In depriving me of this man, who was a friend and mentor to me, Dr. Odili struck me a savage blow from which I will never fully recover. I say so because here was a friend who told me when I was only twelve years old, after I had gained admission to attend Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt, a year before I passed the Federal Government College Entrance Examination and went on to Federal Government College, Port Harcourt, that by entering high school I had become a man, and that he would never again use a cane to discipline me, even though he rarely did so before he made the promise. From that auspicious moment, he became a very dear friend. From then on, we discussed every matter as very close friends, and not as father and son.
Mr. Governor, I am told that you regularly visit London. When next you visit London, seek out my friend and former roommate at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, Dr. Chidozie Asiegbunam, a psychiatrist, and confirm what I am about to tell you. My father, if I remember correctly, had come to argue a case at the Appeal Court in Enugu. After the case, he came to visit me in my hostel room at Kenneth Dike Hall. I was the only one in the room when he came, and we fell to teasing each other, cracking jokes, and laughing uproariously. My roommate, Chidozie, thought I was joking with one of our friends and barged into the room. He did a double take when he saw a much older man, who he at once realized was my father. After my father left, he said it was unbelievable that my father and I were behaving as if we were friends of the same age. That was my father.
After I left medical school, I turned my attention to studying literature. I worked very hard, so that I could find my way to graduate school in America and become a professor of literature in a university there. Subsequently, he and I often talked about his coming to spend vacations with me in America after I had achieved that goal. We dreamt about how we would travel and do fun things together. We dreamt of the day when I would obtain my Ph.D., and my name would be called in a great auditorium or stadium, and he would say, “That is right. That is my son. He is a Doctor of Philosophy.” On 26 September this year, I successfully defended my dissertation, and became a Doctor of Philosophy; but I quickly realized that my father will never be there to celebrate with me on the great day when they will call my name at Husky Stadium at the University of Washington, Seattle. When Dr. Odili’s daughter got married, the president of Nigeria was there, as were governors and other dignitaries. At my graduation, I do not want heads of state and governors. I only want my father, and a small company of family and friends. But my father will never be there.
I always dreamt of the day after my Ph.D. and after I had become a university professor, when my father would come to visit, and I would send a limousine to pick him up at the airport, bring him home for a shower, take him to a very fancy restaurant, and then engage him in one of those interesting debates I used to have with him. Today, I have my Ph.D., and I teach at a college in America; but no, my father will never ride in a limousine to my place. I will never be able to take him to a fancy restaurant. I will never be able to take him to see a movie. He will never be in the audience when I give a book reading. My father will never have a conversation with me by the fireside. Dr. Odili’s children will be able to enjoy most of these privileges with their father.
Mr. Governor, you can see why I can never be enamored of your sense of loss at the absence of Dr. Odili at your anniversary service. I have forgiven Dr. Odili for the role he played in the early demise of my father, but Dr. Odili has shown beyond reasonable doubt that his politics is the worst of the worst of Machiavellian politics. It is highly destructive. It was the great Immanuel Kant, who gave the sage advice that people should never be seen as means to an end; they should instead be seen as an end in themselves. Rulers who see people as means to an end always play the kind of highly destructive politics that Machiavelli talks so eloquently about in The Prince. They leave tears, blood, and destruction in their trail. Mr. Governor, do you really want to play that kind of politics? Is that the legacy you want to leave behind for future generations? Please, Mr. Governor, think, and think clearly, for power is highly ephemeral, and after all is said and done, it is the man who uses power wisely and for the good of the people that will be fondly remembered.
Mr. Governor, while you are trying to mend fences with Dr. Odili, is it not time that you, for the good of the state, sit down with all his ex-foot soldiers, including Mr. Tom, to end the bloodletting in the state? I am not a spokesman for Mr. Tom. I have heard and read about the blood and destruction that he has sown in the state. But, Mr. Governor, who created Mr. Tom? Who used him to win landslide “victories”? It is time for us to close the sorry chapter of your mentor in the state. And if you have decided that your mentor should be forgiven for all the things he did to the people of our beloved state, it stands to reason that his ex-foot soldiers should also be forgiven. If you wish to prosecute one, prosecute all. If you wish to forgive the master, the least you can do is to also forgive his minions. Anything short of that will be a pathetic interpretation and miscarriage of justice.
I am, of course, not saying that you should share the common wealth with your mentor’s ex-foot soldiers as your mentor used to do. The common wealth went drip, drip into the pockets of his foot soldiers, and the state almost bled to death. He kept them happy. He used them to rig elections. He used them to intimidate opponents. It is fitting and proper that you have turned your back on that kind of politics. What I desire that you do is to have a frank conversation with these young men about stopping their anti-people acts and living within the confines of the law. To that end, there should be general amnesty. But after the general amnesty, if any of them returns to bloodletting, the person should face the full wrath of the law. To that end too, I advise that you ignore Mr. Tom’s demand that “the Evil Forest,” in Okrika, which used to be his base, be returned to him. Mr. Tom should be more concerned about making amends in the lives of the people in which he has sown tears, blood, and destruction than living as lord of a fiefdom in the Okochiri “Evil Forest.”
One more advice, Mr. Governor. I read in a recent newspaper article that you want to create young entrepreneurs in the agro-based and fishing sectors. Please, Mr. Governor, do not forget the rural women, who constitute the bulk of the agriculture sector. Work with organizations like the United Nations Development Program and foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to organize these women into business co-operatives with access to the latest technologies in farming. If a co-operative of, say, fifty rural women have a tractor, plowing machine, watering machine, fertilizer, and storage space for their products, they will increase their production several fold. They will also spend less time on the farm, and more time on themselves and their families. They will be less prone to sickness. They will live longer. Also, please make adult education part of the empowerment of these women. If these women can read and write and use modern technology by themselves, they will form the bedrock of the agro-based sector and of the economy.
Do not forget the fishermen and women too. They need deep freezers for their catches. They need more advanced technology and boats for their fishing. If possible, bring in workers from the giant fishing companies of Alaska to train these men and women. Like their counterparts in farming, they may very well form the bedrock of a resurgent fishing industry. Mr. Governor, these things are not difficult to do. If you have the will to do them, men and women of goodwill all over the world, who have the necessary expertise, will help you and help our massive rural population of women farmers and fishers to grow our economy.
In rural housing, I have already suggested that our present underdevelopment may well be a blessing for us, if we can harness its upside. We can work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity to come up with prototypes of cheap and environmentally friendly self-contained houses. We can build the sort of houses that will be so cheap that every working person can afford one. Nothing grandiose. Nothing fanciful. Simply cute-looking houses that serve their primary function: shelter.
Mr. Governor, I am willing to offer my advice on how we can go about achieving these goals at zero cost to the government. I repeat, I will not take a kobo from the government to give my counsel. We can build something in our beloved state that others can use as a prototype for the development of their states. We can do it. Remember, Mr. Governor, it is what we do for the people that will stand the test of time.
In that regard, Mr. Governor, I commend the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to you.
TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
With very warm regards,
PS. After writing and posting this letter, Mr. Morris informed me that the Rivers State government will be tearing down part of his 78-year-old mother’s house at Mile 3 without compensation. Mr. Morris’s mother bought the house from the Rivers State government. It has existed since the 1970s, and she has not made any attachments to it. kindly look into the matter, Mr. Governor.