By Maxim Uzoatu
The season of jostling to become Nigeria’s next president is on, and many strange characters are already calling themselves front-runners.
All shapes of hats have been thrown into the political ring from all the geo-political zones of the beleaguered country.
Ill-assorted prophets and scam evangelists are already predicting the winner of the presidential war even when the party primaries are yet to be staged.
The only word I have for the presidential wannabes is to learn some necessary lessons from Dr. Peter Otunnuya Odili, the former Governor of Rivers State, who more than most worked to be president only to be denied well after the eleventh hour.
Dr. Odili’s heart-rending experience while battling to become Nigeria’s president is well-captured in his 511-page autobiography, Conscience and History – My Story, published in 2012.
Odili was on course to becoming Mr. President but for some bewildering gang-up and plot that stopped him in the injury time of play.
In the run-up to the 2007 presidential contest, Odili was without question the front-runner amongst the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) aspirants.
The bystander that would eventually gain the PDP candidacy, to wit, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, was not even in the contest, and the man who was shooed in into the vice-presidential slot, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, was equally not interested in throwing his hat into the political ring.
Odili’s campaign drive, led by Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, was in full rev towards the end of 2006 until, as Dr. Odili writes in Conscience and History, “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 (sic) 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.’ … 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.”
After withdrawal from the PDP presidential primaries, Odili was then summoned to Aso Villa on the morning of December 16, the day of the PDP Convention, by then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The promise Odili got after the morning prayers at the Villa with Obasanjo was that he would be made the running mate of Umaru Yar’Adua.
It happened that when Odili went to meet Yar’Adua he ominously discovered that the animated conversation amongst the gathered party big wigs such as Chief James Ibori, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Dr. Bukola Saraki, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Nassir El-Rufai immediately seized.
Yar’Adua took Odili upstairs to introduce him to his wife Turai “and assured me of his happiness at the prospect of our working together”.
Then Yar’Adua and Odili went together to the Eagle Square, the venue of the Convention, and walked round the square.
Odili was even privileged to see the typed copy of Yar’Adua’s prepared acceptance speech where “it was clearly stated that he had nominated Dr. Peter Odili as his running-mate for the Presidential race.”
It was at the ungodly hour of around 3.30am that Odili was informed that some fresh information just received from the selfsame Nuhu Ribadu would lead to his dropping as the running-mate.
In the end, Yar’Adua read a handwritten acceptance speech that excluded Odili’s name, only adding that further consultations were being made on the vexed matter of his running-mate.
It was later in the evening of December 17, 2007 that Dr. Jonathan’s name manifested as the running-mate of Yar’Adua.
The revelation of Odili in Conscience and History is indeed an object lesson in political brinkmanship for the cast of characters making spirited noises about becoming Nigeria’s president in this dangerous season.
There are manholes on the thoroughfare leading to the throne of the presidency of Nigeria, and there is no doubt whatsoever that many wannabes crowding the spaces now with their ambitions will sink inside the holes.
Please join me in prayers of the presidents-never-to-be!