*An Autobiography by Dr. Peter Otunuya Odili
HOW IT ALL STARTED: THE PLOT-THE GREAT GANG UP
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.
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. I took the information in my stride and went back to my Rivers Delegates stand and didn’t say a word about it to anyone. By the close of convention at dawn only two State delegate Stands were still full- Katsina and Rivers all others were either empty or had one or two people left.
The result was announced – Umaru was the winner and he promptly read a handwritten acceptance speech that excluded my name. He announced that further consultations were being made on the matter of his running mate. End of Story.
The plot had worked. This confirms what Russel Wayne Baker, an American Columnist said in 1925 in “the sayings of Par Russel”: “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.”
By 4pm Sunday 17th December, 2006 Dr Jonathan was announced as the running mate to Umaru Yar’Adua. By Monday 18th December I congratulated Umaru and Jonathan and urged all my supporters nationwide and Rivers people to support the ticket. Odili was out of the race and the ticket.
At the general election in April, 2007, Rivers State under my Leadership returned the highest votes in the country for Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket for the Presidency. But ‘how did water enter mellon’? Let’s try to find out. So many conspiracy theories emerged in the days and months that followed. Since nothing is hidden under the sun someday God will reveal the truth.
What was the genesis of the fight against the possibility of an Odili Presidency? Who was threatened by that possibility and why? Whose decision and when was it made to stop Odili by all means possible? Who was the fulcrum of the execution of that decision? How come that for seven and half years nothing was raised by EFCC or any relevant agency against Odili’s Government in Rivers State and suddenly on the ‘eve’ of the PDP Presidential Primaries all conceivable vile allegations were unleashed?
When did we Nigerians acquire such meteoric and forensic expertise and competence to produce a report within 36 hours of instruction to investigate? Just in time for the deadline – December 16th 2006. These are questions yawning for answers. God’s time will tell.
THE EFCC ROLE
On Sunday the 17th day of December, 2006 at about 3pm I was invited to the Villa to see the President. When I got there I met him sitting in his private study at the Residence with Chief Tony Anenih then Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the party, Dr. Ahmadu Ali then Chairman of the party, the Late Yar’ Adua then flag-bearer of the party and Chief Bode George then Deputy National Chairman of the party. It was there and then I was informed that Nuhu Ribadu had informed the President that some ‘Foreign Missions’ in Abuja will not be happy to see me on the PDP ticket on the basis of the so-called “EFCC interim Report” which had been circulated to them. I was now formally told that I have been taken off the ticket.
I thanked them, congratulated Yar’Adua, wished him well, assured him of my support and then said to President Obasanjo to please now close the EFCC chapter since it was clear the aim had been achieved.
Driving out of the Villa
He in no uncertain terms assured me that he would ensure that was done. On that note I left the Villa. As I was driving out of the Villa gate ‘then Governor’ Goodluck Jonathan was driving in at about 3.40pm, December 17th, 2006. A few moments later the announcement of Goodluck Jonathan as the running mate to Yar’Adua hit the air-waves. Mission accomplished. I got back to Port Harcourt at about mid day Monday the 18th December, 2006 and addressed the press urging and declaring support for the Yar’Adua/Jonathan ticket.
At the new year 1st January, 2007 banquet at the new Government House Port Harcourt, I assured the public that the (false) and contrived allegations maliciously made against me and my administration were untrue and that ‘we shall be vindicated in due course.’ This statement appeared not to have been kindly received in some quarters because a few days into the new year, January, 2007, I was informed that EFCC operatives had invited some of my officials to Lagos for interrogation. I allowed them to go, to show that we had nothing to hide. I promptly informed the Presidency of the development and was assured that the unnecessary harassment would be stopped.
Seizure of documents
The EFCC menace, rather than cease, increased with the seizure of documents from some ministries by EFCC carting them away to their offices. I again lifted no finger to stop them, just to show that we were not afraid of anything. I, however, decided to go and speak to the President in Abuja. In my presence Nuhu Ribadu was supposedly called on the phone and instructed to stop the contrived operation in Rivers State. The President again reassured me and I left 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. I thought through the entire saga from December 12th, 2006 to about the end of January, 2007. I decided it was time to take care of the developing situation.
I got my legal team together and we looked at the whole picture. It became clear that having concocted and contrived a spurious petition, produced a pre-determined and malicious report, achieved the goal it was meant for and now, afraid of the possible repercussions of an evil agenda, it was now imperative for the plotters to find a way to justify their action by finding ‘something’ against Odili. Logical. The only thing to do was to work backwards from the already predetermined and executed end to find ‘something’. Common sense. 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.
Principle of self preservation
I decided to legally fight back invoking the principle of “self preservation”. Within a few days our papers were ready for various judicial battles. Out of a sense of patriotic commitment to a Government I was considered a friend of, in the public eye, I told my legal team to stay action. It was after a very astonishing meeting at the Presidency over the matter of my successor as Governor of Rivers State that I instructed my legal team led by the Attorney General Odein Ajumogobia SAN, to commence legal action first at the State High Court and then at the Federal High Court , Port Harcourt, against EFCC .
The first case went through full trial at the High Court of Rivers State, with all parties fully and properly represented. Trial lasted several weeks and judgment was delivered on the 16th day of February, 2007. Following is full reproduction of the judgment
SUIT NO: PHC/114/2007
ATTORNEY-GENERAL FOR RIVERS STATE Claimant/Applicant
AND THE SPEAKER, RlVERS STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY & 36 OTHERS} Defendants
By his originating summons
issued and dated 31st January 2007 the Claimant seeks from this court, ten (10) reliefs. The first six are declarations, while the remaining four (4) are injunctive reliefs: They are as follows:
i) A declaration that the House of Assembly for Rivers State (now consisting of the 1st to 31st Defendants) is not entitled to surrender to any person, body or organization (including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; or any other investigative body), is not entitled to share with any person or abdicate its powers of control over the public funds of Rivers State as vested in it by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
(ii) A declaration that under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, only the House of Assembly for Rivers State is entitled to direct or cause to be directed an inquiry or investigation into the disbursing or the administering of moneys appropriated or to be appropriated under any appropriation bill passed by the House, (whether for the purpose of exposing corruption, inefficiency or waste) and that the said House of Assembly is not entitled to share, surrender or abdicate the constitutional powers so vested in it with, or to any other person, body, agency or organization no matter how described.
Public account of a state
(iii) A declaration that under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 the power to audit the public account of a state of all offices and all courts of Rivers State is vested in the Auditor-General for Rivers State and that the said Auditor-General in the exercise of the constitutional duties is not subject to the direction or control of any authority or person and is not entitled to surrender its powers, abdicate or share its powers with any person, body authority or organization no matter how described.
(iv) A declaration that under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, the Accountant General for Rivers State is the only person entitled to prepare and present the financial statement and annual accounts of Rivers State to the Auditor-General (who in turn presents the same to the House of Assembly) and not any other authority, person, body or organization and accordingly the Accountant General of Rivers State is not entitled to submit financial statements, report of annual or other accounts of Rivers State, documents, or vouchers or other financial records/statements of Rivers State to any other authority, person, body or organization (including the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; or any other investigative body).
(v) A declaration that the 35th and 37th Defendants or indeed any other bank or financial institution are not entitled to submit to, to release to, or in any manner whatsoever to disclose to any person, body or agency (including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; or any other investigative body) any document, financial statement/records, statement of account, cheques, vouchers or any information relating to the Bank Account(s) of the Rivers State Government other than to the House of Assembly for Rivers State in strict compliance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
(vi) A declaration that the power of removal from office of a Governor or his deputy vested in the House of Assembly for Rivers State under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 is to be exercised independently by the House of Assembly and that the said House of Assembly and its members are not entitled to act in collusion with, or under coercion, inducement or influence of whatever nature from any authority, person, body or organization (including the Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; and other such related bodies.)
(vii ) An order of injunction restraining the Defendants by themselves or by their servants, agents, and privies from surrendering their constitutionally assigned roles, sharing their constitutionally assigned roles, including the power of control over the public funds of Rivers State, the duty to direct or cause to be directed the investigation of the disbursement and administration of moneys appropriated or to be appropriated under any appropriation bill passed by the House of Assembly or as enabled under the Constitution.
(viii) An order of injunction restraining the Defendants by themselves or by their servants, agents and privies from submitting to, surrendering to, or in any manner whatsoever disclosing to any authority, person, body, agency or organization (including the Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission- EFCC) any document, financial statement or information relating to the public funds of the Rivers State other than in strict compliance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
(ix) An order of injunction restraining the 36th and 37th defendants by themselves or by their servants or agents from disclosing any information relating to the bank account(s) of the Rivers State Government, from submitting any document, financial statement, record, statement of account, cheque or voucher in respect of or relating to the bank account(s) of the Rivers State Government or in any manner whatsoever releasing or allowing access to any document or information relating to any bank account(s) of the Rivers State Government, to any person, body, authority, organization or agency (including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC; and other such bodies) other than to the House of Assembly for Rivers State and in strict compliance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 or from acting in or continuing to act on the instruction of any other person, body or organization (including but not limited to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) other than the duly authorized signatories of the Rivers State Government in respect of all accounts of the Rivers State Government kept in the 36th and 37th Defendants Banks.
(x) An order of injunction restraining the 1st and 33rd Defendants by themselves or by their servants, agents and privies from commencing or continuing with any process or proceeding for the removal of the Governor of Rivers State or the Deputy Governor of Rivers State from office at the behest, prompting or advise of any authority, person, body, agency or organization (including the Police, the Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC) other than in accordance with strict compliance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
From the affidavit filed in this case, this court is able to put together, facts upon which this summons is founded. The claimant is the Attorney-General for Rivers State. He instituted this case in such capacity on behalf of the Government of Rivers State of Nigeria. The 32nd Defendant is the Legislative arm of the Government of Rivers State, while the 1st-31st Defendants are its elected members. The 33rd Defendant is the Chief Administrative Officer or Clerk of the House. The 34th Defendant is the Auditor-General for Rivers State, while the 35th Defendant is the Accountant General for Rivers State. The 36th and 37th Defendants are commercial banks and they hold some Accounts of the Rivers State Government.
Justice I. N. Buba gives judgment in Suit No. PHC/114/2007 between Attorney General for Rivers State and the speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly & 36 other defendants
(ii) Also read : The judgment that set Peter Odili free (2)
(iii) Read: The judgment that set Peter Odili free (3)
(iv) And continue reading: The judgment that set Peter Odili free (4)
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