‘Born into a polygamous family of 12 siblings from 5 wives, I was the only surviving child of my mother Princess Janet Okwei, an only daughter of Chief Ogwu Ochia, son of King Obi Ossai II of Aboh, in Aboh Division of now Delta State. Janet was the third wife of Chief Philip Celestine Odili—Ochiili of Ndoni, who was the only son of Chief Enebeli Odili, Akwukalia of Umuonyema Quarters of Ndoni.” With this opener, Dr. Peter Odili, the former governor of Rivers State, who missed being the vice president and possibly the President of Nigeria owing to what he calls a “gang-up,” tells the story of his life in a new memoir entitled Conscience and History.
In a country where our leaders are so lazy to put down anything on paper until they die and are buried with all the secrets of their private and public lives, Odili’s autobiography—with its slightly careless editorial flaws—comes like a big surprise and a welcome addition to the library of Nigerian leaders now talking—or writing. As a medical doctor and a politician writing his own autobiography, this is not a bad effort. It is a brave literary attempt which can be improved upon subsequently, subject to a thorough, professional, editorial discipline.
A good memoir should inspire, should offer experiential knowledge, should contain news from which journalists can go to town with, should offer historical and analytical perspectives on issues and events where the leader was a participant. Of course, it should have a personal story and a point of view—the author’s thinking on issues that agitate him, prompting him to write, to state his own side of the story and let posterity be the judge. Odili’s memoir more than satisfies all these criteria. It is not a book you can do justice to in a small column like this.
Particularly for a man married to a woman of justice! You could feel the impact of the man married to Justice Mary Odili in the book—what with the court cases and judgements won by Peter Odili in his battles against EFCC all reproduced in this book! In his book, Odili tells the world how he has been proved innocent and vindicated by the court of law, in spite of all the attempts to paint him as a corrupt governor, in spite of EFCC harassments based on an “interim report” against him that stopped him from progressing politically and which was later declared null and void by the court. It’s all in the book. A book where the author fingers the people who had betrayed or committed perfidy against him in business and politics.
A whole chapter is dedicated to: “THE MATRIX OF TRUST, LOYALTY AND BETRAYAL.” Who betrayed him? Who was disloyal to him? Who committee perfidy against him? Who were those who plotted in the “GREAT GANG UP” against Odili? It’s all in this book of 511 pages that is so riveting with its personal stories of an impoverished medical student who fought poverty through creative entrepreneurship that took him to work on holidays in Switzerland and Britain and returned home with a car which he turned into a taxi that sustained him at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The same university where he fortuitously met his wife-to-be and the home-video drama of spotting her among three girls who had dropped their bags to secure seats at the lecture hall. Rather than asking the girl her name, he went surreptitiously to “where they had placed their books and opened the one placed by this unknown ‘angel’ that had me transfixed at first sight. I saw her names—Mary Nzewa—Faculty of Law, instantly internalized the information and went back to my seat. I could not concentrate anymore on what I was studying before the entrance of the three girls.
I closed my book happily and was consumed with thoughts of this little angel Mary that my heart told me shall be my wife, ever after. I silently watched Mary for the next three and half years without her knowing or even suspecting,” Odili writes. Here are “unforgettable” experiences in the life of Odili excerpted from the book: “Mary was pregnant for what could have been our first, in early 1978. At her 26th week of pregnancy, a week after her antenatal clinic visit, without any premonition, she had a full blown eclampsia and was in coma for 3 days. It took God’s Grace and the extreme professional commitment of the staff of University of Benin Teaching Hospital Obstetrics and Gynecology (UBTH O&G) department to save her life.
We lost the baby but I was grateful to God for sparing Mary. Those days of Mary in coma are days I could never forget. I was in a frightened daze for 3 days until Mary came round. I could neither touch a cup of water or tea, take my bath, nor change my clothes as I simply could not leave the ward, I simply ignored all entreaties…” On perfidy: “Such is human life, full of surprises, betrayals and ingratitude. History is replete with them all…God indeed allows some painful experiences in order to equip us for future challenges in life…” On power sector in Rivers: Our achievements in the power sector, which have remained second to none, demonstrate clearly the role of political will in delivery in this indispensable vital sector of the economy.
On questions waiting for answers: “What was the genesis of the fight against the possibility of an Odili Presidency? Who was threatened by that possibility and why? Whose decision and when was it made to stop Odili by all means possible? Who was the fulcrum of the execution of that decision? How come that for 7 and half years nothing was raised by EFCC or any relevant agency against Odili’s government in Rivers State and suddenly on the ‘eve’ of the PDP Presidential Primaries all conceivable vile allegations were unleashed? When did we Nigerians acquire such meteoric and forensic expertise and competence to produce a report with 36 hours of instruction to investigate? Just in time for the date line—December 16 2006.
These are Questions yawning for answers. God’s time will tell. On Obasanjo and the EFCC Role: “On Sunday the 17th day of December 2006 at about 3pm I was invited to the Villa to see the President. When I got there I met him sitting in his private study at the Residence with Chief Tony Anenih then Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, then Chairman of the party, the late Yar’Adua then flag-bearer of the party and Chief Bode George, then Deputy National Chairman of the party. It was there and then I was informed that Nuhu Ribadu had informed the President that some ‘Foreign Missions’ in Abuja will not be happy to see me on the PDP ticket on the basis of the so-called ‘EFCC Interim Report’ which had been circulated to them. I was now formally told that I have been taken off the ticket.
I thanked them, congratulated Yar’Adua, wished him well, assured him of my support and then said to President Obasanjo to please now close the EFCC chapter since it was clear the aim had been achieved. He in no uncertain terms assured me that he would ensure that was done. On that note I left the Villa. As I was driving out of the Villa gate, ‘then Governor’ Goodluck Jonathan was driving in at about 3.40pm December 17, 2006. A few moments later, the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as the running mate to Yar’Adua hit the airwaves. Mission accomplished. I got back to Port Harcourt at about midday Monday the 18th December, 2006 and addressed the press urging and declaring support for the Yar’Adua ticket/Jonathan ticket.
At the new year 1st January, 2007 banquet at the new Government House, Port Harcourt, I assured the public that the (false) and contrived allegations maliciously made against me and my administration were untrue and that ‘we shall be vindicated in due course. This statement appeared not to have been kindly received in some quarters because a few days into the new year, January, 2007, I was informed that EFCC operatives had invited some of my officials to Lagos for interrogation. I allowed them to go, to show that we had nothing to hide.
I promptly informed the Presidency of the development and was assured that the unnecessary harassment would be stopped. The EFCC menace, rather than cease, increased with the seizure of documents from some ministries by EFCC carting them away to their offices. I again lifted no finger to stop them, just to show that we were not afraid of anything. I, however, decided to go and speak to the President in Abuja. In my presence, Nuhu Ribadu was supposedly called on the phone and instructed to stop the contrived operation in Rivers State.
The President again reassured me and I left back to Port Harcourt. A few days later, more stories of EFCC rampage in my ministries got to me. I once more made contact with the President and expressed my displeasure and dissatisfaction with this matter. I was again assured by him that nothing would happen. By this time I was beginning to smell something sinister. I thought through the entire saga from December 12 2006 to about the end of January, 2007, I decided it was time to take care of the developing situation.
I got my legal team together and we looked at the whole picture. It became clear that having concocted and contrived a spurious petition, produced a pre-determined and malicious report, achieved the goal it was meant for and now, afraid of the possible repercussion of an evil agenda, it was now imperative for the plotters to find a way to justify their action by finding ‘something’ against Odili…I was ‘frightened’ by the sudden realization that human beings could be this perfidious and evil. I prayed over the situation with my family and, with that, set my legal team to work. I decided to legally fight back invoking the principle of ‘self-preservation.’”