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Odili: How Jonathan Displaced Me as Yar’Adua’s Running Mate

23 Dec 2012

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Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili

Tunde Rahman           
He kept sealed lips for more than five years over what  actually transpired in those dying days in 2006, at the height of the race towards the 2007 presidential election.

Former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili, has now revealed the intrigues and power-plays that led to the emergence of the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate.

Odili also explained how he was nominated as Yar’Adua’s running mate only to be dropped dramatically at the Convention venue in Abuja through a complex power game between then President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman Nuhu Ribadu.

Odili’s revelations are contained in his new biography titled “Conscience and History: My Story,” a copy of which was made available to THISDAY at the weekend.

The former governor had moved from being a frontrunner in the 2007 presidential race to a sure bet as Yar’Adua’s running mate, but eventually emerged with nothing at the end of the day.

In the book, Odili narrated how Ribadu was deployed against him on what he considered spurious grounds, first to pave way for the emergence of Yar’Adua as PDP presidential candidate, and subsequently to knock him (Odili) off the ticket as running mate after which Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was drafted in.

Odili said in the book: “On 12th December, a spurious and anonymous petition was posted on the internet from a questionable ‘source’ alleging CORRUPT practices against the Rivers State Government under me. These allegations were contrived into a petition by the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu’s hand, to the President  (Obasanjo) the same day.

“On the 13th of December 2006, Mr. President directed EFCC to investigate. On the 14th day of December, 2006, EFCC submitted a so-called 'interim' report to the then president who promptly minuted for my response on the same 14th December, 2006, but forwarded to me on 15/12/06, a day to the convention vide ref. PRES/44. I assembled what was left of my cabinet team, a few having been arrested and kept at the EFCC office in Lagos within these few days of urgent dramatic action.

“We submitted our response on the 15th day of December, 2006 by which time it had become clear what the whole exercise was about— 'get Odili out of the race for the presidency at all cost'.”

He said: “Till date the innocent uninformed still make reference to that judicially nullified and voided report. This became lucidly clear with the instant release of my staff who were being detained in Lagos by the EFCC as soon as I voluntarily and wisely withdrew from the contest. There was jubilation at the EFCC office immediately news of my withdrawal broke and all my staff were asked to go home immediately. This was on the 15th of December.

“Then came the ‘D’ Day- 16th December, 2006-the date of the convention. I was invited for morning prayers with the president at the presidential villa and after the prayers I had a brief chat with the then president in his private study at the residence. He acknowledged my letter of withdrawal from the race and informed me of his intention to get Umaru Yar’Adua-the now expected winner of the upcoming primaries at the convention- to make me his running mate.”

The former governor spoke of the late President Yar’Adua’s readiness to work with him.
According to him: “I was persuaded to go and accompany Umaru to the convention venue. I had been informed earlier in the day that the news of my pairing with Umaru was in the air and that ‘some people’ were already ganging up to oppose the proposed pairing.
“It was, however, noteworthy that when I got to the Katsina State Lodge to join Umaru to proceed to the Eagle Square I met him downstairs in the company of some party leaders-Chief James Ibori, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Dr Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Aliko Dnagote, Malam Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir el-Rufai.

“Their conversation stopped when I walked in but I read nothing sinister to the gathering or reaction to my entry. Umaru quickly took me upstairs and thanked me for coming and assured me of his happiness at the prospect of our working together.
“He called his wife Turai into the room and introduced us. We later proceeded to the Eagle Square together and were joined by other colleagues in waking round the square”.

He continued: “In the course of the night, I was invited to the VIP Guest Room at Eagle Square and was privileged to sight the typed copy of Umaru’s prepared acceptance speech. It was clearly stated that he had nominated Dr. Peter Odili as his running mate for the presidential race.

“This was at about midnight or so. In the course of the next few hours, information started reaching me that there was a strong pressure to drop me from the ticket.

“At about 3.30am or so, I was again invited to the VIP Guest room at Eagle Square and informed that there was a strong challenge to my being the running mate based on ‘some fresh information’ just received from Nuhu Ribadu, that would need to be sorted out later in the day.
“By the close of convention at dawn only 2 State Delegate Stands were still full-Katsina and Rivers- all others were empty or had one or two people left. The result was announced—Umaru was the winner and he promptly read a handwritten acceptance speech that excluded my name. He announced that further consultations were being made on the matter of his running mate.”

He said, however, that “By 4pm on Sunday 17th December, 2006 Dr. Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. By Monday 18th December I congratulated Umaru and Jonathan and urged all my supporters nationwide and Rivers people to support the ticket. Odili was out of the race and the ticket.”

On why he was stopped from the race, Odili said he was later informed that Ribadu had told Obasanjo that some foreign missions in Abuja would not be happy to see him on the PDP ticket on the basis of the “EFCC interim report”.

In the book, the former governor also narrated how his anointed successor and current governor of the state, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, was disqualified from the governorship race.

He talked about the bad blood that would later be generated between Amaechi and him.
Odili also detailed all his legal battles to clear his name from what he labeled “mere contrivances” by Obasanjo and Ribadu to justify what they did against him.

He said it was after “a very astonishing meeting at the Presidency over the matter of my successor as Governor of Rivers State that I instructed my legal team led by the Attorney-General Odein Ajumogobia, SAN, to commence action first at the State High Court and then at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, against EFCC.”

‘As I was Driving out of the Villa, Jonathan Was Driving in... Moments later, He Was Named Yar’Adua’s Running Mate’
Below are excerpts from the book “Conscience and History: My Story,” By Odili

With the failure of the constitutional amendments, which included tenure elongation, campaigns for the presidency in 2007 took off about the 3rd quarter of 2006 across the country. By October and November my campaign, led by Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, had penetrated every state in the Federation and it became obvious the Odili candidacy had attained national acceptance and had become a movement. Odili was seen as the frontrunner, the candidate to beat. Traditional rulers, emirs, tribal leaders, labour unions, stakeholders, etc had embraced and were favourably disposed to Odili. For some inexplicable reason, the plot to stop him, by some people, became pathologically ‘urgent’. The PDP convention for nomination of the presidential candidate was slated for 16th December, 2006.

The commissioning of the Omoku Power plant of 150 mega watts, and 120 km double circuit Transmission Line to Port Harcourt, by President Olusegun Obasanjo, took place on 5th December, 2006. This again was the biggest power plant designed, constructed, completed and functional by any state government, between 1999 and 2006, the second by Rivers State Government under Dr. Peter Odili. We were lauded very generously and extolled for the unprecedented feat.

Exactly one week later, 12th December, a spurious and anonymous petition was posted on the internet from a questionable ‘source’ alleging CORRUPT practices against the Rivers State Government under me. These allegations were contrived into a petition by the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu’s hand, to the President the same day. On the 13th of December 2006, Mr. President directed EFCC to investigate.

EFCC's Interim Report
On the 14th day of December, 2006, EFCC submitted a so-called “interim” report to the then president who promptly minuted for my response on the same 14th December, 2006, but forwarded to me on 15/12/06, a day to the convention vide ref. PRES/44. I assembled what was left of my cabinet team, a few having been arrested and kept at the EFCC office in Lagos within these few days of urgent dramatic action. We submitted our response on the 15th day of December, 2006 by which time it had become clear what the whole exercise was about—“get Odili out of the race for the presidency at all cost.”

For maximum mischievous damage this contrived so-called “interim report” was hurriedly uploaded into the internet, but when our response to the spurious allegations was submitted on the 15th of December 2006, it was not accorded the same treatment. Why, you may ask? Some sense of fair hearing isn’t it?

Till date the innocent uninformed still make reference to that judicially nullified and voided report. This became lucidly clear with the instant release of my staff who were being detained in Lagos by the EFCC as soon as I voluntarily and wisely withdrew from the contest. There was jubilation at the EFCC office immediately news of my withdrawal broke and all my staff were asked to go home immediately. This was on the 15th of December. Then came the ‘D’ Day- 16th December, 2006-the date of the convention.

I was invited for morning prayers with the president at the presidential villa and after the prayers I had a brief chat with the then president in his private study at the residence. He acknowledged my letter of withdrawal from the race and informed me of his intention to get Umaru Yar’Adua-the now expected winner of the upcoming primaries at the convention- to make me his running mate. I thanked him for his kind thoughts and assured him I bore no grudge or ill-will for the turn of events and that all through my campaigns I had ended my speeches on the note: “let God’s will be done”.
I left him on that note at about 7.30-8.00am. The convention was to start at 10am. As at 12.30pm the venue was literally empty, I was informed that most of the delegates who were in support of my candidacy were upset and unwilling to go to the venue. It took extra-effort and persuasion of my campaign organisation to get most of the delegates out to the Eagle Square. By 3pm the venue became fairly full.

Meeting Yar'Adua
I was persuaded to go and accompany Umaru to the venue. I had been informed earlier in the day that the news of my pairing with Umaru was in the air and that ‘some people’ were already ganging up to oppose the proposed pairing.

It was, however, noteworthy that when I got to the Katsina State Lodge to join Umaru to proceed to the Eagle Square I met him downstairs in the company of some party leaders-Chief James Ibori, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Dr Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Aliko Dnagote, Malam Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir el-Rufai. Their conversation stopped when I walked in but I read nothing sinister to the gathering or reaction to my entry. Umaru quickly took me upstairs and thanked me for coming and assured me of his happiness at the prospect of our working together. He called his wife Turai into the room and introduced us. We later proceeded to the Eagle Square together and were joined by other colleagues in waking round the square.

Convention started after the arrival of all dignatories and convention events proceeded peacefully. In the course of the night, I was invited to the VIP Guest Room at Eagle Square and was privileged to sight the typed copy of Umaru’s prepared acceptance speech. It was clearly stated that he had nominated Dr. Peter Odili as his running mate for the presidential race. This was at about midnight or so. In the course of the next few hours, information started reaching me that there was a strong pressure to drop me from the ticket. Since I did not lobby for it, I wasn’t bothered-I remained with my state delegates.

At about 3.30am or so, I was again invited to the VIP Guest room at Eagle Square and informed that there was a strong challenge to my being the running mate based on ‘some fresh information’ just received from Nuhu Ribadu, that would need to be sorted out later in the day. I took the information in my stride and went back to the Rivers’ Delegate Stand and didn’t say a word about it to anyone.

By the close of convention at dawn only 2 State Delegate Stands were still full-Katsina and Rivers- all others were empty or had one or two people left. The result was announced—Umaru was the winner and he promptly read a handwritten acceptance speech that excluded my name. He announced that further consultations were being made on the matter of his running mate. End of story! The plot had worked. This confirms what Russel Wayne Baker, an American Columnist, said in 1935 in ‘The Sayings of Par Russel’:

“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.”

Announcement of Jonathan
By 4pm on Sunday 17th December, 2006 Dr Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. By Monday 18th December I congratulated Umaru and Jonathan and urged all my supporters nationwide and Rivers people to support the ticket. Odili was out of the race and the ticket.

At the general election in April 2007, Rivers State under my leadership returned the highest votes in the country for Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket for the presidency. But ‘how did water enter the mellon’? Let’s try and find out. So many conspiracy theories emerged in the days and months that followed. Since nothing is hidden under the sun someday God will reveal the truth.

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 71/2 years nothing was raised by the 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 within 36 hours of instruction to investigate? Just in time for the date line-December 16th 2006. These are questions yawning for answers. God’s time will tell.

On Sunday the 17th 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 would not be happy to see me on the PDP ticket on the basis of the “EFCC Interim Report” which had been circulated to them. I was now formally told that I have been taken off the ticket.

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