Whether you decide to approach her from the Abuochiche, Bekwarra or Obudu axis, Utugwang in Obudu Local Government Area, Cross River State, nestles off the main tarred road’s bustle and regales in the complex simplicity of village life. Most roads in, are untarred and easily give up dust like a welcoming ritual. The stares are first quizzical then welcoming, even heart-warming, immediately it is ascertained that the calitown.com crew has legitimate work to do in the community.
As we take in the place, children happily taunting each other can be heard from a distance. A little away, an elderly man lends us a lazy gaze while eloquently tapping at his snuff box. In seconds, he turns it open and scoops a healthy dose with his right thumb, emptying the brown powdery substance into one nostril and feeding the other too, in quick succession. As the transient tears well in his eyes, we leave him to savour the stimulating effect of the snuff and move to more pressing issues.
A vibrant mixture of men and boys, sitting under a mango tree is the first real contact we have with the people in the village. One man has a fez cap on; another carefully placed his cap on well-groomed hair. The boys among them have a few eye popping hairstyles, expressing emphatically the carelessness of youth. As if in agreement, they all sit with hesitant ease, not out of fear but clearly out of an eagerness to tell their story.
“Dr Oti’s interest in sponsoring single handedly, the football competitions during Easter, New Yam and Christmas celebrations, is a thing of joy in Utugwang community”, Ade Jude Okang, begins. A retired Director of Sports in the Cross River State Civil Service, Okang also doubles as the coach of one of the football teams that has been formed over the years to not only compete at the “Utugwang World Cup”, but to also throw up raw talent that can go on and do the state proud in football, if properly guided. He tells us further that, “these competitions have helped to curb social vices like youth restiveness, it has united them; even constantly teaching them the virtue of fair competition”. It is a submission the competition’s Local Organising Committee chairman, Pius Unomen Ukah, supports, just like a few others seated, nod in agreement.
Hear Ukah; “go round Ukalu, Ukpe, Aleghe and Ubang (the communities that make up Utugwang) and nobody will doubt that Dr. Peter Oti has not impacted positively on football in Utugwang. In fact last year, for the very first time in the history of Obudu, he sponsored the football competition and kitted all the teams, it has never happened and we are still in shock that this son of ours went to great lengths to bring us joy”. When Ukah finishes, we look around and the whole place is quiet, except for the rustling sound made by dead leaves, swept away by the bold hamattan wind.
We take it away from the men and swing it to the boys, just to establish that what we have heard isn’t rocket science. Stephen Ekunke, 19, Mark Ochui Ade, 17 and Dominic Okichi Orim, lend credence to what Okang and Ukah have told calitown.com. Ekunke even adds that, “when I was injured playing football here, Dr (Oti) took me to Calabar Teaching Hospital (UCTH he means) and kept me there from his private pocket until I became well. I never thought I will play football again after that injury, but God used him to solve that problem for me”, he concludes.
Calitown.com findings reveal that, since year 2007 when the inaugural competition took place, Dr Oti has not let off. In the last few editions, he has added cash rewards to winning teams; a modest N30, 000 (thirty thousand naira) is what the winner of the trophy takes home while the second and third placed teams pocket N20, 000 (twenty thousand naira) and N15, 000 (fifteen thousand naira), respectively.
Beyond his support for football, we discover too that widows in Utugwang have bathed in his milk of kindness. Just a few metres away from our Utugwang football contingent, we happen on Justina Aben who told us that she lost her husband “five years ago” and has “benefitted immensely from the support widows in Utugwang receive from doctor”. Pensively she tells calitown.com that, “God will bless and keep Dr Oti. He is not the richest man in Utugwang but from the little he has, he puts smiles on our faces. He will live long”. We observe that her prayer is an earnest one, said from the heart and clearly lacking the blabbing ambiguities of praise singing.
By the time we meet Comfort Eshibere Agadu, another widow with a pathetic story, it now becomes clear to the calitown.com crew how soothing Oti’s humanitarian balm is. Agadu’s place is run down; she lives in a native round hut with a bare floor and a creaking door, exited freely by a sauntering cock not bothered by our presence. Even though we do not enter her house, it was clear that that portion of this exercise was better off, left alone. “We dey pray for Utugwang say make God give us another person like Dr Oti. If them be two for Utugwang, most of us wey our husband don die no go too feel the die wey our husbands die “, she begins in stuttering Pidgin English. When we press further and ask her to specifically list what Oti gives them, with gusto, she begins, “Ah! Dr dey give us plenty things like tie-head (a head tie), rice, beans, yam, salt, give us money and plenty things. Every festival time, we dey go him house go collect different wrapper. Hmm, na God go pay am back”. She fights back a tear or two and continues, “my husband die, my two pikin, one follow die, if no be Dr Oti, who again I get?” It is a rhetorical question that we only take in and leave the mind to process.
Our interaction in Utugwang throws up a clear fact; what Peter Oti does among his people is borne completely out of a clear personal desire to put smiles on the faces of his people, old and young, married and widowed. Those close to him tell you without mincing words that what he does sets the bar among his people and leave his efforts unrivalled, not even duplicated. Scholarships to indigenes in several institutions are on-going, at his instance, we learn and those who are beneficiaries sing his praise, but Oti refuses to be drawn into saying why he has chosen to invest time and money in the growth and welfare of his people. His simple nature and calm disposition, when you encounter him, never points you to the formidability of his thoughts, the incisiveness of his delivery or even the essential ingredients of his actions; it is the hallmark of greatness, wrapped in a transparent shell that is constantly glowing and earning him accolades among his people and beyond.
Additional info: Dan Koko, Abuja
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