Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Book Serial - Conscience and History - My Story, By Peter Odili

I, DR. Peter Otunuya Odili, became the elected Governor of the new Rivers on the 29th day of May, 1999, after a well contested and won election against a strong opponent Chief Ebenezer Isokariari who was the then immediate past Secretary to the State Military Government under Gen. Sani Abacha regime.

With my team of appointees, we set out on a "Restoration" agenda in fulfillment of my campaign promises - "Letter to Rivers people." We made a success of the programme and the details of our performance are set out elsewhere in this 'book'. The highpoints were that in 2002 a team of over 500 journalists in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Information under Prof. Jerry Gana, after inspection tours of executed projects by State Governments across the country declared Rivers State the best performing State Government and Dr Peter Odili was presented with the Gold Trophy as the best performing-Governor in Nigeria.

The trophy was presented by the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar on behalf of President Obasanjo. No other credible contest has taken place since then.

Free school bus scheme

We built 1200 low cost houses across the State in our first 100 days in office in 1999. We introduced 'Free School Bussing Scheme', free education at primary and secondary levels, and free medical treatment for under 6 years and over 60 years.

The other high point of our first term was the commissioning of the first independent power plant, Trans-Amadi Phase 1, designed, built and made operational by any State Government in Nigeria under the Obasanjo administration. The commissioning ceremony was performed by the President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on the 2nd of October, 2002. This plant brought 36 Mega Watts of electricity into the national grid.

In 2003 I declared my intention for a 2nd term, contested and won and was sworn in for the 2nd term on the 29th day of May, 2003 with minimal changes in my team. We set out in continuation of the restoration and consolidation programme. The details are set out elsewhere in the book. From 1999-2006 there were of course challenges that every Government in developing and even the developed world must encounter (details of some of these challenges are set out elsewhere in the book). We confronted these challenges and made successes out of them.

But it is significant to note that at no point in the period 1999-2006 was the executive branch under my leadership investigated by the State Assembly whose constitutional responsibility it was so to do, or by any other body or organ of Government legally charged to do so.

'THE PLOT': 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/November my campaign, led by Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, had penetrated every state in the Federation and it became obvious that the Odili candidacy had attained national acceptance and had become a movement. Odili was seen as the front runner, 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.

Biggest power plant

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 the 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 in the internet from a questionable 'source' alleging CORRUPT practices against the Rivers State Government under me. These allegations were converted into a petition by the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu's hand, to the President 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 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.

From left: Chief Judge of Rivers State, Justice Iche Ndu, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, SAN; Governor Peter Odili and his wife, Mary, and Justice Elizabeth Membere shortly after a special court session at the High Court Complex, Port Harcourt

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 the news of my withdrawal broke and all my staff were asked by EFCC 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 that 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 l0am. As at 12.30pm the venue was literally empty. I was informed that most of the delegates who were in support of my candidature were upset and unwilling to go to the venue. It took the extra-effort and persuasion of my campaign organisation leader, Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, and some key Directors of my campaign to get most of the delegates out to the Eagle Square. By 3pm the venue became fairly full.

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 Dangote, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Nassir 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 walking round the square.

Convention started after the arrival of all dignitaries 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 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 3.30 am or so, I was again invited to the VIP Guest room at the 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...

Read Peter Odili's expose on his 2007 presidential adventure in a must read Autobiography entitled " Conscience and History - My Story". Vanguard publishes exclusive excerpts of the book starting tomorrow.

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