By Ide Eguabor
Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise
– Martin Luther King JNR.
For one who will easily qualify as one of Nigeria’s most vilified and crucified politicians, former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili is having a great laugh and indeed, the last laugh. Since his exit from the seat of power after the general elections of 2007, Peter Odili had literally been turned into a punching bag for all manner of critics; from masked and direct beneficiaries of his administration to professional traitors and political ingrates for whom, the more concocted and fabricated stories were peddled, the sweeter it sounded and the more it became accepted as truth.
A common saying in Nigeria goes thus, “most of what is wrong with us is that Nigerians forget history very and too easily. In a 502-page autobiography, conscience and history that will yet compete for the Book of the year Award on several fronts, Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili has told his story in very simple, sometimes racy but clinical details only himself could have known. He has pulled the lie from under the feet of those who live off telling fables and passing them on as facts. The book is a telling indictment on the Nigerian media that provided so much fertile ground for falsehood to be peddled over these last eight years without as much as attempting to investigate as they say, to get to the bottom of the story.
Backgrounded in the rural settings of his humble beginning and birth into a polygamous family of 12 siblings from five wives, Peter was the only surviving child of his mother Princess Janet Okwei, herself an only daughter.
His early childhood though uneventful is remarkable for Dr. Odili’s ability to develop a very high sense of awareness not only for his environment but his burning desire to learn even at the primary school level.
So it was that he made it into the prestigious Christ the King College, Onitsha (CKC) in 1961 at class 1A, where he made his worst result, 11th in class with his position in subsequent examinations oscillating between 2nd and 5th for the rest of his secondary education. It must be emphasized that Dr. Odili deliberately chronicles the details of his growing up years, his sporting and academic records in CKC to showcase that in his time values were held in high and precious esteem. Against the backdrop of political office holders being hardly ever able to name classmates least of all details of every major event, names and places must score high for the author whose writing it must be noted is devoid of any pretences at artistic and pretentious claims.
From the CKC Onitsha, Dr. Odili’s rise and rise was as meteoric as it was foretold, the success of it that is. Not one to be tied down by the controversial narratives of the civil war years, Dr. Odili says, “the civil crisis unfolded in a most dramatic manner, “recalling that the memory of a teenager could afford him such sequence of events as the January 1966 military coup, and the emergence of General Aguiyi Ironsi, the 1966 counter coup and the emergence of Col. Yakubu Gowon, the mass exodus of Nigerians from their places of residence to their homes of origin or choice. Others were the collapse of Aburi, the creation of the 12 state structure by the central Government of Gowon; The declaration of the state of Biafra by the Eastern regional government led by Col. Odumegwu Ojukwu and the outbreak of open conflict and hostilities by 6th July, 1967.
But by far the more exhilarating and prodigious sections of the book are in his foray into politics after setting up a very successful and thriving PAMO Clinics (acronym for Peter Adaeze Mary and others)in 1982. To be sure, Dr. Odili was still in search of a perch as nothing appeared to be satisfying to him until he finally landed in the then active and ideology driven terrain of partisan politics. It is easy to discern what amounted to the turning point between expanding and consolidating his flourishing medical practice for the alluring but dynamited field of partisan politics. Being a member of the Nigerian delegation to an AIDS conference in Horare, Zimbabwe in July 1987 and becoming exposed to the beauty and splendour of Horare was such a contrast to the picture back home. “The difference was so clear. I left Horare with a lot of challenging thoughts.
The paradox was that there was development but the indigenous population was clearly not part of it. The gap between the structures and people was palpable and obvious. These stimulating thoughts from Zimbabwe got me looking more critically at our home situation – that things could be a lot better than they were if the actors acted differently.” Little wonder he thereafter took the plunge that terminated on the expiration of his second four year tenure as Governor of Rivers State in 2007.
As they say, the icing on the cake is his total repudiation of claims by his political opponents, a largely misguided social media and the handwork of those who had found a lucrative means of livelihood running down Odili. From the zero party local government elections of December 1987 through to the various military coups of Genral Muhammadu Buhari, General Ibrahim Babangida, General Sanni Abacha and finally General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Dr. Odili managed to hang out in the political corridors becoming a recurring decimal each time the whistle was blown for resumption of partisan political hostilities.
The book makes a compelling read for these sections for its sheer accuracy and undisputable presentation of facts in graphic details. In direct response to the often bandied allegation that Odili “is believed to have stolen billions of naira in his eight year rule as Governor of Rivers”, he responds: “The total revenue from all sources that accrued to us from May 29, 1999 to May 28, 2007 was N708 billion. Out of this N11.6 billion were deductions at source for statutory reasons including repayments for foreign loans incurred by previous administrations. My administration did not take any foreign loan. So in actual fact, our total revenue for over the 8 years period was not more N697 billion. About N291.6 billion was spent on personnel costs and other recurrent expenditure items over the period as well as payment of inherited arrears of pensions/ gratuities. The rest of what we had left about N400 billion was judiciously spent , with utmost frugality, on capital projects we executed in the priority sectors of Power, Roads, Housing, Health, Education, Investment, Security, Transport, Sports etc.”
Even though unasked, the question is: where could the stolen billions have come from? Odili gives a blow by blow account of the Revenue profile of Rivers State for 8 years, including sectoral budgetary allocations in all of those years. In direct response to the various versions of how he was schemed out of the Presidential race, an event that has sustained the monumental fabrications against his person, Odili finally spills the beans by presenting a cut to detail account of how key political players, James Ibori, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir El-Rufai conspired to ensure that Odili’s Presidential pursuits and subsequently his nomination as Vice Presidential candidate to late Umar Yar’Adua did not see the light of day.
In summary, Dr. Odili believes “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.”
The consequences of the actions of these men against the legitimate ambitions of Dr. Odili must be seen against the backdrop of the stalker role they continue to play in the nation’s political life. It is not just that it was common knowledge that these men under the guise of playing political gladiators held Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration by the jugular, it is that they will go to any extent to execute their collective will as has been clearly revealed by the EFCC authored and fabricated damming report on Odili.
It is commendable that Dr. Odili has narrated his story in his own way more so that the key actors named in the book are still alive and quite still active in the political arena.
There are other revelations as well. For watchers and followers of Nigeria’s political development, Dr. Peter Odili has certainly opened the flood gates that will at once challenge the ephemeral mystics of power and its holders and the fact that the invincibility of accountability by incumbents in political office has been broken. For as he says, “To stay focused and morally strong, a leader must pay permanent attention to conscience and keep his eyes riveted on history. This, in my experience, assists those privileged to serve, to remain in a permanent state of self-check and restrain in the face of multifarious challenges and trappings of office, especially corrupting powers of authority.”
Certainly, this book must get responses from those whose inglorious activities in the corridors of power till date continues to stunt the nations democratic growth.
• Eguabor, a journalist, writes from Lagos.