My wishes for Odili and Amaechi

By Muhammad Ajah

If I have the required power, I will utilize it to relieve some of my heart worries amongst which is to bring together former executive governors of Rivers state, Sir Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili and Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. These two senior Nigerian citizens are supposed to be dinning together as father and son, or at least friends who have shared some glamorous parts of their lives together. I am angry that the devil is at work. And it is a very wicked devil that has stooped to conquer. I wish that Odili’s wife, Hon. Justice Mary Ukaego Odili nee Nzenwa of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and Amaechi’s, Dame Judith Amaechi nee Nwankwo and the beloved children should press on their husbands and fathers to achieve this feat for their families. The influence of wives and children on their spouses and fathers cannot be underestimated. They should do something and with sincere prayers, they will succeed.

I was a journalist in Port Harcourt and was also accredited with the Government House during the eras of the duo as very successful executive governors. I can remember a lot of things that both enjoyed together and the beginning of the separation. I wrote quite some articles in criticism of their governments, praising their achievements and faulting their weakness amidst strength in health and wealth. Both were as vibrant, visionary and development-driven as ever. Rivers state has remained a blessed part of Nigeria. Its capital city, Port Harcourt, is referred to as a “Garden City”, due to a master plan to have it as a haven in Nigeria where only beautiful things should be seen and heard of. This wonderful plan can only be actualized, as it was in the past, by the democratic governments. Democratic governance was forced back to Nigeria in 1999 with Odili and Amaechi sharing the largest part of it in Rivers state. That is why the story of the state cannot be complete without both.

The complexity of the terrain, however, made it difficult for development. Human, as both are, they tried their best and battled with seen and unseen forces to be together in hard times and in ease. There were times Rivers state boiled during their eras, times that the residents of the state including companies, had no option than to flee for their lives. Violent agitations from high level occultic gangsterism and militancy sprout up more than ever before. I lived and worked at Mile One axis of the metropolis. Mile One is very close to Abonema Wharf, Mile One-Aba Road Bridge and Diobu and not far from Emenike, Mile Three and Port Harcourt Town which connects the riverine communities including Okirika. Mile One was like the drama stage for cultists/militants’ rivalry and chivalry. Those who know Port Harcourt very well do not need further explanations. But even at such times, Odili and Amaechi were together, working hard to find solutions which often were found. Both were legends at their times of leadership. That spirit that kept them together to contribute heavily to Rivers development must be invoked to come back, if really it was forced to depart.

Truly, Odili and Amaechi were too knitted that I never thought that they could part ways one day. Amaechi himself knows who Odili is and vice versa. Private life apart, their political lives are worthy of commemoration. Amaechi’s successful journey to Government House, Port Harcourt as a governor was an episode of a loyal servant to his master (Odili). Details of this episode will be too much to contain here. Amaechi was the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly throughout the tenure of Odili (1999-2007). What that meant was the full cooperation, based on principle, which the Odili’s executive arm and Amaechi’s legislative arm of government enjoyed which in turn paved way for development during the era.

But Amaechi was so loyal to Odili to the extent that he disobeyed, though with the highest level of wisdom, the supreme order of the then “lord of Nigeria”, Obasanjo, who had ordered Amaechi to stop Odili from his presidential ambition through impeachment. Obasanjo, who remains unchangeable and unforgiving, had been nursing the idea of a third term which was definitely against the constitution of Nigeria. Odili was a foremost aspirant to replace Obasanjo. He made proclamations and embarked on actions that definitely irritated Obasanjo who was also applying some tactics in handling the issue because of the huge investments he had acquired freely or otherwise in Rivers state. Details are lengthy too. But I was sure that Odili would have been a better President of Nigeria. Amaechi gallantly but diplomatically rescued Odili from Obasanjo’s sledge hammer and mortification. And God saved Amaechi from Obasanjo’s wrath for daring to disobey his instruction. But he had to pay a heavy price for that action which he executed to save his boss and by extension the interest of Rivers state and its people.

As I put it in one of my write-ups on River state, Amaechi suffered because he protected Odili from Obasanjo. The K-leg known in Nigerian politics today can only be associated with Amaechi's political life when Obasanjo concluded to deal with him and deny him his God-ordained position as the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Odili was Obasanjo’s betrayed boy who preferred to forsake his own then “only begotten son” who was ready to sacrifice his precious blood. That was because of transient power as it showcased shortly afterward.

Though Obasanjo fought and lost his third term bid, he still parades himself with much political influence. Odili, in fear of Obasanjo, fought and lost. His love for, struggle and gifts to Obasanjo could not yield him his presidential aspiration as Obasanjo had his way. Obasanjo dethroned a sitting Governor, late Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa and installed his then deputy. Alamieyeseigha was believed to be a strong-blooded Niger Delta development ambassador who stubbornly resisted Obasanjo’s political manipulations in the Niger Delta region. Obasanjo later drafted in Goodluck Jonathan who replaced Alamieyeseigha as governor to defeat Odili’s ambition at the federal level. I wept for Odili that despite all he did for and gave to Obasanjo and his high political qualifications for any federal office, Obasanjo betrayed him.

Furthermore, Odili was loyal to a fault to Obasanjo who drafted in or accepted a kinsman of Amaechi, Celestine Omehia who became the Rivers state governor under a gun keg. Omehia fought and lost. And Amaechi finally took his God-ordained position as governor of Rivers state for eight good years. If there is any lesson in all these events, it is that “If God says yes to you, no one can challenge God's decision.” Rivers state witnessed serious civil disturbances because of Amaechi’s denial. 25thand 26th of October, 2007 remain green in the history of Rivers state. The Supreme Court returned Amaechi's stolen mandate. It was at the time of late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua known as the Rule of Law. Rivers people rejoiced and things began to change positively.

Odili was loved by Rivers people because he was generous, determined and disciplined. Rotimi Amaechi has been positively stubborn but loyal, humble and intelligent. During his tenure, Amaechi described himself as true Rivers state man who believed that Rivers state money should be judiciously used for the benefit of all who reside and do business in Rivers state. As speaker, he observed, adequate provision was made for the development of the state. “It is my intention, God willing, that during my tenure as governor, sustainable foundation will be laid for the development of this state and the improvement and welfare of the citizens. This is my solemn pledge to my people”, Amaechi exploded while speaking on his mission as Rivers governor.

In his valedictory speech on May 28, 2015, Amaechi recalled the honour to have served Rivers people at a time when their destiny, peace, prosperity and commonwealth faced communal assault and how he, through God and His might, steered the state off the path of self-destruction, delusion and deceit. He sought for forgiveness from anyone his administration offended, admitting imperfection as a human. “We have been just as frail as any other human being. We had exercised our Oath and Allegiance on behalf of our people. The best intent could have been misconstrued. To such persons, we render apologies beyond words.” These are the words of a man of God which I think Odili stands for as a “Sir” of his Church.

Odili narrated his ordeal in the hands of Obasanjo and the interlocking influence it had on his Amaechi’s imbroglio. In his “Conscience and History: My Story”, Odili exploded: “As I was driving out of the Villa, Jonathan was driving in… moments later, he was named Yar’Adua’s running mate”. Odili was tactically knocked off from the presidential race. It was a pathetic situation for the Odilis and the massive supports he enjoyed across Nigeria. After dealing with Amaechi, he had to pay his own price. The PDP convention for election of the presidential candidate was slated for December 16, 2006. Obasanjo was in Rivers state on December 5, 2006 to commission the gas turbine projects executed by Odili. The fact remains that Rivers state was like a market for Obasanjo which he visited many times at will officially and otherwise. Surprisingly on December 12, allegation of corruption against Odili’s government was posted on the internet from an unknown source. That was the beginning of “the caging of Odili”.

As orchestrated, the allegations were “contrived into a petition” by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under Nuhu Ribadu’s hand, to Obasanjo on the same day. The following day, December 13, 2006, Obasanjo directed EFCC to investigate Odili. The following day, December 14, the EFCC submitted an interim report to Obasanjo who minuted same to Odili for response on the same day. According to Odili, the interim report reached him on December 15, a day to the convention. Hear him as I could not hold my tears: “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 to - get Odili out of the race for the presidency at all cost. Odili was out of the race and the ticket.”

On December 17, 2006, Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. Odili said he immediately congratulated Umaru and Jonathan and urged all his supporters nationwide and Rivers people to support the ticket. He related further that: “In my presence, Nuhu Ribadu was supposedly called on phone and instructed to stop the contrived operation in Rivers State. The president again reassured me and I went 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.”

Odili said he recalled the entire saga from December 12, 2006 to about the end of January, 2007 and decided to take legal action. “…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.” These are what could be documented on the periphery. The rest is in the history book. Other politicians at state and federal levels have tales of woes to tell. Audu Ogbe has his story as the PDP chairman under Obasanjo whose regime was actually blurred with political coercion, brutality and ultimately “divide and rule”.

Now that, amongst other unseen and unheard factor, it is known to Odili and Amaechi who the devil has been; the devil that shattered the serene unity, love and Riverism between them. Shakespeare was apt in delineating mankind. “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Both great sons of Rivers state have had long sweet times together. There must be some things spectacular in those times that can be remembered. Like the Igbo adage puts it, a man must not release the strength of wrath in his mind when a relation is involved. Blood is thicker than water. But I am compelled to feel that the relationship between Odili and Amaechi transcended the blood. In other words, it can be asserted that Odili and Amaechi were like father and son, especially in politics. Family members definitely do quarrel and even part ways. But there is always a meeting point, however long, for the wise. Both men are wise. And he is the hero who seeks peace with first and the villain who resists peace and persists in acrimony and wickedness. Life without forgiveness is worthless.

Though the “Wike wall” is a concern, Odili and Amaechi should search their souls and forgive each other. Both of them are loved by Rivers peoples, having made great positive impacts in the state governance under democracy. I wish them unity and God’s guidance. I wish that the great men of Rivers state, including Wike, Omehia, Magnus Abe, Princewill, the traditional institution of the state and other astute lovers of Rivers state should forget their political differences and individual interests to bring Odili and Amaechi together. I wish River state good leadership. I wish Rivers people the love of God, peace, unity and prosperity.

Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]

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