Although former Governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Otunuya Odili, has been quiet for a while, he continues to be politically relevant. As he turns 70, Davidson Iriekpen looks at Odili’s contributions to humanity, his state, and Nigeria, generally
Prominent Nigerians from all walks of life on Tuesday gathered in Port Harcourt to celebrate former Governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, for his contributions towards the development of humanity, his state and Nigeria in general, as he turned 70. Though the former governor has been quiet for a while, he continues to be politically relevant.
Little wonder former Kano State Governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; former Edo State Governor, Lucky Igbinedion; former Kogi State Governor, Idris Wada; former Rivers State Governor, Sir Celestine Omehia; former President, Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru (rtd); and former Akwa Ibom military governor, Col Bako (rtd), were joined by former ministers, serving members of the National Assembly, traditional rulers, professionals and renowned jurists, to pay tribute to the outstanding political leader. Also present were Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike; his wife, Justice Eberechi Suzzette Nyesom-Wike; members of Rivers State Executive Council, state judiciary and legislature, as they celebrated Odili.
In his remarks, Odili thanked God for His mercies and for enabling him with the capacity to transform the society. He commended Wike for organising the programme to celebrate his 70th birthday and pledged to continue to work for the advancement of humanity.
In a public lecture organised in honour of the former governor by the Rivers State Government, Odili was hailed for investing his intellect and resources in building the country. The lecture titled: “Sir Dr Peter Odili: Defender of the Faith, Defender of the Fatherland,” was delivered by former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), who described the former governor as an ornament of the state.
Agabi said, “Formerly, he belonged to Rivers State. Now, he has ceased to be the property of Rivers State. He is now the property of Nigeria and the world. Whatever he has done is for the benefit of mankind. Whatever he has refrained from doing, it is in the interest of society.”
The former AGF said Odili is an outstanding humanist, who is courageous and committed to the growth of the country. He added that Odili used power to advance public good, noting that he never deserted his friends while in office. He said the array of guests celebrating Odili was a proof of his loyalty to them. He also praised the former governor’s wife, Justice Mary Odili, for providing him the right support to do exploits and be a blessing to all generations.
The former AGF who advocated a united country where all Nigerians can work anywhere, irrespective of their state of origin, also called for the setting up of a National Integration Centre to build national unity.
Afenifere’s Call for Revival
In an epilogue, the Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said at 70, Odili and other men of goodwill should stand and work for revival of the country. Odumakin added that the country has lost track and will descend into full blown dictatorship and anarchy, unless Nigerians check the slide.
He said: “Except all men of goodwill stands up to be counted, we may witness a major cataclysm in this country.”
As expected, encomiums poured in for the septuagenarian. Among those who extoled the virtues of the former River State governor was the Secretary to the State Government, Sir Kenneth Kobani, who described Odili as an indisputable political leader of Rivers State.
Chairman of the occasion, former President Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdulahi, said Odili has created a place for himself in the history of Nigeria.
For Odili there is certainly every reason to celebrate. It has been an eventful 70 years loaded with God’s grace and mercy. The years he has spent on earth have been eventful and full of achievements that have made him the envy of his peers.
Born on August 15, 1948 in Ogba, Egbema, Ndoni Local Government Area of Rivers State, his parents, Chief Philip Celestine and Princess Janet Okwei Odili, may not have imagined the great heights their then little child was destined for.
Like the legendary Professor Chinua Achebe would say, a chick that will grow to be a cock is known the day it was hatched. This wise saying later became manifest in the boy, Peter, when he enrolled in St. Michael’s School, Oguta II and Sacred Heart School, Onitsha between 1953 and 1960 marking the commencement of his intellectual quest that saw him pass through the famous Christ the King College in Onitsha and the prestigious University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus where he studied Medicine.
After his mandatory internship at the University of Benin, Teaching Hospital, Benin, he moved on to be a Resident Staff Physician, Medical Consultation Centre, Port Harcourt, between 1979 and 1980. Given to entrepreneurship, he went into private medical practice by establishing PAMO Clinics in 1980. He served as its Resident Clinician-in-Charge between 1980 and 1982.
He still needed to add shine to his academic laurels and for that reason, he went in pursuit of a specialist programme at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom. It was an opportunity for him to hone his skills and he grabbed it. The knowledge so acquired made his proficiency in Medicine much sought after in Port Harcourt, around the country and even beyond.
It was in demonstration of his acumen in the medical field that Odili was a personal nominee of then President of the United States of America, Bill Clinton, to a 10-member roundtable committee charged with the responsibility of formulating the methodology for addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in the workplace in Africa.
Was medicine his last bus stop? No. He was too versatile to be so pigeon-holed. He believed he possessed leadership qualities that must be made beneficial to his people. Public service, for him was the appropriate way to prove that he can replicate his knowledge of medicine in the field of politics and governance. But the military were still in charge and he bided his time.
In 1988/89, Odili was elected member and leader of Rivers State Delegates to the Constituent Assembly and was elected to the National Constitutional Conference, where he served as the Chairman of the Conference Committee on State Creation. In 1992, he was elected as the Deputy Governor of Rivers State. At the peak of the struggle for the laying of the foundation for the Fourth Republic, Odili first served as National Vice Chairman (South- South) Democratic Party of Nigeria (DPN); and later as National Secretary.
He was Founder and Leader of Rivers Platform, 1998; Founder and Leader, Restoration Team as well as the State Leader of Peoples Democratic Party,PDP; elected Executive Governor of Rivers State in 1999 and served two terms. It was in that capacity that he took the country like a storm and became a reference point in the nation’s political calculations. He was at various times the National Chairman, PDP Fund Raising Committee (2000); and Chairman, Presidential Committee on Housing and Urban Renewal (2001).
Even his ardent critics concede to him that his sojourn in office garnered stellar propensities that have till date remained a yardstick for measuring performance in that resource – rich state. Before him and just as Port Harcourt, the capital of the state was, on paper, a federal territory, most part of it were not connected to the national grid.
The National Independent Power Project (NIPP) which later became a federal fad had Odili, in his capacity as governor of Rivers State, as one of its pioneers. Before him, also, Government House, the seat of the governor, was not better than a guest house and that’s being charitable. He built a grand and befitting edifice that is the cynosure of the people’s eyes.
Other landmark projects and policies of his administration are there today as Odili’s legacy of excellence in governance. They include the free HIV treatment designed to achieve some of the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, his intensive commitment to mother and child healthcare, investments in banks, the Eleme petrochemical industry and the now aborted Port Harcourt refinery deal. One will not forget to mention that by sheer strength of character and personality, he was able to tame troublemakers and secured lives and property in the state.
One positive part of the Odili phenomenon is his large heartedness as well as his proclivity to mentor successors. But it has also led to some personal regrets as captured in his autobiography, Dr. Peter Odili: Conscience And History – My Story. A close associate of his commented that an area that one could easily empathise with the governor is his expressed disappointment over the numerous betrayals by those he so trusted and brought up socially, politically, financially, academically and even religiously. Regardless, the former governor has remained the issue in the politics of Rivers State. One may agree or disagree with him. One is either for or against him but there is no room for neutrality on matters of Odili’s politics.
Odili is married to another achiever and distinguished professional, Her Excellency, Justice Mary Ukeago Odili, a Justice of the Supreme Court. Their marriage is blessed with four children.
In terms of chronological imperative, 70, ordinarily, can hardly be said to represent a milestone. But it is not the number of years that count. It is the impact one is able to make on existence. It is often said that in between birth and death are legacies.
Looking critically at his journey of life within 70 years, Odili has his own fair share of those by which posterity will reckon with. As they say, time and posterity will not fail recognise his enduring service to humanity.