok (Principal Secretary to the Military Governor) and Mr. Ojeme (Commissioner of Police).” The following were later brought on board: Barr. Vincent Uwemedimo, Chief Diana Abasi Umondak, Chief Joe Wayas, Barr Okpokam, Chief Patrick Odo and Chief S. J. Umoren. Fifty years have passed but some portions of the inaugural address of the Governor are still pertinent to the growth of Cross River State today. Below are excerpts from the governor’s maiden address to the people of the State.



“Calabar has a place of importance in the history of our country. It served as the first capital of British administration in Nigeria. It also served as a commercial, educational and religious centre.”

”Ladies and Gentlemen, we have seen a gloomy picture of Calabar during the past fifteen years, but the message I bring to you today of Calabar is one of hope. I am beginning to think of a new Calabar – a city where its past glories in the social, economic, political, religious and educational spheres will be revived.”

“The Military Government of the South-Eastern State will do everything withinitspowertomouldthe Stateintoaunitedadministrative,social, economic and political unit.”

“That task of reconstruction requires hard work and cooperation on the part of every individual. Our people must first be prepared to help themselves before asking for Government assistance. Our future now lies in our hands.”

“The Military Government of the South-Eastern State will do everything within its power to mould the State into a united administrative, social, economic and political unit. Throughout the period of this exercise, we shall require of you all the patience and understanding that you can muster.”

The development thrust of that administration centred around human capital development. The state was coming out of civil war which took a toll on populace, their sources of livelihood and trade; institutions and roads had suffered various levels of damage and destruction. Disease, malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality were high. All of these had to be addressed quickly. Essential commodities and medical services were given free of charge to newly liberated areas. Schools and hospitals were brought to functional levels. Money was scarce and prudent financial management was indispensable. Later, the Local Government Development Administration was put in place. This model was development oriented and had the state government partnering with communities to execute their desired projects. This proved to be very effective as there was healthy competition. Rural roads were maintained, culverts built, health clinics were built as well as numerous Community Secondary Schools.

Education was central and took about 33% of the annual budget. Funds were channeled towards renovation of primary and secondary schools as well as establishing tertiary institutions such as what became the University of Calabar, Polytechnic, School of Agriculture, Schools of Nursing and Midwifery etc.

The city of Calabar was expanded by opening new internal roads and creating the State Housing Estate to meet the need for modern accommodation. Major road linkages such as the Calabar – Ikom- Ogoja road were constructed. The road to the mainland parts was embarked upon later with Federal Government funds. However, it is worthy of note that the second bridge over the Cross River was paid for by the State in anticipation of a future expansion of the road because of heavy traffic. Using the contractors then on site was envisaged to be more cost effective.

In order to encourage farmers, the Marketing Board was set up to purchase produce. The Private Sector was strengthened through the establishment of some industries such as the Calabar Cement Company, Seromwood, Flour

Mill, Calvenply. Financial institutions that play the role of a catalyst in the economy, were not left out. The Mercantile Bank, Manila Insurance Company and Investment Trust Company were set up. One of the concerns of the young administration was that of creating an identity for the State for national visibility. In this regard, our art and culture were highlighted and these found expression through raffia, cane, mat and bead works. Our rich cuisine, dressing, dances, masquerades, folk lore and dramas were also showcased. This effort paid off as the state was the three-time winner of the coveted Golden Gong prize of the National Festival of Arts and Culture.


The main economic drivers in the future should centre around agriculture and tourism. Every future development project should aim at increasing the earning power of the masses.

  • Education and Medical institutions should be further developed and fine-tuned toward excellent service delivery.
  • The land mass of the Cross River State is oblong in shape, a better network of roads is necessary for greater accessibility and social cohesion. This will also enhance trade and tourism.
  • Cross River State is blessed with very hospitable people, rich culture and historical sites that are potential tourist delights. Such as:
  • Hope Waddell Institute (this could be developed to be an “Eton”for Secondary students
  • Presbyterian Church Duke Town building and Methodist church building, Beecroft street
  • Africanclubandothercolonialbuildings
  • Urua Watt (could be converted to a tourists’ market for art and cultural artifacts).
  • QuaandAgbokimfalls,new yam festival,boat regatta.

All these should be developed and properly packaged for international tourists’ consumption.

  • In addition, there should be two Art and Culture Festivals in the year during which time there will be dramas, music, singing competitions, food fairs etc, for local and international tourists.

In retrospect, tourists pay huge sums of money to be driven for hours for a desert safari to witness one or two dances, eat a snack and be dressed like a sheik. Cross River State certainly has a lot more to offer than these, if properly planned and managed.

  • Obudu Range plateau, through Public Private Partnership should grow fast yielding exotic temperate crops, increase the cattle herd and expand the apiary for more honey production.

In the area of agriculture, effort should be directed towards cocoa, cashew, banana and plantain cultivation as these are in high demand in the international market, in addition to the cultivation of palm, rubber and yam.


My kudos and congratulations go to the government and people of Cross River State on the Golden Jubilee of your existence as a legal political entity. I commend the prudent management of funds by your governments and the pursuit of excellent delivery in whatever you do. Permit me to use this occasion to commend your deliberate and consistent presence in the Federal Civil Service. This I know was not by accident but a deliberate move of your government. The next 50 years will be bright and fruitful if government partners with the private sector in agriculture and tourism. Your future indeed is in your hands.

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December 2020