By Ody Chukwube
ODERA’s instructions were swift, dangerous and mind blowing that mid afternoon.
“CPS (Chief Press Secretary), come along with me to the forests of Umuleri, Aguleri and Umuoba Anam , I want to—. “No, Sir” I interjected, as both cold and hot sweat struggled for space on my pitiful face, devastated by a mission which was, in my thinking, an obvious attempt at self- destruction.
“But, Sir, this is extremely dangerous. Let us reach out to the security people for advice”, I insisted. Quoting Psalm 46:10, “be still, and know that I am God”, Odera yelled at me even as he flipped through his Bible. “This is a trip we must undertake. The Commissioner of Police, the Director of SSS and the Army Commander at Onitsha, have warned against going to the forest, but they are not God”. I made another futile attempt to convince him, but he became furious and with a tone of finality, he declared “We must put an end to this mindless carnage in that area. It doesn’t matter if we pay the supreme price. God’s message is clear on this. That is is why I asked you to be still and listen to the voice of God.”
I was shocked by his effrontery, his near suicidal courage and faith. Nonetheless, I rushed to his young ADC, who was also helpless, if not hapless, given the circumstances. I called the ever calm and stable First Lady, Mrs Nnenne Mbadinuju, to save us from a possible annihilation, but she was unable to sway him out of what I thought was going to be an ill-fated journey.
The forests of Aguleri, Umuleri and Umuoba Anam communities were like the present-day Sambisa Forest, elaborately mined, with warriors that were heavy on drugs and armed to the teeth. It appeared foolhardy to undertake a trip to that area with a few poorly armed policemen and men of the security services attached to the office of the governor.
“When they hear the word of God, they will drop their guns”, the new governor stressed as he sang divine praises. The journey to the Anambra “Sambisa Forest” was short but tortuous.
At the battle field, a staccato of gun shots from the militants who shot into the air, oblivious of our mission, welcomed us. Odera with his weather-beaten Bible, picked up the microphone and began to preach. “Jesus loves you, drop your guns and embrace peace . This war is needless and useless. Stop killing yourselves”.
We went round different areas of the forest, preaching peace and reconciliation. We were vulnerable, and all, except Odera got enveloped in fear and trepidation.
On our way back, in an ironic twist or in a spirit- inspired action, some of the war-weary militants sneaked out of the bunkers and other hidden places and hailed, either with gun salute or voice approval, “Oderaaaaaaaaa”!
This marked the beginning of an end to the fratricidal war which had ravaged the area for over a century.
Quoting again from the scriptures, Psalm118, ‘This is God’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes. CPS, is this not a miracle? Always be strong, prayerful and most importantly, be strong in faith “, was Odera’s advice during our post mortem of the trip to the devil inhabited forests where stench from decomposing bodies almost destroyed our nostrils. Most significantly, that axis of the state, to this day, has remained the most peaceful.
This visit, which was a few months into his administration, defined Odera, his undying faith in and love for God.
Odera believed that governance must have a spiritual foundation. He instituted a prayer regimen in Anambra which has remained a shining legacy. Every Monday, Odera, as Governor, mounted the pulpit and preached the Word to Anambra people in a live broadcast. All the offices and markets joined in prayers and gradually it became a positive habit which has remained to this day. Of all his achievements, Odera considered this his best . ‘More than anything else, always celebrate my determination to link our people to the truth through the Gospel. I will die, happy that I tried to establish a leadership anchored on Christ, our saviour “
Odera was a true believer, in and out of government. In his book, “God’s Kind of Leader, published more than a decade before he became Governor, Odera correctly predicted or putting it differently, gave prophesy of his time in government. He canvassed that a leader must strive to be responsible and righteous. And above all, be Christ-like in his disposition and character.
He suffered tribulations. He was betrayed and was maligned, but like our Saviour, he prayed for his enemies and adversaries. “My love for God and humanity is unquantifiable. I love everybody, including those who made attempts to tarnish my image”.
Those who thought that Odera was politically annihilated, unwittingly opened a new life for him. He devoted his last days to writing Christian books and at the last count, had about 22 books on the shelf. His book, The Spiritual Foundation of Good Governance, extensively chronicled his messages on the pulpit as a Governor.
For Odera, his was a miracle in governance. He was always positive, even in the face of humongous difficulties.
Odera was apparently the only Governor in the history of Nigeria whose office was bombed. At different times, hoodlums also attempted to force their way into Government House to attack him. If that was to frustrate him, they failed as he sang praises as a response
Odera received national accolades for a successful war against crime. Using an unconventional approach, he eradicated armed robbery and violent crimes in the state. While many considered this a result of strategic thinking, Odera felt it was a spiritual response to prayers of Ndi Anambra.
His numerous other accomplishments in government came out of an uncommon commitment to prayers and strong belief in God. With lean funds, Odera was able to establish a university, the present day Chukwuemeka Odumegwu University with campuses at Igbariam and Uli.
The financial status of the state was poor and with a miserable monthly allocation from Abuja, Odera did well in varying degrees. In some months, what was left after salary payment in Anambra state was less than N50million. How he managed to build roads was considered by many, including his opponents, as miraculous.
Prayers, Odera told me in our last encounter, led to the completion of legacy projects like the Ekwueme Square, the ABS complex, the Judiciary Complex, Ngozika Estate, and the Women Development Center now named Professor Dora Akunyili Women Developnent Centre. He did not start the permanent site of the Government House, but he did most of the structural work.
That Anambra State is now an oil-producing state is a result of his foresight. He did not only raise national consciousness to the existence of oil in the state, but set up an oil exploration and production company. Orient Petroleum was his brainchild. Again, Odera said in one of his books that God was instrumental to the milestones recorded by his administration.
Thank you Odera. You asked me to leave out controversy and talk about God, while writing about you. I have tried to do that. You know it is not my area of specialisation, but do tolerate my inadequacy.
You were exemplary in leadership, though misunderstood by some but appreciated by many. You were not a saint, neither were you a villain but you demonstrated love, commitment, responsible and responsive leadership.
Your humility was disarming. Good people appreciated it and the bad, took advantage of it
.May Perpetual Light shine upon your good soul. Good night Odera.
-November 09, 2023 @ 11:15 GMT |