The 74th Birthday Of Sir Dr Peter Odili: (Homily delivered by Rev. Msgr. Pius Kii)

– To Lead Is To Serve –

“For He who is mighty has done great things for me and Holy is His name” (Luke 1:49)


. Today we gather to celebrate what the Almighty has done for us in gifting our world on this day with the birth of Dr Peter Odili, our father and our leader in Rivers State.

. No doubt, our country Nigeria is going through deep distress at the moment.

. Our situation is close to what is written in the closing sentence of the book of Judges (21:25) which reads: “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes

. At the moment we need a leader or leaders with answers, decisions, strength, and a map of the future; someone who knows where we ought to be going – in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.

. We need a leadership that will challenge us to face the problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions.

. Making progress on the complicated problems that Nigeria faces today demands someone who will not only provide answers from on high only, but one who will also challenge us to changes in our attitudes, behaviour, and values; someone that will challenge us to learn new ways.

. We need to reconceive and revitalize our civic life and the meaning of citizenship.

. Perhaps we need a different idea of leadership and a new social contract that will also promote our adaptive capacities rather than inappropriate expectations of authority.

. Too often, we have looked for the wrong kind of leadership in all spheres of our national life in both church and state. We have over time created a market for charlatans and demagogues, and many are only too happy to volunteer.

. Each generation has its searchers, each generation has its leaders – meaning, that no two generations are alike. The world changes and leaders help us to adapt to the new world around us without breaking faith with the old. Dr Odili is one of the leaders of our generation.

. It is in the light of this that I intend in this sermon to tease the kind of leadership our father and celebrant Dr Peter Odili provided in Rivers State as Governor from 1999 to 2007, a leadership we had hoped he would provide the nation from 2007 when our country was at the crossroad, on the threshold of a historic transition from the presidency of His Excellency, Olusegun Obasanjo. The bell tolled for a leadership that is courageous, selfless, far-sighted and dedicated. It was a golden moment to seize the occasion and be counted for the long-suffering people of the Niger Delta and indeed for all Nigerians. For as William Shakespeare wrote:

There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the floods leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage   of their lives is lost in shallows and miseries;

. DR. Odili did not lose an opportunity. He rode the crest of public opinion to possible victory in the PDP primaries after the most robust and purposeful presidential national campaigns in Nigeria.  He stepped out with his best foot forward.  God-willing, he would have been leading the charge in the victory procession for the total emancipation of all Nigerians. Betrayals, false accusations, denial, abandonment and calculated political manoeuvrings all combined to rob our country of leadership that is courageous, selfless, far-sighted and dedicated. The same scenario has played out again in the just concluded PDP convention. It would appear that the stick used in beating the first wife was kept in the fireplace for the second wife. It would appear the way the father was treated is the way the son is similarly treated.

. Since our father’s 70th birthday, every year at this event I pick an aspect of his administration to reflect on. During the 70th and 71stbirthdays, I reflected generally on the man Dr Peter Odili. On his 72nd birthday, I reflected on how he created a new generation of leaders in Rivers State and pointed out that how one generation, the older generation, relates to the subsequent generation often dictates the prosperity or demise of the people as a whole. During his 73rd birthday, I drew attention to the historic handover of schools to the missionaries and its monumental impact. This year I will be reflecting very briefly on the type of leadership he provided.

A word of Gratitude to Gov. Nyesom Wike

. Before I delve into that, please permit me to express our profound gratitude to one of us Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, governor of Rivers State for his untiring honour of our father and our mother – Dr Peter and Hon. Justice Mary Odili Rtd

. The care and acts of kindness are beyond counting and beyond words. There is therefore no need to recount them one after the other. It is overwhelming, total and comprehensive. The one for which we gather here today is so very thoughtful.

.  Friends in Christ, in our ordinary day-to-day lives, when someone has done you a favour, either given you a gift, comforted you amid grief, or rescued you from danger, of course, you feel you owe that person(s) something.

. That something is the word thank you. It’s only a two-letter word but it’s profound. It is both an “acknowledgement” and “thanks”. It is an acknowledgement of the good thing(s) that has been done and also an expression of gratitude

. This acknowledgement and gratitude should be at the heart of every family. To imagine a family in which thank you is not an ordinary word is to imagine a dysfunctional family. Mothers are expected to thank their husbands for the daily provisions in the home. Fathers are also expected to thank the mothers for the all-around daily care of the home. Children are similarly expected to thank parents for all the creature comfort they receive day in and day out. Both parents and children are expected to thank domestic helps for their incalculable assistance.

. Be that as it may, a moment comes in our lives and relationships when we must take out time to say thank you.

. In this respect, recall Your Excellencies and friends in Christ the stories about Rachel and Leah in the book of Genesis. Rachel was the beloved wife of Jacob and Leah was unloved.

. While Rachel remained barren the Lord opened the womb of Leah, and she had her first son, she named him Reuben meaning: “Yahweh has seen my misery; now my husband will love me”. Her husband still didn’t love her.

. After a while, she conceived again and gave birth to a son, saying. “Yahweh has heard that I was neglected, so he has given me this one too”, and she named him Simeon meaning “Now my husband will no longer neglect me”. It was then the husband intensified his neglect of her.

. A third time she conceived and gave birth to another son” whom she named Levi meaning. “This time my husband will be united to me, for I have now borne three sons to him. Still, her husband was not united with her. They remained most disunited.

. A fourth time she conceived and gave birth to another son whom she named Judah meaning. This time I will give glory to Yahweh”.”This time I will thank God” (Gen. 29:35). Leah no longer wanted to be defined by her loveless marriage and so declared “This time I will thank God”. In so doing she has provided us with a catchphrase or catchword “This time I will thank God”

. The time has truly come for us to say this time we will thank Governor NYESOM WIKE. Our father and mother have asked me to specifically thank you in the course of this sermon. And if we the children do not thank you, it means we are ungrateful siblings. Gratitude is said to be the least of the virtues but the worst of the vices.
May we all turn to the Governor and say thank you.

. Your Excellency, your support and care for our mother and our father have been all-encompassing, relentless and impressive. Thank you for giving them peace of mind in their old age. Thank you for returning love for love

. You were certainly not the greatest beneficiary of Dr Odili’s administration. You have become the one who has shown the most appreciation. Thank you for returning gratitude for gratitude.

. Growing up, children are for the most part dependent on parents in many ramifications. When a parent trains, nurtures and empowers a child in such a measure and manner to be able to give something of real worth to the parents subsequently, it confers on the child dignity and self-worth like no other; it provides the child with the dignity to answer love with love. It is a way of expressing thanks to parents who brought him/her into being and sheltered him/her from harm.

. This means in essence that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is the dignity of being able to give back in appreciation. It is not that the parent lacks anything that the child offers. That is beside the point. For a parent to give a child that possibility of giving back in some measure is a monumental act of humility on the part of parents, for accepting gifts from their children. Therefore, the significance of the give and take that goes on between parents and children is the gesture of love-of acknowledgement and thanksgiving and reciprocity.

Thanksgiving in  Scripture

. It is this gesture that is at the heart of the biblical institution of thanksgiving to God which takes the form of the many sacrifices we make or offer. God’s greatest gift to us as humans is the ability to give back to Him in any form.

. The idea of giving back to God is fraught with risk. Indeed, the very concept of giving to God something He does not already own is a contradiction in terms. The very idea sounds absurd. How can we, God’s creations, give back to the God who made us? All we have is His. As David said when initiating the project of the Temple: “Who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand” (1 Chr. 19:14). Therefore, the idea that God might require gifts is a hair’s breadth from paganism and heresy. Yet, knowing the risk, God allowed Himself to allow the Israelites and ourselves the opportunity to give something back to God. God is just giving you us an opportunity or chance to give back to Him in love; He is giving you the honour and dignity and in giving something to the Creator. It is expressive of an I-Thou relationship between creature and creator. When we travel and we buy something for the Governor or at Christmas we send him and the First Lady our hampers, it is not because the Governor and wife lack anything at all, as a matter of fact, they control everything and should be buying things for us and giving us hampers but we do so by giving back in love the many good things we have received from their administration and it confers on the dignity of being able to give something to the Governor and his wife.

. Jewish law recognized giving as an integral part of human dignity when it ruled that even a poor person completely dependent on charity is still obliged to give charity. Giving is essential to self-respect. To be in a situation where you can only receive, and not give, is to lack human dignity.

. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be a people of thanksgiving. It is not the dead that will praise and thank the Lord. It is the living as we do this day. Let us make a cognitive shift to the myriad blessings with which we are surrounded and give thanks for what we are and what we have received and not be driven by what we lack or thought we should have and are not given, which leads to the rebellion of all sorts. That’s the definition of lack of contentment.

. That is why we are called upon to thank God in good times and even in bad times; St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says in all seasons, not just in the good circumstances. We should thank God because of and in spite of.

. To be a Christian is to be thankful; to feel a sense of gratitude, to see life itself as a gift. Every day is a reason to give thanks. Jesus gave thanks every day. Jesus was thankful to His father in every activity of his life. Raising bread to heaven before giving it to the multitude to eat, he gave thanks. Even at the graveside of his friend Lazarus, he gave thanks and urged his father who never failed to answer all his prayers to hear Him, and God answered His prayer because He was thankful.

. Today, we should be asking: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God” (Micah 6:6) for all the blessings bestowed on our father Dr Peter Odili. Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Today we should be saying: “I will sacrifice a thanksgiving offering to You and call on the name of the Lord”.  (Ps. 116:17-19). May the ALMIGHTY God accept the sacrifices we offer today on his behalf and grant him a long long life in good health of mind and body. Amen 

A word of encouragement to the Gov. Nyesom Wike

. Moving on from the issue of thanksgiving let me next congratulate our Governor for Daring Greatly with your audacious outing during the last PDP Presidential Primaries. As I said during the 70th birthday of our mother, Hon. Justice Mary Odili, many people wondered why you wanted to be president I asked them why not.

. Those who think that seeking power at the highest level of government is inappropriate for someone who can do so should pay attention to this excerpt drawn from a WhatsApp message titled: “STATE IS EVERYTHING”.

–           “Your birth isn’t recognized until the government says you’re born (Certificate of Birth).

–           You’re not educated until the Government certifies that you are (School Certificates).

–           You can’t run a viable business without the government’s approval (Certificate of incorporation).

–           Your marriage is not authentic until the government acknowledges that you’re married (Marriage Certificate)

–           You can’t claim lawful ownership of properties except if the government confirms it belongs to you (Certificate of Occupancy).

–           You’re an offender driving your car except the government grants you authority to do so (Vehicle/Driver’s License and particulars)

–           You are not the lawful owner of your own vehicle until Government issues you a (Proof Of Ownership Certificate)

–           You’re a thief and criminal if you make money in your business and don’t give some percentage to government, with a clearance acknowledging same (Tax Certificate)

–           You’re not even confirmed dead except government officially says you are dead (Death Certificate).

. Government is in control of the major aspects of our lives. Yet, someone tells you not to be part of the process that determines those who emerge to form your government. That person definitely lacks knowledge

. Therefore, friends in Christ, there is nothing dignified in powerlessness, therefore anyone who is strategically placed to acquire power should do so and use it to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

. As a preacher, I know that sacred history is filled with some dramatic and unexpected scenarios about leadership. It was not Noah, the “righteous man, perfect in his generations,” who became the role model for the religious life but rather Abraham, who confronted God with some of the most audacious words in the history of faith.

. Moses, the hero of four of the Torah’s five books, is surely one of the most unexpected leaders of all time, inarticulate and tongue-tied at first, and utterly unconvinced of his capacity to fulfil the task to which God has summoned him.

. Saul, Israel’s first king, looked every inch “heads and shoulders above” his contemporaries, yet he turned out to lack both courage and confidence, earning the stinging rebuke of the prophet Samuel (1Sam 15:17).

. David, his successor, was so unlikely a candidate that when Samuel was told to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king, no one even thought of including him among the candidates but he later became a military hero, a political genius, and a religious poet without equal in history. He also united the nation of Israel.

. King Solomon from an unlikely mother built the Temple and was the man whose name was synonymous with wisdom, author of Song of Songs, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

. At the same time, he was the king who broke all three of the Torah’s caveats about monarchy, mentioned in this Jewish parashah which specified that should not have too many wives, too many horses, or too much money (Deut. 17:16-17). Solomon – as the Talmud says – thought he could break all the rules and stay uncorrupted. Despite all his wisdom, he was wrong. Even Solomon’s wisdom could not save him from temptation.

. Yet without David and Solomon, Jewish history would never have risen to the heights.

. Hezekiah and Josiah led religious revivals.

. You are and were meant to be one of the unexpected leaders in our country at the moment.

. Betrayal and treachery have robbed you of that at the moment. Be that as it may, just continue to be yourself for this is one of the great challenges of leadership -it is all too easy for a leader to pursue popularity by being what people want him or her to be – a liberal to liberals, a conservative to conservatives, taking decisions that win temporary acclaim rather than flowing from principle and conviction

. Great leaders dare to live with unpopularity. Lincoln for example was reviled and ridiculed during his lifetime. In 1864 the New York Times wrote of him: “He has been denounced without end as a perjurer, a usurper, a tyrant, a subverter of the Constitution, a destroyer of the liberties of his country”. After a number of attempts, he still became one of the best presidents of the United States of America. Therefore, no matter the taunts and abuses continue to be yourself, for you cannot be anyone else but Wike.

. One of the truest, as well as most amusing remarks, is the one attributed to Winston Churchill: “Success is going from setbacks (failure) without loss of enthusiasm”. It is not their victories that make people leaders; it is the way they cope with their setbacks ( defeats) – their ability to learn, recover, and grow.

. For whatever has gone well, we thank God. For whatever has not gone well, the question to ask is not why has this happened? We will never know. We are not God, nor should we aspire to be. The question we need to ask is what does God want you to do? The answer remains that you continue to bring light to the dark places of our and other people’s lives.

The road not taken in 2007

. Today, I believe our nation is paying dearly for the road not taken in 2007 when DR ODILI contested for the presidency. I strongly believe that if Dr Peter Odili was allowed to contest at the PDP primaries in 2007 or even allowed to be the vice presidential nominee who eventually became the president after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua Nigeria will not be in the mess in which we are today.

. It is always easy for people to say, it was not the will of God that he becomes president and that if it was the will of God, God would have moved heaven and earth to bring about the realization of that dream. God does not always act like that.

. Goa allows us for the most part to utilize one of the riskiest gifts and painful gifts that He has given us as humans – the gift of freedom – the freedom to choose to do what is right and honourable and the freedom to do what is wrong and dishonourable, freedom to choose the right people into power and freedom to do otherwise.

. God also exercises this freedom He has given us in ways that most times annoy us. He exercises His freedom by not interfering or limiting the free exercise of that gift of freedom He has given us. If God does not limit or interfere with our freedom why do humans act in ways that suggest we want to control God or suggest to Him how He should utilize His freedom? For example, sometimes in our prayers, we feel we must constrain God to respond to our petitions to heal right now so and so or raise from the dead so and so right now. Sometimes He does so. At other times HE doesn’t. and when He doesn’t we complain. Whether He answers or not He has only exercised the freedom which is originally HIS and which He has shared with us as humans. Therefore, you know what, the best thing for us to do always is simply let God be God on His terms. We cannot teach God how to be God. On our part, we must use our gift of freedom wisely and responsibly.

. Because we are free, we bear responsibility for our actions and choices. Morally, we become what we choose to be. It is our freely made choices that make us good or bad, honest or deceptive generous or mean-spirited, altruistic or self-centred, patient or irascible, courageous or cowardly, responsible or feckless. It is our wrong choices politically that have brought our nation to where we are today.

. During the tenure of Dr Odili as Governor of Rivers State, there was a large migration of people from Lagos and other parts of the country into Port-Harcourt. There was a strain on accommodation in the city of Port- Harcourt on the account of the migration. The major oil companies relocated or were made to relocate their head offices from Lagos and Abuja to Port- Harcourt. International airlines began to fly into and out of Port- Harcourt. Embassies began to operate consular offices in Port- Harcourt. A united Nations agency opened its first office in Port – Harcourt etc etc. based on a mid-term performance assessment organized by journalists across the country, Dr. Peter Odili won the Golden Governor award of Nigeria, not the Governor of the now acclaimed Lagos State. All these were clear indicators of good governance and leadership. But what manner of leadership?

. The most common source of failure in leadership is a diagnosis and the greatest strength of any good leader is the ability to diagnose the needs of those he/she leads. Failure to realize this is one of the many reasons most political careers fail. Perhaps, in my opinion as a medical doctor, Dr Odili’s leadership style is diagnostic.
Arising from military dictatorship Dr Odili’s tenure was largely diagnostic – noting what the ‘illness’/challenges of the state were and putting in place a mechanism to deal with them.

. He diagnosed that the state is the hub of oil and gas exploration in Nigeria and needed to expand to accommodate more people who were streaming into Port- Harcourt. He constructed new roads in new areas that now house the best residential and business areas in Port Harcourt.

. I have always encouraged him to drive along the Amadi flat/eastern bye pass road which continues to Peter Odili road and leads through the Zoo to Trans Amadi,(further expansion of the road beyond that point has been undertaken by subsequent administrations), the Ada George road and the Olu Obasanjo bye pass led to a large reclamation of lands from the Nigerian Airforce and the Nigerian Army on both sides eventually has led to major new housing estates like Harmony estate, Trans Amadi Gardens, Golf estate etc.

. In his mission statement which articulated his mission statement for the state, he stated:“I see a state where the man or woman from Kula, Bille, Peterside, Bonny, Utuechi, Oyorokoto, Kugbor, Omuma, Afam, etc. can travel safely home at anytime of the day or year like other people”. This he largely achieved through the Trans-Kalabari road, Omoku-Ndoni road, the Ogoni Opopo Andoni road and the Ogoni Bonny roads, some built by him, some he made the federal government build, some were still ongoing when he left power, some are completed and some will be completed by subsequent governments

. His diagnosis of the energy requirement of a state like Rivers with an enormous and expansive industrial capacity led him to conceive and execute the first ever gas turbine project to be embarked on by any government in Nigeria. In the hierarchy of the needs of the State, if there was one thing the Odili administration intended to bequeath to Rivers State, it was self-reliance in power supply, a need that was actualized but frustrated in some manner.

. He further diagnosed that the existing transmission lines would be incapable of taking in the energy generated and so applied to the Federal government for state participation in the evacuation, transmission and distribution of energy, a request the Federal government promised to accede to but later reneged on. This led to the Federal government taking over energy/power generated by and from Rivers State and like our oil only allocated an infinitesimal percent of what is ours thereby denying Rivers state the opportunity of being energy self- reliant which she desperately needs to cope with her residential and industrial needs. The lack of sustained power supply has led to the relocation of some of the industries that once defined the Trans Amadi area of Port Harcourt like Michellin, coca-cola and the like. Energy crises remain a national problem.

. Leadership for Dr Odili was and is not on account of position or office or role but rather, a basic attitude to life. While other people wait for something to happen; Dr Odili’s leadership style makes something happen. While some leaders use their position to curse the darkness, Dr Odili is a leader who lights a light.

. For Dr. Odili leadership was/is about service. For him to lead is to serve. His mantra was the greater your success, the harder you have to work to remember that you are there to serve others; they are not there to serve you. Leadership for him was/ is a service that should generate capacity, not dependency.

. He was supremely aware that a leader must always walk a tightrope between two models of leadership represented by two great architectural symbols of the world’s first empires: the Mesopotamians built ziggurats, and the Egyptians built pyramids. Both are monumental statements in stone of a hierarchical society, broad at the base and narrow at the top. The people are there to support the leader. Then the great Jewish symbol, the Menora, inverts the triangle. It is broad at the top, and narrow at the base. The leader is there to support the people. So, there are times the people support the leader and there are times the leader must support the people.

. Therefore, leadership for him is not only about what you achieve by it, it is what you become because of it – leading forces you to develop muscles you did not know you had. It changes you. It gives you strength and courage and the willingness to take risks. It teaches you emotional intelligence and the ability to see the good – often the great – in other people. Moses began his career as a leader unable to speak in public; he ended it as one of the most eloquent visionaries the world has ever known, leading makes you grow. It is the most powerful thing that does.

. What I have grown to learn from him is that a good leader does not create followers. A great leader creates leaders. One of the most important achievements of Dr Odili as a leader remains encouraging leadership in others. He realized that each of us has a role to play in strengthening state and national life, and the scale on which we do so does not matter. What matters is the opportunity provided to make a positive difference to one other person, that is enough. One life, said the sages, is like a universe.

. Therefore, if you change a life you begin to change the universe in the only way we can: one person at a time, one day at a time, one act at a time- to offer help to those in need, hospitality to the lonely, or encouragement to those wrestling with difficulties, is to do a mitzvah, a holy deed. It is to do what God does: He “supports the fallen, heals the sick, and releases those who are bound.” We can heal some of the wounds of this world. We can do something, and we should never be discouraged that we can’t do everything. As R. Tarfon said, “It is not for you to complete the task but neither are you free to stand aside from it.”

. One of the often-used phrases in sacred scripture is the words vayehi, “And it came to pass”; and when it is used it is always a prelude to tragedy. Dr Odili is not the kind of Leader who waits for things to come to pass. He remains a leader who says, “Let there be” yehi but vayehi That was the word with which God created the universe. It is also the word with which we create a meaningful life, one that leaves the world a little better for our presence. He is therefore not a vayehi  leader but a yehi.

. Even out of office Dr Odili continues to show leadership – now a leadership that is courageous to live with the challenges and mishaps and to keep going. This has been the story of Dr Odili in setting up Pamo University of medical sciences and the legal suits won against his detractors.

. If Dr. achieved so much as a leader, credit must also be given to Mary, his spouse. Throughout the years she has been his lifeline, her legal guidance, her groundedness, her deep calm, simplicity, and constancy of faith made every day a blessing. Daddy thanks God for the gift of her love.

Concluding remarks on Leadership

In concluding this sermon may I remind all of us of three things we must never forget in the use of the power God has given us at various levels:

. 1) the principle that all political authorities must be tested and reformed according to a code which was not made by man(Lord Acton). Every leader must realize the laws that matter come from God, not from human beings. The king must have his own Torah scroll, “and he shall read from it all the days of his life… not considering himself superior to his kinsfolk, or straying from the commandments to the right or the left” (Deut. 17:19-20).

. 2) Power is dangerous. It corrupts, it also diminishes. If I have power over you, and I use the power wrongly, then I stand as a limit to your freedom. I can force you to do what you don’t want to do. Or as the Athenians said to the Melians: The strong do what they want, and the weak suffer what they must. Therefore, power can be used to diminish people and it also diminishes the leader who uses power wrongly.

. 3) Fundamental to leadership is the idea of servant leadership. Humility is the essence of royalty. To lead is to serve. Failure to remember this caused what, in retrospect, can be seen as the single most disastrous political decision in Jewish history. After the death of Solomon, the people came to Rehoboam, his son, asking him to lighten the load that Solomon’s projects had imposed on the people. The king asked his father’s advisers what he should do. They told him to accede to their request: “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favourable answer, they will always be your servants” (1Kings 12:7). Note the threefold appearance of the word “serve” in this verse. Rehoboam ignored their advice. The kingdom split and the nation never fully recovered.

·           4) We are all called on to be leaders. But we are also called on to be followers.  the two concepts are not opposites. They are part of the same process. Leaders and followers sit around the same table, engaged in the same task, asking the same question: how, together, can we lift one another? A leader challenges a follower. A follower challenges a leader. We are all part of the team and only as a team can we change the world.

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