By Ex Gov. Peter Odili
“On the 25tth October, 2007 the Supreme Court ordered the immediate swearing-in of Rotimi Amaechi as governor. Amaechi assumed office as governor with the venom of a bitter man on a vengeance mission against all perceived, real and imagined opponents, including me. The climax was the setting up of the so-called Kayode Eso “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, clearly conceived, designed and programmed to permanently indict and incarcerate Dr Odili.”
A former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili has narrated how his former personal aide, a former speaker in the Rivers State House of Assembly and current minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi betrayed him in the course of power struggle for the office of governor of the state.
Amaechi started working with Odili in his hospital, Pamo Clinic in Port Harcourt, from where he was helped by the man to get into the house of assembly where he became speaker for eight years.
It was from that office that Odili also chose him as the preferred aspirant to contest for the office of governor, before the K-Leg controversy came up, leading to Amaechi’s replacement with Celestine Omehia as candidate of the PDP for the 2007 gubernatorial election.
Odili said in his autobiography entitled, Conscience and History, that Amaechi betrayed his confidence at a time that he had told him not to go to court over the issue of his nomination as the PDP candidate.
“I ensured that we worked hard for PDP to win the governorship election in Rivers State. If my support had gone elsewhere, PDP would not have won in Rivers State, and if PDP did not win in Rivers, Supreme Court could not have ordered Amaechi to be sworn-in as governor.
“These are all immutable facts that nothing else could therefore have changed, and nothing else could be justifiable reason for the hostility unleashed against me on the advent of Amaechi’s administration.”
He recalled how the betrayal and back-stabbing started and how his triumphed. This is Odili’s narrative, exactly the way he put it in the book:
By 2001, barely two years into my first tenure as governor of Rivers State, the subterranean scheming for who will succeed me started among the young political team I had built since 1994/5.
One of our elder statesmen [now late] one day said to me ‘Your Excellency, you have made the governance of Rivers State look so easy and sweet that some of these your young men think it’s a ”piece of cake ‘and are already positioning to succeed you. They have no idea how tough it is to govern Rivers people. It is when you leave office that people will know” – (Chief A.K Dikibo)
I finished my first term and won the election for my second term 2003 – 2007 most comfortably with minimal opposition. However, with the approach of 2007 elections, the subterranean schemes gradually came to the fore among the young men who were aspiring to succeed me. In the firm belief that power comes from God – I decided to maintain a taciturn disposition about my preference.
As time passed, the race narrowed down and front – runners began to emerge and pressure for direction from me started being mounted by the party leadership and caucus.
I sustained my resistance to be dragged into the dog-fight for primaries. After a protracted ‘ping – pong’ between me and the caucus, I decided to conduct an intelligence search, deploying the necessary tools available officially and undercover. My search narrowed down to Rotimi Ameachi, Austin Opara and Abiye Sekibo for various reasons. I presented these to the caucus of the party who still insisted that I name one person. I still held my taciturn grounds.
My intelligence further revealed that while I was being goaded to name one of them as my preferred choice, behind the scene plots by some of the members of the caucus, to skew the primaries in favour of their own choice, with the connivance of some family members and Abuja big wigs were going on. The plot was deep and had gone far before I picked it up very close to the primaries. I felt ‘betrayed’ and ‘set up’ for ridicule. I therefore decided to intervene and ensure that a transparent process that would produce a popular winner democratically, was put in place. That is how Rotimi Amaechi emerged as the flag bearer of the party for the governorship election in Rivers State.
This appeared not to have gone down well in Abuja, for a yet to be disclosed reason. Again suddenly, the EFCC came after Amaechi with all sorts of allegations, arrested him and his travel documents seized. Rotimi Amaechi was incarcerated between the 12th – 15th December, 2006 same period the spurious investigation and ‘interim report’ by the EFCC was being cooked up against me. He too, like my commissioners, was released as soon as I announced my withdrawal from the presidential primaries on the 15th December, 2006 but his travel papers were still being held by the EFCC. We agreed and I supported him to challenge his disqualification and indictment legally.
After the convention, we all went back to Port Harcourt but the battle to get him off the PDP ticket raged on till late February, 2007. I made several trips to Abuja to secure the sustenance of Amaechi’s ticket as the governorship candidate of the PDP in Rivers State. The national leadership and The Presidency were clearly bent on not allowing the Amaechi ticket to stand.
I fought back as much as I as could, EFCC was unyielding in their resolve not to allow Amaechi as the candidate for Rivers. I was asked to nominate somebody else severally, and severally I refused to do so. At a very strange meeting at the Villa one night, I was pointedly asked how come I had only one choice for my succession after 8 years in office. The last straw was the threat by Nuhu Ribadu to resign his position as EFCC Chair and apologise to Nigerians if Amaechi was allowed to be the candidate.
The shock of it all was President Obasanjo telling me that he did not want to be blackmailed so I should effect a change. I refused, and went back to Port Harcourt that night fully convinced that one had to take one’s destiny in one’s hands – Abuja was clearly not in a position to morally stand by us. The next day we started our legal battle for our defence options – ‘self protection’ is the key to survival.
My struggle to sustain Amaechi’s ticket in spite of the obvious vehemence by Abuja leadership against it, continued.
Then came the zonal rallies for the presidential campaign in Port Harcourt for the South/South. At this event the flag bearer for the various states in the zone were to be recognized by the president and national leadership of the party.
The flagbearers for Cross River, Delta, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Edo States were acknowledged and given their flags, Rivers was said to have ‘K-Leg’ and would be sorted out later.
The night preceding the rally gave birth to this ugly development when the national leadership was directed to ask me, or rather instruct me to name a replacement for Amaechi or have one named for me the next day. It became obvious that I had lost the battle to save Amaechi’s candidacy. I immediately sent for Amaechi and broke the sad news to him before anyone else could hear it. The need to constructively face the reality had arisen. We toyed with the idea of optional replacement for him. We eventually settled for Celestine Omehia – his cousin, albeit reluctantly, for reasons of peer – group and family rivalry.
I felt that the state interest should over ride other considerations. Amaechi’s reluctance was however not in doubt. Armed with this acquiescence, I started consulting widely. By the morning of the zonal rally, I had not consulted sufficiently, so could not present Omehia to the national leadership. It was indeed at the rally ground that I introduced Omehia to the party leaders without him Omehia realizing why I was doing so since I had not let him into the development.
The rally ended without a candidate for Rivers. After two days of wide consultations the State enlarged Caucus approved the Candidature of Omehia as a replacement for Amaechi. Amaechi was part of the decision at least outwardly. A delegation flew to Abuja with me to convey the decision to the party and the Presidency. Amaechi was part of this delegation and was roundly commended by the delegation that came to present Omehia as his replacement. He quietly avoided being part of the delegation to the party Chairman and the President.
On returning from Abuja, Amaechi requested to take some time off and travel to recover from the tension of the past days and events. He looked visibly shaken and distressed, understandably so. I agreed and arranged his passage to Ghana within a few days.
In the course of his absence in Ghana, my attention was drawn to the fact that Amaechi’s lawyer, in pursuing the case he instituted against the EFCC, brought in the matter of his disqualification by PDP and replacement with Omehia. I felt that was not right in the light of the consensual decision in Amaechi’s presence for Omehia’s candidacy. I spoke to Amaechi’s lawyer, Dappa Ado Esq., along this line and he explained to me that that was his brief on the instruction of his client and that he can only alter the brief on the instruction of his client. I respected his position on the matter but advised him to convey my view to his client that what I thought was appropriate at that point was the nullification of Amaechi’s supposed indictment by EFCC and not Omehia’s candidacy. Amaechi’s lawyer never got back to me on the matter and he continued his case.
From that moment on, Amaechi broke contact. I made efforts to reach him without success and asked all those I knew were in touch with him to reach him, such as Sen. Magnus Abe, who was then my commissioner for information, Chief G. U Ake, all to no avail. Trust had been threatened. The subsequent events confirmed the breach. The stage for the parting of ways was set. Amaechi continued his court case while Omehia pursued his campaign as the party’s candidate with robust opposition from Amaechi’s supporters. There was clear and palpable hostility from both parties and this resulted to the subdued polarization of the party supporters on the two divides, with each side trading accusations on each other. There was now mutual distrust
On victory at the polls and formation of Government, Omehia carried on with the exclusion of Amaechi’s supporters, against my advice, who in turn continued their support for Amaechi’s court case.
On the 25tth October, 2007 the Supreme Court ordered the immediate swearing-in of Rotimi Amaechi as governor. Amaechi assumed office as governor with the venom of a bitter man on a vengeance mission against all perceived, real and imagined opponents, including me – classic ‘misplaced aggression’. My support gave Amaechi the ticket. I did all in my power to sustain his candidature in the face of grave opposition from Abuja. He was party to the choice of Omehia as his replacement. My party loyalty and support ensured PDP victory at the election.
I ensured that we worked hard for PDP to win the the governorship election in Rivers State. If my support had gone elsewhere, PDP would not have won in Rivers State and if PDP did not win in Rivers State, Supreme Court could not have ordered Amaechi to be sworn-in as governor. These are all immutable facts. These are critical factors that nothing else could therefore have changed and nothing else could be justifiable reason for the hostility unleashed against Dr. Peter Odili on the advent of governor Amaechi’s administration.
The axioms ‘obedience is better than sacrifice’ and ‘Lex Talionis’ were both thrown overboard. Odili became the main victim of his generosity in an unprecedented manner in the annals of Rivers/Nigerian politics. All that could be done to denigrate my achievements in office was done. All known detractors of Odili were brought on board.
The climax was the setting up of the so-called Kayode Eso “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”, clearly conceived, designed and programmed to permanently indict and incarcerate Dr Odili. I was put on public trial with the live coverage paid for by Rivers State Government. Inspite of obvious bias, prejudice, malice and predetermined objective to indict, I acquitted myself creditably. Even though I was supposed to be a witness, I turned out to be trial. The panel still went ahead to indict me. I fought back and challenged the report in court. Because of the hostility of the state government, no judge wanted to touch the case and it took four court transfers before the case was heard. I finally obtained victory in Justice Ahiakwo’s court – throwing out and nullifying the report of the Kayode Eso so – called Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Attached is my presentation at the hearing and the full Court judgement on the report.
The axiom that ‘you never really know a man until he has power and money’ came truly alive since my period out of office 29th May 2007. It has been a most revealing and instructive period of my life. People one had taken from point of street – contact and made members of family; people one had employed straight from school; people who one had no sanguinal relationships with but made beneficiaries of one’s generosity in the midst of want; people who professed absolute loyalty and readiness to sacrifice anything in one’s defence; people who proclaimed that their own children could not do 10% of what Dr. Odili did in their lives – the list is inexhaustible. All these, on my exit from office, instantly turned their backs on me, denied being beneficiaries and indeed joined detractors and political opponents to castigate, denigrate, malign and condemn me. They denied being recipients of anything good from Odili’s Government. Some even joined the chorus of ‘Crucify Odili’ singers. That is the nature of man and his perfidy. ”The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Jeremiah 17:9 Kings James Version.
There is indeed no art of discerning who will stand with you to the end. It is also not a function of sanguinal relations or ethnicity. That is why the list is a mixed salad of ‘friends’, fraternal, religious, political, professional, colleagues turned betrayers, even extended family members are included topping the list are: those by God’s will we singlehandedly invited to occupy positions, those who could not pay school fees or transport their children to school until Odili came into their lives long before I became Governor; those who called me ‘brother’ and were called ‘best friends of Government’ on the basis of the tremendous patronages they enjoyed from my administration albeit meritoriously; those who had no leather shoes at the point of contact with me politically and who are today acclaimed success stories; those I assisted to bail out their failing businesses including banks.
People who wined and dined with me every day in office literally and were privy to most decisions and actions of my government; those whose lives were saved by our state free health care policy and direct intervention; those who held political appointments under us for the eight years I was governor and after; foot – runners who became owners of cars through our patronage and assistance. Even those weddings were sponsored and funded by us and those who received free medical treatment in our private hospital for many years. That’s how deep the betrayal was.
TNN reached Mr David Iofor, one of Amaechi’s media handlers on Sunday for comments on the issue, but when the issue was mentioned, he said he would call back. When the call did not come after a while, TNN called him again and he still promised to call back. But he never did.
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