“The dirty work of political conventions is almost always done in the grim hours between midnight and dawn. Hangmen and politicians work best when the human spirit is at its lowest ebb.” —Russel Wayne Baker I first learned that the former Rivers State Governor, Dr. Peter Odili, the man, who missed the crown of Nigerian presidency on one evil night of long knives, wants to do a political biography from High Chief, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi. We met in a flight to Abuja and Dokpesi hinted that we should do the book.
A meeting that would have brought that to pass ultimately didn’t happen, apparently because Dr. Odili decided to do the book himself. Last month, about five senior journalists, including Dr. Dokpesi, gathered in Odili’s living room in Abuja where he unveiled the book titled, Conscience and History – MY Story, by Dr. Peter Otunaya Odili, (An Autobiography).
Each of us was presented with a personally autographed copy by the author. By that simple act, he announced that the book’s formal presentation is over and those who want copies should look out for it in bookshops. “I didn’t write the book to make money but to set the record straight for posterity to judge,” he declared. In this sense, we became eyewitness to history.
The first set of people to gain insight into a potentially explosive book chronicling the moving story of a young man orphaned by Nigeria’s civil war, who navigated through tangled mesh of a highly motivational grass-to-grace struggle, iced with an enthralling Romeo and Juliet love story (read: Mary and Peter) to come within a hair’s breadth of Nigerian presidency.
But, it was not to be. The book renders a tale of political intrigues, betrayals, fake security reports, hubris, lies and deceit that often characterize Nigeria’s political leadership. Going through the book, it was easy to see why he adopted that approach. Odili, the refined and classical-music-loving medical doctor-turned politician seems either to abhor or ambivalent to the controversy that his book is bound to stir. Secondly, it seems a clearly a difficult book for him to write, seeing he may have to hit so many people he was loathe to tangle with in public fray. There may, of course, possibly be other self-preservation dimension too.
In navigating through the conflicting nuances of his deeply felt pain, betrayals and misrepresentations, Odili pulled so many punches at places he should have delivered a devastating blow, at times hiding his fury behind avalanche of facts and documents which the reader is expected to digest and interpret to come to a judgment. Odili’s 511-page book combines a personal story that reads like a great motivational literature with an account of his political engagements and a documentary of his achievements in office. These are capped with the dramatic story of how Obasanjo and his boys, Nuhu Ribadu, James Ibori, Andy Uba, Bukola Saraki, Lucky Igbinedion, El-Rufai and Aliko Dangote created a desperate web of conspiracy, intimidation, intrigues and lies used to knock him out of the 2007 presidential race and subsequently, his nomination as a running mate to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. Born into a polygamous home, Odili lost his mother early in a road accident, leaving him at the unkind mercy of his father’s other wives.
Then during the civil war, Odili also lost his father in a pathetic circumstance. As the federal forces invaded his hometown, Ndoni, in today’s River State, everybody fled, but Odili’s father tarried behind to tend to a sick son-in-law, Domnic, who was down with malaria and could not move.
That was the last heard of the two. Speculation was that they were either killed by the federal troops or by some village rivals they had disputes with. Odili thus became orphaned shortly after a brilliant exploits at the famous Christ the King College, Onitsha, where he made six straight A’s in school certificate.
When he secured admission to read medicine at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Odili could only afford to pay the tuition fee of 30 pounds, but had no money for boarding fee. He lived on snacks and squatted with benevolent schoolmate and then plotted a foreign trip to work during holidays, in order to raise money. His dream came to pass in a fairy tale circumstances that saw him getting a visa to Switzerland where he worked in a construction firm for two months, returning with enough money not only to pay his fees, but to live big.
After subsequent holiday working trips abroad, Odili shipped in a used Fiat car (Tokunbo) which he deployed for taxi, earning N15 daily. With such daily windfall, Odili writes that “Level had changed, I was now easily one of the rich students on campus out of sheer will and determination stimulated by indigence.” When Odili met the love of his life, Mary, a law student also at UNN, he was too intimidated to speak to her for three and half years, during which he merely trailed her everywhere without an exchange of a word, until one day when “nature, time, and opportunity met at destiny’s door.”
They married on August 26, 1977 and his heartthrob had not only given him four lovely children, but is now a Justice of the Supreme Court. Odili’s political odyssey was smooth-sailing as he waltzed from very successful private medical practice to become a deputy governor and a two-time governor of Rivers State who was adjudged by Professor Jerry Gana-led national media monitoring team to be best performing governor.
While some may quibble over that crown, what was indisputable was that he was the first governor to build two power plants in Nigeria, contributing a total of 381 megawatts to the national grid. Indeed, a substantial part of the book is devoted to counter those who play down on his achievements as a governor. He not only provides documentary evidence, he backs them up with 143 pages of pictures of projects he executed, believing, as they say, that pictures don’t lie. His deep pain at the gang-up against him is evident at the chapters that deal with what he describes as “devilish allegations”.
In these chapters, Odili debunks accusations that he sponsored and armed political thugs and cults that later morphed into the dreaded Niger Delta militants; that he was behind the assassinations of political leaders like Chief Marshal Harry, Chief A. K. Dikkibo; that he was massively corrupt, so much so that it became a patriotic duty of the Nuhu Ribadu-led EFCC and a cabal of Obasanjo boys masquerading as power brokers cum kingmakers to stop him from getting the presidency at all cost.
He also counters allegations that in eight years, he squandered N1.3 trillion by pointing out that in all of that period, he only got a total N708 billion. For those who insinuate that Governor Rotimi Amaechi whom Odili writes, “assumed office as a Governor with the venom of a bitter man on vengeance mission”, has outperformed him, he counters with an interesting comparison: “In less than five months after my tenure the state received a little less than I got in my first four years, and in less than three years received more than my administration got in the entire 8 years.”
According to Odili’s narrative, the plot to stop his presidential ambition and tarnish him with allegations of corruption began in earnest on December 12, 2006, four days to the PDP national convention slated for December 16, 2006. It followed security report that Odili was secretly funding anti-third term forces while at the same time playing for it.
Once the third term gambit collapsed, Odili like other enemies of third term, was in trouble. First, an anonymous petition was posted on the internet cataloguing alleged corrupt practices against Odili’s administration. The internet allegations were converted the same day into a petition by Ribadu to the president. On December 13, Obasanjo directed the EFCC to investigate; the following day, December 14, pronto, EFCC submitted “interim report” to the President who asked Odili for response the same day. Odili got the document on December 15 and responded to the allegations the same day.
Meanwhile, many of Odili’s officials, including Rotimi Amaechi, had been detained by EFCC on the eve of the convention. He read the handwriting on the wall and withdrew from the presidential race in which he was seen as the candidate to beat, on December 15. That same day, EFCC released all the River State officials detained—investigations over! But not quite. Obasanjo was determined to make Odili the running mate to Yar’Adua, a choice which Obasanjo’s boys opposed. To stop that too, the then Thisday editor, Segun Adeniyi, was invited by Dangote to Andy Uba’s house.
There he met Ribadu, Andy Uba, Dangote, Ibori, Bukola Saraki. They desperately wanted him to publish exclusive EFCC allegations of corruption against Odili on the day of the PDP convention to compel Obasanjo to drop Odili. When Adeniyi consulted his publisher who declined the hatchet job, Ribadu was mandated to seek another private audience with Obasanjo on the last night before the convention. After this nocturnal meeting, Odili’s name was erased from Yar’Adua’s acceptance speech as a running mate and subsequently replaced with Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
But having so publicized Odili’s corruption, EFCC was now faced with proving their allegations in a more credible manner. But Odili, perhaps drawing from his wife’s legal wisdom, obtained restraining orders from Rivers State High Court, Federal High High Court and finally a third order from a Federal High Court enforcing the ruling of the two courts.
This then is the story behind the famous “perpetual injunctions” against the arrest and investigation of Odili’s case by the EFCC. EFCC was represented at the two cases at the Federal High Court, but lost and had not vacated the orders through the appeal process, ostensibly because over the years, the evidence at their disposal is still possibly the internet job rather than anything of probative value. Incidentally, when Yar’Adua’s government hounded Ribadu, he too like Odili, sought refuge in a perpetual injunction, a lesson in fate’s musical chairs! On a final note, the title of Odili’s memoir, Conscience and History, probably suggests that Odili wants to stir the conscience of his detractors.
On that score, he may elicit only a limited success, indeed, a yawn. He writes that Ribadu has since severally apologized to him for hounding him out of the race, claiming that he actually didn’t author the document against Odili, but merely signed as per duty. But if the author is hoping to elicit a similar response from Obasanjo, he may be hitting a brick wall. The Obasanjo we have come to know over the years just doesn’t do conscience. Period.